Anaiya Kaka is an international student from India is currently on a gap year and will be studying undergraduate medicine at UCL in September 2020. She received offers from UCL and Cardiff.
From a very young age, I’ve found scientific concepts fascinating and ever since I can remember I’ve always wanted to pursue a medical career. However, my journey into medicine really began at the end of the grade 10 which is when I began directing my focus to meet that goal.
What inspired me to pursue medicine
There are probably a lot of reasons as to why I thought medicine was the right career for me: I’m extremely curious and analytical in nature, I love problem solving, science has always been a passion of mine, it is a career that combines intellectual abilities as well as a strong element of communication… However, the reason that stands out the most is an extremely personal one. My uncle (father's brother) had cerebral palsy. For 58 years he could not walk, talk or eat by himself. That feeling of complete helplessness and having no control over the situation is one that still haunts me today. I realised that I wanted to help others in a similar situation and that is what cemented my decision to apply to medical school.
Writing my personal statement
Writing my personal statement, I embraced this story. I think the reason for a personal statement is so that the admission officers can get an insight into your personality and what motivates and inspires you. Hence, I would suggest being as open and personal as you can and really reflect on the choices you’ve made and the situations you’ve experienced in your life. Another extremely important thing while writing a personal statement is structure.
Because you have such few words, make sure your personal statement is concise, to the point and reads well. I made a list of all the things I wanted to incorporate in it and my structure was as follows:
· Why medicine
· Work Experience and Research
· How studying medicine in the UK would help me (perhaps this is more for international students)
A point to note: this structure is not required, nor does it have to be followed. It was the order that I felt made the most sense for me and as long as your personal statement reads well and contains all your relevant information, any order is good.
Choosing which Medical Schools to Apply to
This is again an extremely person choice and there are a bunch of factors that one can look at. I had done pretty well in the ICSE examinations (the Indian equivalent to the GCSE’s) and scored in the top 10% of the UKCAT (I did not know my BMAT score at this time). Not wanting to put all my eggs in one basket, I decided to apply to two UKCAT colleges and two BMAT colleges. I did take the ranking of the medical schools into consideration while applying (although if I could go back, I wouldn’t be so focused on this as every medical school gives you the same degree and equips you with the same skills set). I also factored the location of the schools I was applying to very seriously (London is a city that I love, and I knew that I would like to spend the next 5/6 years there, so I applied to two schools in London city). Finally, I ended up applying to Cambridge, UCL, Barts and Cardiff universities.
Work Experience, Research and Volunteering
I had the privilege of shadowing doctors in both the USA and in India. In the USA, I shadowed a thoracic oncologist for a week at the M.D Anderson Cancer centre and in India I did a 6-week internship at Reliance hospital in the neurorehabilitation ward. I went on ward rounds, observed several lobotomies as well as video assisted thoracoscopic surgeries and attended multiple physiotherapy ad cognitive therapy sessions and cognitive therapy sessions, which I thought were not only inspiring but also very educative. I saw the way doctors behaved and treated patients as well as how methodical and organized they were. During these sessions, I noticed that a certain set of patients spoke better while sitting rather than while multitasking. After asking my superiors why this occurred, I decided to further investigate and conducted a study and wrote a research paper on the correlation between Parkinson's disease or chronic stroke and multitasking abilities. I was able to reflect on this experience a lot in my personal statement and my interviews- mainly the things that I had learnt from conducting research, the mistakes that I made and how this experience gave me an insight into the medical profession. I would definitely recommend getting work experience of some sort because it was very useful to me. Another thing I would advise is to not be afraid to take initiative or ask a plethora of questions to your superiors. Most of the time, they’re extremely helpful and you can gain a wealth of knowledge from them.
I also worked with an NGO (non-government organisation) helping mentally and physically challenged children for two years and cofounded 'Code Red' an initiative to spread awareness about nutrition, oral hygiene and menstrual health in India. Even though these were not done primarily for my medical school application, I found that it did help a lot. In my interviews, I spoke about many of the challenges I faced and how I overcame them and what I gained from these experiences. I think one of the most important things to do at interviews is to show what you’ve taken from the experiences that you’ve had so I would suggest reflecting upon your learnings or even making a list of them before your interviews.
UKCAT, BMAT and preparing for interviews
In all honesty, I really didn’t prepare for the BMAT or the UKCAT as well as I should have. I was pretty crunched for time as I had my school exams on at the same time and I prepared for about 2 weeks for the UKCAT and even less for the BMAT. I used the ISC medical book for both the tests as well as for my interview and I thought that it was extremely useful. Another thing that really helped me was taking timed practice tests and seeing where I was not being able to cope - generally the maths section (cue internal crying).
After finishing my BMAT and UKCAT, I waited for about a month and got interviews at UCL, Barts and Cardiff.
As an international student, I knew very little about the NHS, so I had to study about that quite a bit. Another thing that I had to keep up to date about was all the hot topics and current affairs. Public speaking comes naturally to me and I actually found the interviews quite enjoyable. I mainly spoke from the experiences that I had, and I found that that my internships, research, volunteering and extracurriculars (tennis) came in very handy as I could relate to most of the situations that they asked me. I know that interviews are scary and what I’d advice is treating it like a conversation between you and the interviews. Be calm, confident and don’t be afraid to voice your own opinions.
After my interviews, I waited for what seemed like a long (and very nerve-wracking time) for my results. I got offers from UCL and Cardiff and I was waitlisted at Barts. I’m currently enrolled at UCL.
Honestly, don’t be intimidated by the process and just embrace it. I know it seems like a daunting task but it’s definitely achievable! Be yourself, work as hard as you can and in the end (as preachy as it sounds) you’ll find that you’ve learnt a lot about yourself.From a very young age, I’ve found scientific concepts fascinating and ever since I can remember I’ve always wanted to pursue a medical career. However, my journey into medicine really began at the end of the year 10 which is when I began directing my focus to meet that goal.