My journey into medicine

Friday 21 February 2020, UCAS advice

by UCAS

My journey into medicine

Relevant to
UCAS

School

At school, I did the International Baccalaureate instead of A levels, taking biology, chemistry, and geography at Higher Level, and maths, English, and Latin at Standard Level. I knew that at university, I wanted to study something related to science/geography, but was not sure what course that would be.  

My school ran a MedSoc for the sixth form and we met once a week. At these meetings, the older students would talk to us about their applications, and the work experience they’d done, and we had the opportunity to do presentations based on medical-related current affairs. After learning more about studying medicine at university, I was keen to get some work experience in various clinical and non-clinical settings.

Work experience

Initially, I found it very difficult to obtain work experience in a local GP practice, as many of them were unable to offer me a placement due to confidentiality reasons. Having sent about 20 emails to local practices (resilience is key here!), finally one accepted me into their practice for a week! I got to see a wide variety of patients and learnt lots of skills from observing the various healthcare professionals, and I saw how a GP practice is run.

My local hospital offered two-day work experience placements to school students, but I’d heard the application process was competitive. Nevertheless, I decided to apply as I knew it would be a fantastic experience. (Tip: If possible, be flexible with the days you can attend as this can improve your chances of getting a placement.) I was offered a two-day placement in the Easter holidays and managed to fit a lot into the days! I went on ward rounds, attended a team meeting, sat in on some clinics, and even got to observe the multi-disciplinary team at work in surgery!

Once a week after school, I volunteered at a primary school for children with autism. Volunteering here taught me lots of skills, such as working with children, and the importance of communication both verbally and non-verbally, as some of the children struggled to pick up social cues which we use every day.

During sixth form, I had a weekend job at a local supermarket, volunteered at a charity shop, ran some clubs at school, mentored younger students in subjects they struggled in, captained my badminton team, and played a lot of sports! Doing different activities is a great way to stand out on your application, and it also keeps you motivated and alert during your studies.

By the end of Year 12, I was not 100% sure I wanted to study medicine, so decided that I would take a gap year, after Year 13.

Entrance exams and personal statement

During the summer after my final exams, I worked on my personal statement and studied for the UKCAT and BMAT exams. I took the UKCAT towards the end of the summer, meaning I had a couple of months to go over practice questions and tests. I found that by doing a little bit every day, my technique and speed improved. By working under timed conditions, you get used to the time pressures which you will face in the exam, and you can feel more confident going into it.

I drafted my personal statement and sent it to some of my teachers, and doctors I’d met on my work experience, to check. After many drafts, my UCAS application was complete, and then it was a waiting game to hear about interviews...

Interviews

I was fortunate enough to receive four interviews – one panel and three group interviews.

For the panel interview, I was given an article about 30 minutes beforehand, and told I would be asked about it in the interview. I could make notes on the article, which was an ethical issue. I made sure I used the Four Ethical Pillars and jotted down different viewpoints to make my argument balanced.

In the interview itself, I discussed the article for about ten minutes, and then for the next 15 – 20 minutes I was asked questions, such as my motivations to study medicine, and the challenges I think are faced by doctors and medical students. I was able to use examples from my work experience and extra-curricular activities, and link them to the questions I was being asked.

In the panel interviews, there were seven – nine stations, which lasted six –eight minutes each. There were stations about ethical issues, calculations, role-playing (which tests empathy, communication etc.), asking how you have demonstrated qualities. To prepare for these, I went through my personal statement beforehand and thought about how the things I had done were relevant to a career in medicine.

The interviews are also a great opportunity to explore the university and the city. Some universities will give you a tour after the interview, where you can ask current medical students any questions you may have.

At the end of the whole process, I received three unconditional offers!

Gap year

As I was not 100% sure I wanted to study medicine, I arranged work experience at a geoscience company and an insurance company. I was able to rule the other options out, and was then certain I wanted to study medicine.

I volunteered at my local hospital as a Patient Research Ambassador, which involved me speaking to patients about studies and research trials that we were recruiting patients for. This position enabled me to learn more about the research side of medicine, as well as forming relationships with patients and clinical staff.

I love sports and trained to become a badminton coach. Every week, I would coach children at one of the local clubs, and it was really rewarding to watch their progress throughout the year.

In addition to this, I worked at my local supermarket and saved the money I earned for university and to travel. I went to Hong Kong, Australia, Italy, Amsterdam, Norway, Sri Lanka, and Ireland!

I enjoyed my gap year because it was nice to have a break between sixth form and medical school. They are both very intense, so it was nice to focus my attention on something other than studying and by the end of my gap year, I felt ready to get back to work and start medical school.