In this series of articles, medical students from across the UK speak about their personal journey to medicine. Lily is an undergraduate medical student at the University of Liverpool.
My journey into Medical school started in the summer of 2016, just after I had sat my GCSE’s. I have always been quite an all-rounder, so with a wealth of options, choosing what I wanted to do with the rest of my life was a daunting and difficult decision.
To make a start, having been inspired by the brilliant optician I’ve had since I was three, I decided to arrange work experience at her local shop. I mentioned this to my Aunty, an uro-oncology nurse, who recommended Ophthalmology work experience with Ophthalmologists (eye doctors) at her hospital. With a stroke of luck, I applied online and managed to arrange this for the week before my scheduled optician work experience. Although I enjoyed both, I came home from my first day of hospital work experience knowing that I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be a part of the doctor-patient relationship built on trust and compassion, to use my academic potential to help make a “difference” to people to lives. The fascinating cases, immense diversity and opportunities for teaching, research and to work with a variety of professionals helped me to confirm my decision.
The consultant that I shadowed recognised my genuine interest and desire to study medicine and put me in contact with his daughter, a Fifth Year medical student. She was an amazing support throughout my application and someone that I’m still in contact with now. She helped me with how to get started with my application, stressing the importance of work experience and volunteering.
In the September of year 12 I started the Lister Student Programme. It was an apply online 15-week programme for aspiring healthcare professions in Hertfordshire. I volunteered on a Geriatric ward for 3 hours every Sunday, where I served meals, chatted and helped to feed the more dependant patients. I thoroughly enjoyed this placement, so much so that when my shift fell on Christmas day, I volunteered as usual. I loved to see the positive impact that giving the patients some of my time had.
Inspired and wanting to do more, in the January of year 12 I applied for the 6-month student programme at Garden House Hospice in Letchworth. This was similarly for 3 hours per week and an online application process with a training day. My role here was to assist the nurses with patient’s personal hygiene and answer call bells. I learnt so much from this placement and this was something that I could really reflect on in my personal statement and at interview.
Working with terminally ill patients has shown me that there are limits to medicine, and it is important to proactively plan for the end of a patient’s life and consider patient and family wishes. Listening to relatives has shown me what an influential position doctors are in and how important it is for them to act with integrity.
As a reward for completing the Lister Student Programme, I had the opportunity to shadow a gastroenterologist and watch him perform upper and lower endoscopies at Lister Hospital. This was an amazing experience that emphasised the artistic side of medicine to me.
At Lister hospital, I was invited by my school to apply for a place on ‘Leap into Lister’ schools’ week in my Easter of year 12. Here, in groups, we shadowed FY1 doctors around their wards. I had the opportunity to see ward rounds in respiratory medicine and gastroenterology. I’m unsure if they still run this week, due to the sheer amount of organisation it involves, which is a real shame as it was invaluable to be able to speak to and get advice from doctors fresh out of medical school.
Attending ward rounds made me appreciate how important organisation and clear documentation is.
I also had a successful application for 2 days of work experience in pathology and radiology at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow. Again, this was an online application. By now, I had already probably gathered enough work experience to reflect on in my personal statement and at interview, however I’m so glad that I was offered this placement as I learnt so much. This showed me a completely different side of medicine where patient contact is limited. I would recommend the book “Unnatural Causes” if you think you might be interested in pathology.
Having already had a lot of hospital work experience and knowing that you are more likely to be given dates for work experience than to choose them, I was unsure what to do in my year 12 ‘May Work Experience Week’. I realised that I had not explored General Practice and set about sending many letters and emails to practices in my surrounding local area (I found that practices in my town would not let me sit in on consultations due to patient confidentiality). I was eventually successful with 2 out of 15 surgeries I contacted offering me a place. I decided to go with the one in Buntingford and had a fantastic week. I found the opportunity to see a variety of presentations in a variety of specialties very exciting. I am currently thinking about a career in General Practice and am my Year representative for the second year in the row for Liverpool’s award-winning GPSOC.
How I choose the medical schools in my application
To some extent a medical school is a medical school, everyone that graduates ends up in foundation training as a doctor. Knowing this helped me to think in a strategic way about my application. Thankfully I had performed very well in the UKCAT so researched universities that weighted this heavily in their application process and consequently decided against doing the BMAT. For example, I applied to Birmingham after their offer calculator predicted that I would have an interview, Exeter as at their open day they said that being predicted 3A*’s should secure an interview, Liverpool because I knew that I met the GCSE and UKCAT cut off’s for interview from their website and Bristol as (at the time) they used your personal statement to select for interview and I was proud of mine. In hindsight, I would have applied to another university that favoured high UKCAT scores, as the personal statement is much more subjective. I also looked at all of these universities and others that I thought I would be able to receive an interview from in person before applying, to make sure that I see myself living there for 6 years. This was the way I cut down my choices. I decided against putting a fifth UCAS choice as I was certain that if I didn’t receive any offers or missed my grades that I would reapply the following year.
I received MMI interviews from Exeter, Birmingham and Liverpool. My first was Exeter in December and last was Liverpool in February. I prepared for these through doing Mock interviews with my one of my teachers at school (I was the only medicine applicant in my year group) and my friend who was now a doctor (I mentioned how amazing she was to me earlier) gave me an interview over facetime. I found practice questions online and wrote out some of my answers to the common questions. I made sure that I was up to date with all the “hot topics” in the news and researched the universities extensively, knowing the teaching hospitals, teaching style and societies I would join, etc.
I found this the hardest part of the application process. Despite having been through many dance and singing exams and competitions and holding my nerve when competing in county athletics competitions, I found the pressure I had put on these interviews affected my performance. I consequently found that I improved greatly throughout my interviews, which resulted in me getting an offer from the final university I interviewed for – Liverpool.
My main advice about interviews if public speaking/interviews do not come naturally to you would to try and get as much experience as you can. Practice common questions and role play scenarios with your friends and family, set up an Aspiring Medics programme in your school to discuss important topics in the news. Also don’t give up. After I was rejected from my third medical school, it would have been easy to let my A Level work slip and give up, but I’m so glad I didn’t. I’m now having the BEST time studying in Liverpool :)