Shadowing a DoctorApril 17, 2014
Applying For Medicine: Part One
It took me two attempts at applying for Medicine before a university actually offered me a place; so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get in first time! There’s always high competition for medicine courses, or in fact any healthcare/vocational degree, but if you’re committed to this career and know, realistically, what you’re in for, you can try again and with slight tweaks your application can be vastly improved.
When I applied first time around, I received two straight rejections and two calls to interview (universities shall remain unnamed!). That sort of set alarm bells ringing for me, because the two universities that had rejected me right off the bat had obviously found my personal statement below par. At the two interviews, I was incredibly nervous and some of the questions I was asked completely baffled me. I had no idea what a clinical governing body was and my knowledge of the GMC was extremely limited at the time! After a lengthy wait, I finally received rejections from both of these universities as well. At the time I was really disheartened, and the idea of not being able to study medicine worried me, as I really had my heart set on becoming a doctor. I decided to take a gap year and reapply the following year rather than go into another course through Clearing. I just felt as though I would not enjoy it and it would be time wasted.
Revising my personal statement was one of my main priorities during reapplication. One of the universities that had rejected me had given clear criteria on what they looked for in a personal statement. These included things like insight, motivation, responsibilities, social awareness and extracurricular involvements. I discovered that the skill was to, for want of a better phrase, blow your own trumpet. Previously, I had simply mentioned various activities and placements that I had been involved in. The second time round, I decided to elaborate further on how taking part in all these things had led to self-improvement and greater awareness. For example, simply mentioning the fact that I had done a six month volunteer placement on a hospital ward wasn’t good enough – I had to explain how it showed determination to complete a long-term assignment as well as exposing me to the reality of working in a clinical setting. It really must have helped because every single university I applied to the second time round called me to interview.
I was fortunate in that I had done a lot of activities, placements and work experience early on in sixth form – this, I think, is the key to applying for medicine. I know it’s difficult to secure any sort of clinical work experience at a young age due to confidentiality, health and safety etc., but even shadowing a clinician for a day or two at the age of 17 is a huge help. For one thing, you’ll probably get to see some of the less attractive parts of medicine but also, any experience is good experience. If nothing, you can at least get chatting to a doctor and ask them about their career process, so you don’t even need to know a lot of science to engage in conversation. It’s far better to get experiences/placements in early rather than rushing around at the last minute to try and secure a couple of days shadowing just so you can talk about it at interview.
There’s also all the non-clinical experience that helps – this can range from being on a sixth form committee to helping out at a nursery/nursing home once a week. If you can talk about how it helped develop your character and possibly even prepare you for a career in medicine, it’s valuable. Long-term activities impress much more, I found, because a steely determination is what a lot of interviewers are looking for – you’ll certainly need it as a doctor! For example, more interviewers commented on the fact that I had worked as a volunteer at a local charity for three years than the fact that I had shadowed various specialist doctors.