In this series of articles, medical students from across the UK speak about their personal journey to medicine. Rosie is a graduate medical student at the University of Warwick who previously studied English Literature at Newcastle University.
My name is Rosie and I am a Graduate Entry Medicine student at Warwick University. My journey into medicine was quite different to most people and I learnt a lot from it, so grab a cup of tea and I’ll tell you about my scenic route to medicine.
So often we hear stories of people knowing they wanted to be a doctor for as long as they could remember. Even most of my graduate medicine counterparts studied science subjects at university and always had medicine in the back of their mind. I on the other hand was obsessed with theatre and film from a young age. I was set on becoming an author and theatre director and medicine had never even crossed my mind.
I grew up in a very creative family. My mum is a theatre costume maker, my dad was a theatre prop maker and my sister is now a musical theatre performer. I always did ballet, theatre groups, played musical instruments and made films in my garden.
In addition to this though was a subtle idea that medicine wasn’t something that ‘people like me’ did.
No one in my family other than the odd distant cousin had ever been to university.
My wider family almost had the idea that you should stay in your lane and that people who focused on academics were a bit pretentious. My schools were fabulous state schools but they were keen for people to focus on their skills and succeed in them.
I saw doctors as rich, intelligent people who were always exceptional and as a group I wouldn’t belong to, therefore it honestly never crossed my mind.
In addition to this, when I was 8 years old, my father passed away from lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure. This meant that for many years I was surrounded by hospitals and hospices. This environment had become a sign of bad news and difficult times. Despite forming close relationships with the nursing and medical staff that cared for my dad, I don’t think that I ever thought I could be like them. All the death and blood and vomit was something I wanted to be as far away from as possible.
Writing also played a large part in my grieving process and reading books about characters who had loved and lost gave me a lot of relief, pushing me even closer to a creative career.
At A-Levels I randomly decided to do Biology amongst Film, English Literature, Psychology and a few extra subjects. I remember my mum asking why I had picked Biology at last minute and the honest answer was because I really enjoyed it. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me that this enjoyment was something I could explore further but I did my A Levels and applied to a BA English Literature as planned.
I was lucky enough to get the grades I had hoped for and make it into my top choice of university. Once I arrived at Newcastle University, I was so excited to get stuck into the books and explore a new city. But I quickly found that English Literature wasn’t giving me what I had wanted. I was overwhelmed with a feeling that the essays I was writing would probably get thrown away. I questioned what the point of my degree was. This is not to say that I don’t think there is a point – literature, as I said, has been a lifeline for me.
Learning to see the world through the perspective of people who are completely different to you is amazing and hearing stories of different people and different experiences is incredible. Literature is an art and for those who love it, the degree is amazing.
I was struck though by the difference in what I loved about the books we read and what others wrote about. While I loved the stories and how the language used could depict different cultures and ways of thinking, others were interesting in sentence structure and metaphor. I realised it was the people in the books that I loved, not necessarily the writing itself.
I was left with a period of time, wondering what I was going to do with my life. As someone who had always had a goal, worked hard, achieved it and moved on, the feeling of not knowing what was next really demotivated me.
I decided to explore teaching and randomly took a volunteer placement in The Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital School. I taught children by the bedside, altering their education to fit their treatments. Here I fell in love with the hospital environment. Every time the doctors came to discuss how we could help the children with their condition, I desperately wanted to know more. Suddenly all the years I had spent volunteering at a child bereavement charity, and various other health care related charity made sense. I spoke to some of my friends who were studying medicine and was so jealous when I heard what they were doing.
I just kept feeling sad that it was ‘too late’. I didn’t have the right A Levels and I couldn’t afford to do another degree so that ship had sailed.
Then one day I heard the term ‘graduate entry medicine’. I jumped online and discovered a world of funded courses and some that accepted art graduates. I will never forget the feeling of realising this was an option and knowing whole-heartedly it was what I wanted to do.
As I said, I wasn’t planning to study medicine at GCSE so I chose subjects with a more creative aspect. Alongside the standard double science, Maths and English I did a creative and media diploma (which no longer exists), RS, History, ICT. I was lucky enough to get all A*s and A’s at GCSE. I worked and revised really hard at GCSE because I have always been someone who wanted to do well and achieve something. Luckily, the hard work paid off.
I did Biology, Film, English Literature and Psychology at A-Level as well as Italian for Beginners, Critical Thinking and Extended Project. Again, I was lucky enough to get A*A*A A and distinction after two years of hard work.
I found the transition from GCSE to A Level very satisfying but also very challenging. In my first set of exams in first year, I didn’t achieve the grades I wanted. I realised that I needed to change the way I was revising because my old techniques didn’t cut it. Please don’t worry if this happens to you, it is a different way of working and you will figure it out.
Applying to Medicine
As an Art graduate applying to medicine I was fairly limited in the universities I could chose from. Warwick quickly stood out to me as good choice. They are the largest graduate entry course in the country and are specific to graduates so we don’t have an undergraduate course. I also wanted to avoid the GAMSAT since it is expensive and Warwick accepted UKCAT (now UCAT). I also applied to Newcastle where I did my undergraduate, Queen Mary and Leicester.
Once I had decided to apply to medicine I wanted to work in the NHS to get work experience as well as confirm that medicine really was for me.
I took a job as a Theatre Support Worker in Gynaecology and Obstetric theatres and worked there for nearly two years. After that I worked in ENT, Plastics and MaxFax Outpatients for 1 year as a Health Care Assistant. This was amazing experience for me. I also did 2 weeks work experience in a palliative care home, taught at the hospital school, volunteered at a child bereavement charity and worked for a homelessness and vulnerable housing charity. Most of these experiences were done before I decided on medicine because I have always been passionate about giving back to the community, but they came in really handy in interview.
My Tips for You
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it! If there is one thing I learnt throughout my time applying to medicine it is that, if you are passionate and you work hard, eventually medicine will happen for you. I didn’t get in on my first application and the extra year taught me so much so please don’t give up
Make sure it is what YOU want. Don’t go into medicine for the money or because your family say so. The career is not glamourous or even that well paid, but when you love it, it really is incredible. My advice is to take the time to do work experience that is hands on, helping to toilet patients and clean up their sick and see them at their most vulnerable, this will teach you so much about empathy and patient care as well as helping you decide if the career is for you
Remember there is life outside of medicine. It is so easy to get swept up in medicine applications and study once you get there. Please don’t forget that there is more to life than work. Having a healthy balance and making time for friends, family, exercise and hobbies is crucial to making it through this hard degree and career, so start now and get in the habit.
Now I am studying, I have been taking all the opportunities I can to supplement my degree. I am the wellbeing officer for my university, I am a residential life tutor for undergraduates on campus, I work as a study blogger and work with a few different charities and companies. I also have a blog and Instagram page to help inform people about life as a medic so check that out at @thefemale_medic. I am always happy to have a chat or answer questions so feel free to get in touch via DM if you want to.
Thanks for reading, I hope I have given you an insight into my weird and wonderful journey to medicine. Good luck with applications or study!
I wanted to finish by saying that studying medicine has changed my life. It has been hard, stressful, inspiring, hilarious and made me grow so much as a person. We get the honour of being with people at the best and worst moments of their life and, sometimes, make a difference to their future. Its an exciting road, and its just around the corner for you if you want it.
Rosie a.k.a The Female Medic