• The Aspiring Medics

Owain's Journey (Sheffield University)

In this series of articles, medical students from across the UK speak about their personal journey to medicine. Owain holds offers to read Undergraduate Medicine at Sheffield and Birmingham Universities; he also had interviews at Sheffield, Birmingham, Leeds and Oxford.

 

Deciding to to Medicine

Year 10 Work Experience

Up until Year 10 I had put no thought into what I might like to do when I was older. We had a compulsory work experience week in June of Year 10; I first wrote to a couple of law firms (probably only because I had been watching Suits) but didn’t hear anything so I tried various hospitals instead as going into medicine had always been something I thought I may like to do because of my Dad being a doctor and my interest in the sciences. After many frustrating email exchanges with work experience coordinators at various hospitals, I finally got a week’s placement at a hospital in Bristol.



My week consisted of spending a day in a few different areas of the hospital including cardiology, orthopaedics and pre-op. Because I was under 16 I was not allowed in surgery, but nonetheless I got to spend time shadowing doctors and nurses in various clinics and spending time on the wards.

It was a great opportunity to learn more about what being a doctor entailed and whether I liked it, and to improve my communication skills

A-Level Choices

The week did not put me off medicine, however it was not until after making my A-level choices and getting my GCSE grades that I became fully invested in pursuing it. When making my choices, firstly I wanted to make sure I could do medicine if I decided I wanted to (so I needed Chemistry + another science/maths) *Always check the university websites for up to date information*


Next I crossed off any subjects I was finding particularly horrible to revise for (History, English Literature and Language and Physics in my case) and ones I knew I didn’t want to/couldn’t do because of my GCSEs, leaving me with Biology, Chemistry, Maths and French.


I decided to do Biology, Chemistry and Maths A-Level, plus French AS and EPQ. Biology and Chemistry were my two favourite subjects and ensured I could do medicine; I liked French but thought it would be too difficult to do for two years; I wanted to do an EPQ on a topic related to whatever university course I decided to do; and although I didn’t love Maths, I was getting good grades and honestly I didn’t know what else I would do (on reflection I think I should’ve done something I was more interested in like sociology or economics). Even at this point I was still not firmly set with medicine, but I made my choices with the thought in the back of my head that I might like to.



GCSE results

The final ‘nail in the coffin’ to make me decide to pursue medicine was getting my GCSE results. Achieving seven 9s and three 8s gave me the confidence that I had a chance of getting the A-levels to get in.


Preparing for my Application

A-Levels

The ongoing and most important part of your preparation for applying to Medicine must be to engage properly with your A-level courses to ensure you can get the best results possible.

There is no point getting loads of offers if you then miss the conditions of your offer (ranging in my experience from A*A*A to ABB).

Work Experience

Work experience is another important and helpful way to prepare for your application.

It gives you experience of healthcare which you can talk about in your personal statement and interviews.

I was lucky to have support from my school with this, as well as from my Dad with some of the links he has with doctors he knows. However, I also gained many experiences without any help by being proactive, so I want to stress that you do not need links to doctors to get work experience. Here is a list of all the placements I went on


  • Year 10 five-day hospital placement (organised myself)

  • Weekly volunteering in the activities team at a nursing home (organised myself)

  • Year 12 hospital work experience (organised through school)

  • “A day in the life of a doctor” lecture at Bristol Uni in year 12 (applied online after school told us about it)

  • One day placement in histopathology in year 12 (organised myself after speaking to a doctor at the lecture event above)

  • One day in a biochemistry lab at Bristol Uni (organised through school)

  • Three-day placement in a GP practice summer after year 12 (organised by my Dad through a friend of his)

  • Attend monthly meetings of my local Patient Participation Group (organised myself after a friend told me about it)

If you read my personal statement article, you will see how all these experiences gave me lots of interesting examples to talk about in my personal statement. They were also very useful during my interviews. For example, I was once asked ‘tell me about a time you helped someone’. Now I could have talked about helping a younger student struggling with maths during my tutoring at school, but having my experience in a nursing home gave me a more healthcare-centred answer allowing me to be more insightful.


This follows on to another important point: hospital work experience is by no means essential or the only form of work experience you can do. I got a couple of hospital and GP placements, but also used my initiative to get experience volunteering in a nursing home, join a patient participation group and secure a histopathology placement.

However proactive you are you may still find it impossible to find any healthcare-based experience and this is where getting involved in as many other activities as possible becomes important. For example, I was asked in interview “tell me about a time you’ve worked in a team” and I was able to talk about my Gold Duke of Edinburgh expedition. Here is a list of the other things I have done that came in handy when writing my personal statement and at interview to display my qualities:


  • Duke of Edinburgh award

  • Volunteering at my swimming club and going on to get my Level One teaching qualification

  • Volunteering at school tutoring students in Educational support and Maths

  • Part-time job working in a gym kids club

  • Got involved in the Sixth Form Committee at school and got elected Vice-Chair

  • Became Deputy Head Student

  • Ran a Medical Society at school to help students in Year 12 with their medicine applications


UCAT/BMAT

The next important part of the application process is the medicine entrance exams. It’s an important stepping stone to getting a place at medical school that unfortunately can’t be avoided.


I wanted to apply to Oxford, so I had to do the BMAT as well as the UCAT. I first focussed on the UCAT. I ignored preparation until the start of the summer holidays, revised pretty much non-stop and did it at the end of the fourth week of the summer holidays.

I would recommend trying to do your UCAT as far back during the summer holidays as possible.

This gives you lots of time to focus solely on your UCAT preparation because it would be very difficult to juggle UCAT prep with school work at the end of Year 12, and similarly I wouldn’t leave it until term starts in year 13 as equally the start of this year will be very intense. My style was to study flat out for four weeks and this worked well for me but if you prefer to do little and often, you should start much earlier.


The key to UCAT prep is practice.

There is a small amount of learning you can ‘revise’ at the start such as the different question types and strategies for each, but you must dedicate the rest of your time to practice questions to find the strategies that work best for you. My main preparation tool was a computer programme I bought (for about £60) called Medify. This has lots of individual questions for each different section of the UCAT, mini timed tests for each section, as well as the all-important full mock tests. I found this to be money well-spent but equally, you by no means need to spend that much (or anything). There are books you can buy (or borrow) with thousands of practice questions and mock tests as well as lots of free resources on the UCAT website.