Applying To Medical School Series- Part One: Are You Sure?
It starts early.
You’re 14 years old and your teacher tells you that you’re going to be starting the GCSE syllabus now. You still have to ask permission to go to the toilet but your future begins now. You have to start paying attention, even when everyone else is talking. You have to do your homework even if the rest of the class makes a pact not to do it and tell the teacher they forgot to assign any. You have to ask questions and study hard and do loads of practice questions to perfect your exam technique so that by the time exams roll around a year or two later, you can smash them.
August comes. You get your results.
Your results need to be great. Now this is relative, it really is. If the average GCSE grade across your year is a D and you got mostly Bs, a few As and maybe somehow scraped an A* or two, this can actually better than if everyone at your school averaged 11 A*s and you got 9 A*s and 2 As. Don’t worry whatever the case, all hope is not lost here.
Sixth Form begins. A lot of people will choose an “easy A” subject. Subjects they don’t really need to work very hard in and which aren’t particularly useful to them in the future.
You, on the other hand, need to have Chemistry. You also choose Biology and Maths. For your 4th subject, you decide on Spanish because you’d quite like to go to UCL and you’ve heard they prefer a non-scientific 4th subject. But crap. You were also thinking that with GCSEs like the ones you worked your butt off to get, maybe you’d consider Cambridge if your AS Results turn out well. And don’t Cambridge love you to have 4 sciences? Well whatever. What’s done is done. Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Spanish it’ll have to be.
Oh but this isn’t all.
You’re volunteering in a care home, tutoring younger students, acting as a mentor, working with autistic children at a weekly club, captaining the basketball and hockey teams, raising money for the school in Senegal that your own school is affiliated with and of course, you’re going to South Korea over the summer to teach English to children.
You’re also reading New Scientist and books by Atul Gawande and other popular medical books. You don’t read The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat because medicslacks on tumblr told you that everyone and their hat has read that book and seriously if you put it on your personal statement you are just wasting characters.
And of course. Work experience. You emailed every GP in the area and they all told you they can’t take you because it might compromise patient confidentiality. So you ask that girl in class who you kind of know but don’t really talk to if she could ask her dad, the GP, if you can shadow him for a day or two. She looks confused but says sure, she’ll ask.
You shadow the GP and realise this is only primary care. One of the patients really gets to you, a patient with Multiple Sclerosis and this intrigues you. You go home and read up about the condition. You then decide to email all the neurologists about your interest at your local hospital on the off-chance one of them will let you shadow them.
A miracle! A week later, one of them replies! Oh, but there’s a lengthy official process. That takes a month or so and then FINALLY you get some hospital work experience- just one afternoon, but you get to meet patients and ask the doctors more about MS and you decide it’s all worth it.
You grit your teeth as the kids with doctor parents talk about how they just follow their mum or dad around whenever they want.
And all this while you HAVE to keep working hard at school. You pay attention in class. You go home and do your homework, you flag things you don’t quite understand to ask at school. You start making notes early and you revise so hard in the run up to exams because secretly you’re still hoping to go to Cambridge and you’ve heard you need a minimum of 90% UMS in all your papers to have a chance. It’s okay if you don’t though- you know a family friend who got ABBC and still got an offer from Manchester.
But you’re hoping.
Results day rolls round aaaaand… YOU’VE DONE IT!
Now the nightmare that is application season begins.
UKCAT booked. Okay. You’ll worry about that later.
Everyone else has until January but YOU need to get everything done by October. You panic and sit down to draft your personal statement aaaaannnndddddd…
You draw a blank.
Do you write?
It’s okay because I AM HERE TO HELP. Personal Statement Help Post Coming Soon!
But for now, let’s just assume you somehow get through it. You draft it and you take it to your careers advisor who looks at it and then asks where you’re thinking of applying. “Cambridge, Imperial, Leicester and Hull York.” you say. You like the variety.
Your careers advisor looks baffled. “You can’t apply to those 4.” She tells you. “Your personal statement will never tick all the boxes for them all, they’re far too different and are looking for completely different things. They all teach medicine in completely different ways. On the spectrum of Traditional to PBL, you’ve really run the whole gamut.”
So you go away and you look into the courses and you decide that you’re not particularly bothered about research and you want to see patients as early as possible. You don’t really care about the city you’re in or the prestige of the university.
“Ahh that’s better.” Your careers advisor smiles as she sees you’ve scrawled across the top of your page: “Leeds, Hull York, East Anglia and Sheffield. You know, with GCSEs like yours, you should really consider Birmingham.”
You decide to see how your UKCAT goes.
Your school also registers you for the BMAT since Leeds requires it. But you’ve got the whole summer to worry about that.
