Career goals: Doctor

Long hours, intense studying, and the small case of confronting illness and death each day. No wonder medicine has a competitive and demanding reputation.

Junior doctor Jodie takes us on her journey from medicine applicant to qualified doctor, including applying two years in a row, sneaking in an extra degree and how her thespian skills come in handy with patients.

Meet Jodie

Graduated in: medicine at University of Southampton
A-levels studied: chemistry, biology, psychology

Did you always want to be a doctor?

I actually wanted to be a vet as a child but switched to wanting to treat humans when I was around 13. It probably helped that both my parents are doctors, although they never pushed me into medicine; it just sort of happened. 

As clichéd as it sounds, I really did want to be in a field where I could help and be in contact with lots of people, so medicine was perfect for this. 

I also find it incredibly interesting to learn about the human body. It takes a certain sort of nerd to become a doctor. 

Not sure what you'd like to do in the future? Check out these jobs and career ideas.

Was applying to study medicine difficult?

I actually applied twice, which isn't uncommon. The first time round, I was wait-listed at all four universities I applied to. 

Medicine is competitive. Most applicants often have the same grades and extra-curricular activities, so you need to do a lot to stand out. Many people even go down the route of doing another degree before going into medicine if they don't get offers the first time round. I had a back-up offer of biomedicine, but turned it down in favour of a gap year (which ended up being the best thing that could have happened). 

How did you make yourself stand out in your application?

Reading my personal statement back now, all the buzzwords I threw in to describe what I learned from various placements sound hilarious!

For instance, after sitting in on a hospital clinic, I concluded in my statement that 'knowledge and professional skills are not the only virtues of a good doctor. They also require good listening and communication skills to complement their problem-solving and decision-making skills.'

It's certainly true, but could I have sounded much more nauseating? 

Buzzwords aside, what tips would you give those applying to medicine?

Make sure you have some work experience in the medical field to show that you know what you're getting yourself into. 

Don't forget extra-curricular activities to show that you're a wonderful, well-rounded human being too.

Interviews were painful, so if you're the type of person who gets nervous for these, prep well! 

Also, different universities expect different entrance exams. Because I applied to a variety, I had to take both the UKCAT and BMAT exams, so know the key dates for these.  

How did you decide where to study medicine?

I mostly based my choice on distance from home, whether I liked the city and the course itself. 

Medical courses are on the whole fairly similar, but there are a few differences. For instance, some universities teach the first half of the course in a lecture-based format with little patient contact until your clinical years later on; meanwhile other courses integrate patient contact throughout. 

Some courses have a more self-directed, problem-based style of learning. So find the course you think would suit you best. 

Learn more about a course before applying: try our course search now

Once you got in to Southampton, what was the medicine course like?

The first and second years were mostly lecture-based, with some patient contact scattered throughout. 

In third year, we started having full placements with lectures in between. At the end of this year, we had exams which covered everything we'd learned to that point – rather importantly, these results would count towards job applications at the end of the course.

That summer, we had our medical elective placement. Many people go abroad for their elective and I took the opportunity to go to New Zealand. 

What did you do next?

On coming back, I took a year out of medicine and did an extra, intercalated BSc in Physiology at King's College, London. Some universities make this extra year a requirement, making their medicine courses six years in duration.

It was an intense year with a lot of research and science. Plus, I was in London – much more bustling surroundings! 

Coming back to Southampton, for my fourth year of medicine, things were a bit more relaxed. This year was mostly based around a research project that earned you a BMedSc (Bachelor of Medical Science). 

I won't lie, the fifth (and final) year of medicine was the worst and most stressful. It was all placement with final exams at the end. Make sure you have a good support network around you to keep you from going insane! 

But you graduated in the end. What's happened since then?

As a foundation doctor you spend two years on several, four-month rotations covering different areas of medicine. You essentially learn how to be a doctor; it's impossible for medical school to teach you absolutely everything!

I'm currently in my second foundation year in London, and have just sent off my specialty application for paediatrics. The application process is a points-based system, taking into account everything you've done up to that point.

What's an average day like as a doctor?

I'm currently working night and day shifts in the accident and emergency department in a major London hospital. 

Every day brings something new. While it can be incredibly stressful at times and sometimes I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing, I feel like I'm learning a huge deal still all the time, with amazing support from the senior doctors around me. 

The doctors and nurses in your team make it all the more bearable – when there's good camaraderie, you can laugh off the awful days with them.

What's the most challenging part of your job?

As you can see, it’s a long journey to become a doctor; and even when you graduate, there are still exams for specialty training. So you have to be driven.

I’m planning on taking some exams soon and it's such a struggle coming home from work to do more studying. You have to just get down to it.

Is there a particular skill that comes in useful that would surprise people? 

Acting skills. As a doctor, people often tell you all their biggest secrets and you see the most unusual things.

But you can't show any hint of surprise or judgement. So whatever your thoughts, you must take the information on board with a straight face and use it to help treat them. 

Biggest career highlight to date?

That time I got really excited about my first birthday as a real doctor and everyone in the operating theatre recovery area sang to me.

Alternatively, when my research as a medical student was selected to be presented at an international conference. 

What do you do after an intense shift?

I regularly rant to friends and family. Some may occasionally get bored of my ranting, but shout-out to my besties who put up with my crazy moments! 

Aside from ranting, eating an unhealthy amount of sugar and scrolling through Instagram looking at cute baby animal photos and videos also helps...

Want to learn more? Our medical practitioner job profile and our medicine subject guide is the perfect introduction.