Shadowing a DoctorSeptember 2, 2014
For those of you who are currently applying to medical school, it can be useful to hear about other people’s experiences of the application process. Here, former Gap Medics students Mehreen and Caitlin talk about the application process, their Gap Medics placements, and offer some useful words of advice to future medics! Mehreen is currently in the second year of her MBChB in medicine at Leeds University, and Caitlin is currently studying medicine at Manchester University.
You’re currently studying medicine at university – how are you finding it?
Caitlin: I am just coming to the end of my first year studying medicine at Manchester. My degree is definitely full on! Initially it was a bit daunting as there was so much to take in and learn, but I have now gotten into the swing of things. My placement with Gap Medics helped me grasp a lot in my first year of study.
What A-levels did you take?
Caitlin: I studied Chemistry, Maths and French and took Physics for AS level. I didn’t need to take Biology to get into Manchester, but part of me wishes I had as it would of really helped with my first year. It is by no means essential, but it would give you a lot more background knowledge to work from.
How did you find the application process for medical school? Any tips for future medical students?
Mehreen: The first time I applied, I got rejected. I was lucky because I received really in-depth feedback about how to improve my personal statement. In particular, the universities seemed to be looking for some evidence of the following: commitment to any roles (such as a sports team, a long-termvolunteering role, etc), motivation to do medicine (why you wanted to go down that career path), extracurricular involvements (sports, music, drama, volunteering, helping organise events) and any roles of responsibility (e.g. school president, sports captain). The key, I think, was not to try and include as manydifferent things as possible, but to try and show that you got the most out of whatever you did – don’t list everything you did, take time to talk about what you took from each experience.
What did you include in your personal statement?
Caitlin: My work experience was probably the most important thing I included in my personal statement. They really do value it; so the more you can fit in the better. Alongside my Gap Medics placement, I also completed some hospital internships and worked for a charity that supports MS. If you show how much you want to study medicine and that you are genuinely passionate about it, it will shine through to the admissions office. Nothing says that better than a lot of healthcare work experience.
How did your Gap Medics hospital placement overseas prepare you for medical school?
Mehreen: You get to see and do a lot of things while on placement with Gap Medics that you wouldn’t ordinarily get to do as a pre-medical student in countries like the UK, US etc. The first time I ever saw surgery, the first time I watched someone give birth and the first time I took a history from a patient were all while I was on my placement. This really helped to prepare me for the placements I now do at medical school. Also, you get to witness first-hand the effect of conditions such as HIV/AIDS and TB that are more prevalent in developing countries – you wouldn’t get to see much of this in developed countries like the UK. Now that I’m learning about these conditions at medical school, it helps to have experiences to reflect on.
Caitlin: It helped me out so much. I found things easier to grasp when I started university due to the things I had seen whilst I was on my placement. I had more background knowledge as I had seen procedures first hand and had a better understanding of the things we learnt in first year.
What procedures did you see at the hospital whilst on placement? Why did these stand out to you?
Mehreen: I watched a fair few natural births – something that even now, at medical school, puts a lot of students off! I liked seeing how “normal” and intervention-free it was, in comparison to the procedures we saw in theatre, such as ectopic pregnancies and C-sections. It was fascinating to see how skillful the doctors were and how quickly they were able to sort things out if the situation was complicated.
Caitlin: I spent my placement in obstetrics and gynaecology, and had really good access to surgery. I was able to see a variety of things, lots of live births and some Caesarean sections and also a hysterectomy, which was an experience I won’t forget. It was definitely a great opportunity to see a wide variety of surgical procedures.
Did you find the experience valuable in helping you decide whether medicine was right for you?
Mehreen: It was invaluable! Getting to experience the clinical side of things and witnessing some extreme cases didn’t put me off at all – it just made me realise that I wanted to continue in this career and help patients like them.
Caitlin: The whole experience made me incredibly excited to start my degree and gave me a huge insight into what it will be like to be doctor. It definitely confirmed for me that I made the right decision to study medicine.
Any advice for students who are hoping to apply to medical school?
Mehreen: I was always really worried that I hadn’t done enough extracurricular stuff, like D of E, or school presidency, or sports. Again, the key for both personal statements and interviews is just to try and show that each experience was valuable to you. At interview, it’s best to just keep calm – most medical school interviews aren’t big and scary any more, a lot of schools are moving towards a less formal “chat”. Just relax, be yourself and show that you really, really are interested in medicine, even the most gory, gruesome and unappealing bits!