Our resident Doctor, Dr. April Diviney, describes her journey from college to medical school - the ups, the downs and the experiences:
Queue the stereotypical aspiring medical student. Recently appointed head girl of her school as well as Netball captain, Grade 8 in Flute and many weeks of work experience shadowing Consultants under her belt. Come October, she felt she was finally ready to submit her UCAS application to follow her dreams of becoming a doctor.
This was me in 2009. Looking back now, I feel I was very immature, unprepared and would have gone about the application process to medicine far differently. That year I did get one interview from Bristol University but received straight rejections from my other four choices for medical schools.
My interview with Bristol did not go well, to say the least. Very nervous, shaking all over, I stumbled over my words and failed to answer even the simple questions like, ‘why medicine?’ and ‘why Bristol University?’ I was not prepared enough for how hard the process of applying to medical school can be. Unsurprisingly, I did not get an offer from Bristol.
When you go through secondary school being told by family, friends, and teachers that you are going to be a doctor and they also expect this, the blow of not getting in the first time was heavy. I struggled with that feeling for many months. I think because you truly believe you are going to get in the first time around, it becomes a greater shock when you don’t.
Considering my qualities as a person, I never thought a different career path would be more appropriate. Due to this, I made the decision to reject my 5th UCAS choice (natural sciences in Birmingham by the way) and reapply to study Medicine a second time the year after. It obviously wasn’t the original plan but reflecting back now, 8 years later, taking a Gap Year was the best thing I could have done for me.
During my Gap Year, I worked as a playworker in a before and after school club as well as volunteering at a hospice on Sunday’s. My experience during both of these jobs was invaluable.
Most importantly, I shared experiences with dying patients and their family members in the hospice. I spent many days just chatting away and keeping people company including simply making them a cup of tea. This is what I feel changed things for my UCAS application the second time around. This unwritten rule of having a caring role experience was never shared with me until after my year of rejection. As well as my jobs described above, I had driving lessons, continued to play Netball and went traveling around Europe for 5 weeks.
Upon entering medical school, I realised it's actually quite common to have taken a Gap Year (forced and unforced.) Many students don’t go straight into medical school now. Some students found themselves in the same situation as myself, some students deferred entering medical school straight away, some students studied another degree first as well as other students having jobs previously and entering Medicine later in life. Discussing my situation with other colleagues, it seems that other people who were in the same situation as myself had a very similar year. Most worked through their Gap Year, went on holiday, visited friends at their Universities and mainly improved their UCAS application for the second time around.
Writing this, I wanted to pass on my reflection of what I went through so that others who go through my situation know that it’s not just them and how they can look towards the future. There are a couple of points of wisdom that I would like to pass on:
No matter how much you feel you have prepared… prepare even more
Don’t underestimate the importance of the UKCAT or BMAT – Universities can put a lot of emphasis on these scores so PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!
When considering work experience, you need to actually have good quality work experience that gives you a true insight into life as a doctor and the team in the NHS as well as having a caring role. This is far better than pure quantity of work experience. You need to be able to reflect on your work experience, what you learnt and how it made you better equipped to become a doctor
You can never practice too much for interviews – research questions, practice questions and get anyone and everyone you know to practice with you
My last one is to not be disheartened if you don’t get in first time. It’s a stressful and hard process and there are lots of routes nowadays to get into medicine. Sometimes the best doctors are those with a bit of extra life experience.
As a final note I would like to add I have now finished my Foundation Year Two training as a Doctor after qualifying from Manchester Medical School. I plan to apply to Core Medical Training and could not be more excited about this and my future career. Truly I would not change my job and really do believe I have chosen the best career for me. No other job in my opinion could give me the adrenaline, laughs, drama, gossip, tea, emotion and camaraderie like this does. I have had some of the best moments of my life over the last two years as a doctor and wouldn’t change it for the world.