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The journey to medical school: a discussion with med students
As every medical student will know, every single one of us has a very unique journey, with our fair share of hurdles along the way. Though we all have slightly different experiences that have motivated us to study medicine, routes into the vocation and even adventures throughout the years studying the degree itself - we all hope to graduate as doctors, ultimately the very same.
In a series of round table discussions, five medical students - Ansab, Shakira and Neha from King's College London, and Georgina and myself from Imperial College London - reflect on our reasons for choosing the profession, personal experiences with the admissions process, and how we’re finding our degree so far, between three and five years in.
It’s a common misconception that you have to be a ‘certain type of person’ to pursue a career in medicine, but as we discussed - there are several reasons for choosing the profession. Ansab describes himself as an “outgoing social person” who chose medicine “as a service to give back to the community”, whilst Shakira remembers that maths and biology were her two strongest subjects at school, but she could never quite see herself working in the former for the rest of her life - medicine suited her bubbly personality much better.
As we reflected on the process of acquiring work experience together, Ansab recommended that prospective students aim for long term placements, as it enabled him to develop a stronger relationship with people and his work. Even now, he reflects on specific moments that strike him as special - when working at a hospice he remembers one particular terminally ill woman, inspired by her positive outlook.
With health and safety protocols and the logistical nightmares that come with organising work experience placements for students in hospitals, it’s getting increasingly difficult for prospective medical students to secure placements in healthcare settings, and there’s definitely an element of nepotism involved - but universities understand this! It’s just as beneficial to have experience working with and communicating with different groups of people.
As the first student to apply for medicine from her sixth form in a few years, Georgina remembered that even just deciphering the admissions process was tricky. Whilst I personally found BMAT preparation less stressful than UCAT (as essay writing suited my skill set, and I thought there were fewer abstract questions and basic sciences are easier to revise) a few of the other students chose not to sit the BMAT to make sure the admissions process wasn’t any longer than it already had to be.
As we reflected together on our experiences, including an appendix removal during the week of the BMAT exam, a mock UCAT score of 400 and post-interview Bollywood-style breakdowns - we realised that we all had strengths and weaknesses in our applications but we all made it. Ultimately, you can only try your best at each hurdle, and if one component of your application falls a little short you can play to your strengths and apply more tactically.
We remember that the whole period of applying to study medicine can be very dog-eat-dog, but the process doesn’t need to be so competitive even if you do it alongside friends. For me personally, guidance from older applicants was invaluable throughout, and Georgina remembers how crucial her mentor was to her interview preparation - practice with someone with experience is imperative since it’s so much more difficult to answer a question on the spot in front of a panel than to write an answer in an exam!
Life at medical school
With all five of us now done with our pre-clinical years, we remember how tedious having 9-5 days of science-heavy lectures were, and thinking about how irrelevant it all seemed. Most of us had periods of time where we questioned whether choosing to study medicine was the right choice! However, the moment we began clinical years, these doubts resolved themselves.
When discussing how we coped during some of the most demanding years of our lives to date, we reflected on how difficult it was moving out for the first time, dealing with responsibilities and forging new relationships. Another challenge was the shift in pace academically, and dealing with the fact that we’ll never know the content of our degree anywhere remotely close to how well we knew our A level content - 60% is the new 90%.
With Ansab and Shakira now in their final year, they shared how their training has shifted to incorporate more responsibility to enable them to be best prepared to become a doctor, not just another medical student. Though the process can seem never-ending whilst you’re in it, they said that the whole five years passed them by in a flash - they finally know what they meant when they wrote about a “career of lifelong learning” in their personal statements all those years ago!
Want to learn more about the admissions process and what it's like at medical school? Read our blogs Medical School Applications: do's & don'ts and 11 do's and don'ts for your first year in med school.