In this series of articles, medical students from across the UK speak about their personal journey to medicine. Andrew is a graduate medical student at the University of Leicester; he previously studied Biochemistry at the University of Manchester
The year is 2013, trepidation for my first set of meaningful exams grows as the next few months look like a trip through hell (well, this is what GCSEs feel like at the time right?). As a naïve 16 year old you are tasked with making decisions that may well affect the rest of your life. On one momentous morning my form tutor places the all important sheet of paper in front of me. The title reads “A-Level Choices”. I remember I had hounded my teacher for a number of weeks as to when I would be able to make my choices, so excited to mark this paper with my half chewed biro locking in my academic path for the next few years. So off went my choices of Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Economics to the schools filing system so they could place me into the appropriate sixth-form classes. At the time it felt like such a big deal, executing the first step of commitment to medicine by selecting my science A-levels, I was finally a step closer to reaching my goal of becoming a doctor!
This aspiration had been birthed a few years back, I can’t exactly recall why. However I do remember it being met with great applause by my mother (after all, which parents wouldn’t want a doctor in the family?) I have often tangled with the idea that at such a young age, you shouldn’t be deciding over your future . Perhaps you should be enjoying the last carefree years of your life before you reach the impending adult age of 18? As an aside, I am nearly 23 and feel no closer to becoming the quintessential “adult” (maybe I need to try paying my own phone bill first).
Good grades are essential but not enough
Medicine is truly a spectacular commitment in terms of both training and post-uni life, considering the demands are great and rewards are not financial or immediate such as in other careers. At the tender age of 16 I really don’t think I was capable of making the educated decision required, I’m not sure I even knew why I was doing it (this would be reflected in my lackadaisical application), nevertheless on I trotted towards my impending doom. My GCSE’s went well, My A-levels went well, however… come September 2015, did I have a place on a medical course? NO. Academics are the basis on which you build an application however they are not enough, and as I found out all the other “stuff” required for you to build an excellent application and demonstrate your commitment to medicine are just as important. What of the UKCAT/BMAT I hear you ask. Well, I can absolutely assure you that as someone who can now call themselves a future physician the UKCAT is NOT a good measure of who will make a good doctor. Please don’t let a disappointing score dampen your spirits or give up on studying medicine. Back to my own journey, I had failed at the first hurdle and was contemplating taking a gap year and trying again
However I had chosen a backup of Biochemistry at the University of Manchester and decided to take them up on their offer instead. This turned out to be one of the best choices I have ever made in my life. I really wasn’t ready for a medical degree, nor was I fully committed, I still felt like a child who had a lot to figure out. Off I went to Manchester (a city I would thoroughly recommend in any capacity). I enjoyed three wonderful years there during which I forgot about medicine (for the most part) and matured significantly, and to be perfectly honest, my main focus was simply to enjoy myself. As my time in Manchester drew to a close I began thinking about my career and made a very last minute application for medicine whilst in my final year. My choices were once again naïve, the extracurricular aspect of my application was sparse, my prep for UKCAT was non-existent and my resulting lame attempt at entry fell short.
However, I did receive one call for an interview from the University of Manchester itself, my preparation for this consisted of reading the “health” section of BBC news the morning before my interview, would you like to guess how it went? I think the crux of all my issues regarding my application was a lack of commitment, I was still going back and forth as to whether I was making the right choice, did I really want to become a doctor? I was still wrestling with this idea at the age of 21 so imagine how a 16 year old might feel. And so I graduated from Manchester and went off to enjoy my summer.
It was during this time that I had some time to reflect on what I really wanted, towards the end of summer I had some further work experience sitting in on ENT clinic consultations and I was even privileged enough to observe in theatre (I think it was here that my obsession with surgery began). As well as this, I stepped out into completely uncharted territory, did the unthinkable, and undertook some voluntary work!!!! This involved weekly trips to a dementia hospice to help out with whatever needed doing (which was a lot). I was finally immersing myself in healthcare and after three years to contemplate other careers, I came back to the same conclusion I reached as a 16 year old, I wanted to become a doctor, and this time I was sure. I think I’d always known deep down that this was something I wanted to do, but I was probably reticent due to the level of commitment required. This brings me to the main point of my article, it can take a lot of time and growth for you to realise what you want to do in life, so please don’t be worried about ensuring you get into medical school the moment you step out of college. In late 2018 I submitted what would turn out to be a successful application, one with conviction that ticked all the boxes, I diligently prepared for my interviews and of course hoped for what every medical applicant needs, a bit of luck. After all, you have to find yourself one of around 6000 spaces at med school relative to around 87,000 applicants!! (No wonder it took 3 attempts)
I am now a student at the University of Leicester, I am once again a first year who is beginning a journey that will span the rest of my life and I have realised that I’m doing this at the right time. I know I wouldn’t have coped with this very well at the age of 18. I now consider myself a mature (relatively), independent young man with a degree in hand, I understand how I learn best, and most importantly I am completely certain I’m doing the right thing. There is no preordained path into medicine, nor is there a right time to realise you want to become a doctor, so please approach it all at your own speed. It took me 3 attempts to get in, and now I know that it all happened for a reason. After much soul-searching, I finally feel I’m in the right place at the right time, 6 years after my journey began as a spotty faced 16 year old without a clue in the world.