My name’s Jamie Charlton, and I am currently in my final year of BSc Geography at the University of Exeter. Probably unlike most of my fellow medical applicants, I didn’t come out of the womb knowing I wanted to be a doctor. In fact, it was a career path I’d flirted with the idea of since about year 10, but my ambition to become a doctor didn’t gain any real traction until the first few months of my current degree. So why then, such a late decision? I’d always subscribed to the mantra of keeping my options open and gaining some life experience. I could never afford to go on a gap year to Thailand – instead I focussed on retaking a couple of A Level modules to boost my mark, as well as gaining some paid employment and work experience. During this time I had a lot of time to reflect: what do I realistically see myself doing (and enjoying) in ten years’ time? I’ll spare you the plethora of reasons that finally persuaded me to pursue the medical dream, but needless to say my ambition grew strong enough since then to make me go ‘all in’ and go for it.
I started the process in June last year – it’s September now and I’m still waiting to hear from my chosen medical schools, so it is a long process. Initially I just read material, mainly from Student Room (albeit with a pinch of salt!) about how the process worked. What are the entry requirements? Could I do it with my mediocre A-Levels? How would I fund it? Once I had a better idea of what I was getting myself into, I rather crazily booked UKCAT and GAMSAT admissions tests over August and September. These exams were chapters of my life in themselves, far more than I can relate to in a short article, but do your research. They are investments in time and money, and arguably these exams aren’t for the faint-hearted or dreamers.
Shortly after these exams, I wrote off to an RD&E consultant asking for a week’s work experience in interventional radiology and was delighted when he accepted. I spent a wonderful week watching surgery and sitting in on multidisciplinary team meetings, learning lots of things. Arguably it wasn’t the medical side of the week that I took most from, but it was the realistic view of a career in medicine that was afforded to me. A medical career is insanely rewarding but it can be far removed from the romanticised notions that are attached to it. I urge everyone, and luckily it’s a requirement now, to gain some work experience, even for a day, to really see what being a doctor is like and whether it’s for you.
Following the week, I spent a couple of days digging through old certificates and employer details to make a passable personal statement. It is always so self-conscious and painful writing a PS, trust me, I’ve done it twice now, but the longer you put it off the longer it will sit there needing to be done. Just do it, and sell yourself! It really helped me when I shared my PS with a few medically minded colleagues for scrutiny. A very nice A&E consultant, Dr Ollie Rupar, whom I met whilst volunteering in A&E, very kindly agreed to read my PS in Waterstones over a cup of coffee. His input, along with a few others, certainly opened my eyes to many factors I hadn’t considered and definitely changed my statement for the better. Don’t be afraid to share your statement with friends and family, but if you know anyone who has been through the process they are definitely the best ones to advise you. I certainly wouldn’t advocate spending hundreds of pounds on ‘Best statement’ guides – I didn’t spend a penny!
Before I conclude my article with a few pointers, I briefly share my interview experience with you. Based on personal preference, I elected to go for Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) over traditional interview for my choices. At the time of writing I attended the Exeter MMI in December, and I have my Swansea MMI at the end of this month. Attending an MMI is a very surreal experience. I’d never done anything like that before, but it was over very quickly! There were 7 stations, each with a different (and emotionless!) assessor who asked a trio of questions on a particular facet of medicine or personal attributes. I’m not sure how much I can give away, but think along the lines of what qualities make a good doctor? How do you and have you demonstrated these qualities with examples? Why do you want to be a doctor? Coming in armed with examples and a positive attitude will take you a long way.
Anyway, probably the bit you’ve been waiting for! The first thing I’ll mention is that everyone’s journey into medicine is their own. By all means heed good advice, but not much will be gained from listening to prescriptive methodology. There is no such thing as ‘if you do x, y and z you WILL be a doctor!’ Rather, I’ll share with you the tips I’d give to my earlier self, and hopefully you’ll gain some benefit from them:
- You can never start preparing too early. Doing a little bit here and there is far more effective than cramming in a couple of weeks.
- Be reflective. Question your motivations – is medicine truly what you want to do? List your reasons.
- Don’t be phased by adversity. Many outstanding professionals failed their application at least once. Don’t be phased by that C grade at A Level or how difficult you’ve heard the GAMSAT is – just go in there and do your absolute best, that’s all you can do!
- Remember, some people might try to psych you out or talk down your achievements, not always maliciously, but have faith in yourself. The very fact that you are in a position to apply to medical school, to sit an admissions test or get an interview is an achievement in itself. You ARE capable, and don’t let naysayers tell you otherwise.
- Don’t do what I did and leave a month to study for the GAMSAT – it’s not worth the stress.
- Networking is so useful – even if it’s just swapping numbers or emails, every contact is potentially someone who can really help you later.
I truly wish all of you every success. Applying to medicine is a long, difficult and emotional journey, and unfortunately not everyone makes the cut first time round. But that is just the nature of medicine as a profession – by accepting the best, that’s what makes it such a revered and trusted discipline. With positivity and tenacity, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t succeed. Best of luck to you all.
In case you were interested, at the time of writing I still haven’t heard back from my schools that I interviewed at, so I currently don’t know if I’ve been successful yet!
University of Exeter