Over the summer you prep for next year by reading ahead in the text books a little and making some notes. You carry on with all of the extracurriculars and volunteering you were doing. On top of this, you start doing practice questions for the UKCAT and BMAT.
After your first day of these questions, you break down. This is impossible. How does ANYBODY do this?
The next day you take a deep breath and try again.
They’re a little easier.
A week later and you’re finally starting to get the hang of it. You’re starting to know what to look for. You’re starting to notice patterns and learn the rules. You’re starting to think the right way.
You can do this!
You sit the UKCAT in the same seat where you did your driving theory exam. You get a 750. Excellent.
School starts again.
You refine your personal statement, you fill out the rest of your UCAS form. You see your reference.
You hold your breath as your Head Teacher clicks Send on your form.
Then you wait.
You don’t have time to stop. On top of school you’re now having to go over GCSE science again for the BMAT. And practicing writing as tiny as possible so you can fit an entire essay onto a page. As well as still struggling with all those logic questions. You’ve already applied to Leeds so now you HAVE to do it. You get a 2.5 in Section 2 of one of the past papers. You wonder if you might as well just give up on Leeds now.
You sit the BMAT and are fairly sure you failed every section. Whatever.
You’ve got an interview. AAARGGGHHHHH.
Mock interview. You NEED a mock interview. You beg your careers advisor who sorts out for a local doctor to come in and interview you. They ask you about your personal statement, your work experience, they ask you about a few ethical dilemmas and some odd questions that seem to have no purpose. They also discuss some topical issues in the NHS with you. You make a joke about Jeremy Hunt.
A few days later, you get your BMAT results. You did SO much better than you thought. Excellent.
You’re on cloud nine when… UCAS Track updates again.
Your first rejection.
It feels as though someone just snapped a rubber band around your heart. Why would they reject you? What was it they didn’t like? Were you not good enough? Did you not seem dedicated enough? Why?
You swallow down the disappointment. You already have TWO interviews. You’re so lucky. There are thousands of people who don’t even get that. And you have EARNED it. You’ve been working hard for years for this.
You prepare for the interview. You ask yourself questions and change the answer every time. “Why do you want to be a doctor?”
You know they’re going to ask you this but what do you say? You have an idea! You’ll talk about a patient. The patient with MS you saw at the GP who really touched your heart. You can say you liked how the science that the doctor knew would be nothing without the way he was able to console her more personal worries and concerns and this kind of application of science to help people really convinced you that you want to do this. At least by adding in a patient you saw, your answer will be more personal.
Interview day arrives and you’re sitting nervously with a few other students. A boy in an oversized suit and a girl wearing heels so high you’re worried she’ll break her ankle on her walk to the room. A student at the university smiles and calls your name. She walks you to the door. “Are you ready?” she asks. You nod but it’s not true, your stomach is full of butterflies and you feel a bit sick.
And for a second you pause.
Are you sure?
Are you ready for the path this could lead you down? The life of a doctor. Forget that. The life of a medical student! Antisocial hours, a lifetime of having to keep requalifying and doing exams, mountains of paperwork, not really saving lives so much as helping to reduce the effect of symptoms. Putting your heart and soul into delaying the inevitable.
Is making a difference to even just one life, is making life less painful or less miserable for just one person, is keeping just one person alive so their loved ones can see them for another day, or helping even one person to die in as little pain as possible… is that enough for you?
You take a deep breath and open the door.
Two weeks later. You get an offer.
You end up getting two more offers.
August rolls around again.
You cry when you get the email from UCAS confirming your place at your Firmed University.
It was all worth it. You got into medical school.
Your parents buy you a copy of Gray’s Anatomy and this is when you realise… The work has only JUST begun. The first 18 years were nothing.
I’m making a bulletin board at my library to feature web series. Any suggestions for my list?
