In this series of articles, medical students from across the UK speak about their personal journey to medicine. Will is an undergraduate medical student at St George's, University of London from Kent. In his spare time, he likes to to climb, explore London with friends and play cricket, as well as go back home to see his family.
I first decided I wanted to do medicine when I was very young. I used to spend hours playing Doctors with my great grandad, crawling round the floor (probably wasn’t the best thing for an 80-year-old to be doing!).
As I progressed through school, my interest in the human body, how it worked and what could go wrong with it grew and I found myself reading around medical topics, particularly anatomy related ones in more and more depth.
My GCSEs were fairly strong (8 A*s and 7 As) , though nowhere near as strong as other medical applicants I know (with several of my friends achieving all A*s).
This made GCSE results day a strange day for me, because there was happiness with my grades, but a strange sense of panic about the types of people I’d be up against when applying to medicine, and how hard it was going to be to sell myself as a good candidate when everyone applying is so strong.
Over the course of my GCSE years, I got involved in several extracurricular activities for my own enjoyment, which at the end of the day helped to boost my medicine application too. The majority of my free time was spent playing cricket, coaching cricket and occasionally volunteering at Headway (the brain injury association).
It’s worth emphasising here that all of these activities were purely for enjoyment and none were actually intended to boost my application – if you’re looking to boost your application with extracurricular activities, make sure you do things that you will enjoy as it males talking about them at interview so much easier).
The jump from GCSE to sixth form was one that I found particularly tricky, though I think the amount of independent learning I had to do set me up brilliantly for medical school and the unique style of learning involved. The hardest part of the transition for me was balancing my time.
Walking down to the cricket club to practice or coach at least twice a week, plus 2 matches every week became much harder to fit in, therefore I had to develop my time management and planning skills, another thing that I strongly believe helps with the jump from A-level to med school (which is massive!).
During my A-levels, I carried on with the same extracurricular activities and volunteering that I began during my GCSEs. If you’re able to do this, I’d strongly recommend it because it helps you grow into a role and develop relationships with a wide range of people over a longer period of time – something I found very useful to discuss at interview. In addition to this, I took on a paid job in a local pharmacy, which helped with my communication no end as it was a chance to communicate (and sometimes ‘deal with’) all types of people.
Work experience was something I found particularly hard to come across, though I eventually found a GP surgery willing to take me on for an afternoon per week through year 12.
My advice for finding work experience is to phone around instead of email when possible – phone calls are so much quicker and tend to make a better impression on people.
In addition to this, if you’re really struggling medical schools don’t care that much about medical work experience – any experience in a caring environment will do and is much better to talk about at interview. Overall, I found everything I did alongside the work experience much more useful than sitting in a surgery for a few hours a week!
My personal statement was a nightmare! I started writing it at the beginning of Year 12, with a bullet point list of what I had done and what I learnt. This was difficult as I hadn’t actually written down any reflections until this point, so my biggest bit of advice for anyone applying to medicine is keep a diary of your reflections. It will be invaluable when you write your personal statement and prepare for interviews.
Another nightmare was deciding where I wanted to apply. I had mum drive me all round the country – I must have looked at least 8 different med schools, but in the end I decided to apply tactically.
My advice would be to apply to 1 dream, 2 realistic and a BMAT school, that way you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The other major piece of advice for anyone is don’t just look at the university, but look at the area they are in as well. You’ll have to live there for 5/6 years.
When I was looking at Leicester for example, the university was amazing but I hated the city when I walked round, so make sure to have a good look at the place and don’t get too caught up on ‘how good the university is’ – university rankings don’t matter for an MBBS!
Interviews were another nightmare, but that was because I over prepared. I had 4 interviews (St George’s, Liverpool, Keele and UEA) and got 4 offers. All the interviews I had were MMIs, but some were significantly harder than others.
The key thing to remember is that it’s not a knowledge test about the NHS or history of medicine. It’s a test of your character, so be yourself and avoid being ‘too factual’. I also found an awareness of the medical school’s history a very useful talking point as it shows you’re interested in being a part of the university.
After getting my offers, only one thing stood in my way … A-levels. They are without a doubt the worst exams I’ve ever sat, but that was mainly due to me. I stressed myself and loaded the pressure onto myself to try and perform, but all it did was make everything harder. My advice is to make sure you revise effectively, but carry on with what you enjoy too, especially exercise as it helps you to balance the stress.
A-level results day was a very strange experience for me. I had everything ready to ring up universities for clearing. I expected everything to have gone wrong. However, at about 8:30 I logged into UCAS to find my place at SGUL had been confirmed!
As a result, my final piece of advice is don’t stress about what you wrote in exams – you may well surprise yourself!