(* marks those I have not yet seen but are on my to-watch list, ** means I’m currently watching it) I’ll be doing it this summer for next school year, so stuff coming out this summer is fair game. And it will be up all year, so…)
[EDIT: Italics are new additions to the list. Also, I’m already going to run out of room, so unfortunately I’m not including series like Kissing in the Rain or I Didn’t Write This]
SHAKESPEARE • Nothing Much To Do • Lovely Little Losers • Jules & Monty
• Any Other Vlog • Call Me Katie
• Kate the Cursed
• Midsemester Night’s Dream • Like, As it Is (New As You Like It)* • Much Ado About A Webseries
JANE AUSTEN & BRONTES • The Lizzie Bennet Diaries • Emma Approved • Autobiography of Jane Eyre • Elinor and Marianne Take Barton • Mars and Elly* • Welcome to Sanditon* • From Mansfield with Love • Project Dashwood* • North Hangin*
CHILDHOOD CLASSICS AND FAIRY TALES • New Adventures of Peter and Wendy • Green Gables Fables • March Family Letters • Misselthwaite Archives • University Ever After • Grimm Reflections • Further Adventures of Cupid and Eros
MULTIPLE BOOKS/CHARACTERS • The Jane Games • The Writing Majors • Classic Alice • Tell-Tale Vlog • SHAKES
GOTHIC • Carmilla • Frankenstein M.D. • Notes by Christine**
• The Late Nell Avery
OTHER • In Earnest • Nick Carraway Chronicles • Jamie Watson and Sherlock Holmes • Baker Street* • East and West • Masked*
ORGANISATION TIPS FOR FRESHERS:
THE BARE MINIMUM SO YOU CAN STRESS LESS p1/4
WHAT TO HAVE:
1. A SAFE PLACE – keep all irreplaceable/important documents
like your birth certificate, a level certificates, UCAS letters in here. Ideally
a concertina folder, or a folder with different sections. Mine is organised by
bank stuff, ID, student finance, qualifications, tenancy, and my part time job.
Keep this folder in your room and ideally keep a list of what is inside taped
to the front.
2. NOTEBOOK – for lecture notes, shopping lists, any notes.
At lectures, write the week number, date, module title, etc at the top. If
anything requires action (e.g. you have to email someone, read something for
next week) circle it, highlight it, underline it, make it clear. When you go
home you can make a list of what needs to be done and when. Keep this with you
at uni, and when you get home always leave it in the same place in your bag/on
3. BINDER – with plastic wallets, dividers if you want. I
keep two sections: ‘to do’ and ‘to return’. When a teacher hands me homework or
a bit of paper I immediately put it in ‘to do’. When I get home I check ‘to do’
and make a list, decide when to do it. When I’ve done it I immediately put it
in ‘to return’. Keep this with you at uni and when you get home always leave it in the same place
4. SEMESTER PLANNER – week numbers going down,
mon/tues/wed/thurs/fri/sat/sun going across. Write down deadlines, birthdays,
holidays so you can see everything in one place. You might notice two deadlines
in the same week. Keep on your wall.
5. WEEKLY PLANNER – print off one for each week, hours of
the day going down, days of the week going across. Fill in your classes,
society events, etc. Write your goal for that week (e.g. a deadline, or to
begin an essay). Keep this in your notebook/binder so if you need to organise a
tutorial or to meet a friend, you can quickly check when you are free.
6. FORGET PLACE – this is where I put things I can forget
about. Put in stuff you look at occasionally like recipes, or old photos, or internship info you don’t want to think about right now. When I write down a list of all my assessments, I stuff it in the forget
place and stop worrying. Keep this stuff in a plastic wallet/folder in your
ORGANISATION TIPS FOR FRESHERS: THE BARE MINIMUM SO YOU CAN STRESS LESS p4/4
NOTE-TAKING AND REVISION TIPS
use bullet points
highlight stuff - doesn’t even matter what you highlight! it breaks down information for your eyes
record yourself explaining a topic onto your laptop/phone. when you put yourself on the spot you may uncover gaps in your knowledge.
play it back to yourself and feel proud! you know loads
when you write stuff down, write stuff in really big letters if you want to. write in all caps if you want. write exclusively in gold sharpie. if you don’t want to revise a boring topic, but you have to, you can write swear words in your gosh-darn notes. no-one will ever know.
if you have loads of revision stuff on scrap paper, highlight the edges of the paper/do a border so these are clearly revision. you can colour code it and sort a pile of messy papers quickly.
oral exams scare the living crap out of me, so i found a picture of my examiner on the uni website and practiced in front of it (told my classmates and they laughed in my face, but hey i got a 1st and i’m no longer scared)
do past papers - there will be some on your uni website
flashcards. everyone says this to me and i never do it
relax!! you’ll be fine, remember to pick a reward for after all this
take 3 minutes and type up all you know about a topic. then prioritise what you missed out instead of focusing on what you already know
when you reeeeeeaaaaallllly don’t want to revise (but have no valid excuse) get everything you need like pens and paper, set a timer for 10 minutes, and tell yourself you can stop when the timer beeps. sometimes the hard part is starting
even if you feel fine, take a break to STAND UP. i never realise how much i need to pee until i stand up.
keep water at your workspace at all times
make sure the temperature is okay in the room
its easier to work in a clean tidy room. so, maybe go to the library
i hope you enjoyed these revision and organisation tips. i spent 5 years in secondary, 2 in sixth form, 1 in a foundation year, and 2 at university. i’ve been trying to work out the bare minimum. so i can stress less.