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My Journey to medical school: From the beginning



In this (long) post I will be telling you my application process from the beginning and giving you some helpful nuggets of information along the way which are underlined. 

I have always wanted to be a doctor. As cliché as it sounds, it is in fact true for me. From the day I received my first toy doctor kit at the age of three I was set upon becoming a doctor.

As a result, I had a very clear direction in which I wanted to go to and so, to begin my journey I started volunteering at a local primary school to obtain some experience in working with people which would be a great thing to write on my personal statement, as well as giving me personal satisfaction of course (and a Duke of Edinburgh award). It is really important to find some volunteering work following up to your UCAS application, university's really like to see consistent and long term to commitment in helping people, as that is essentially what being a doctor is about. Commonly people try to volunteer in care homes, but I was unable to find a care home that would allow me to volunteer. University's (at least the ones I applied to, but more on that later) do not seem to care about where you volunteer, so long as it is long-term and you can learn something from it that will benefit you in your career in medicine. I also arranged two weeks of work experience in the same school, which although is not directly medicine related, can really strengthen your statement and interview skills as you can show that you have considered other jobs where you are trusted to care for people and educate them, which again is essentially what medicine is about. 

In the summer before I started year 12 (when I was 16) I undertook a week-long work experience placement at Birmingham University, where I worked in labs mainly as well as a little cardiovascular experience. This was a really informative work experience placement for me, especially as it was in a university and I got to meet some medical students. A few weeks later I received my GCSE results, and with a solid set of GCSEs, mostly A*s, I knew that I was on track to apply for medicine. 

In my AS year I primarily focused on my subjects: biology, chemistry, maths and economics (which I then dropped) as well as gaining more work experience and continuing my volunteering, and continuing the sporting activities I was doing (I will write more about this in a personal statement post). Over the Christmas break I did a three-day placement at a dermatologist which I found incredibly exciting and it definitely confirmed to me that medicine is what I wanted to study. 
Over the summer break at the end of year 12 (at the age of 17) I attended a program run by Barts medical school (Queen Mary University) which was for students who wanted to pursue a career in the NHS.

All of these things helped me to write my personal statements. One piece of crucial advice is to write a diary whilst you are at your work experience placements. This makes it so much easier to write your statement as you do not forget anything, and if written well enough you can directly copy and paste and save yourself some time later on!

Over the summer break I also needed to do my UKCAT exam, I did my exam relatively early on, on August 1st. I would highly recommend that you do your UKCAT early as it leaves more time to write your statement, as your UKCAT score will determine some of the universities you can apply for (I will create another post on that soon). In my opinion, the best resource is Medify, I would suggest a two-week membership as that will give you enough time to prepare thoroughly but not be too rushed, I also bought the UKCAT book "Get Into Medical School ‑ 1250 UKCAT Practice Questions" but I would not recommend that, especially as it's a book and not computerised like the actual exam will be. I achieved a decent score in the top portion of the 7th decile and band 1 in situational judgement, which meant I was good to apply to many universities, but had to rule some UKCAT heavy universities out. It is important to remember that as the scores for the UKCAT vary each yer, the decile is what you should be comparing to get an accurate view of cut offs etc. My best tip for the UKCAT exam that you haven’t already read 100 times is to sit the UKCAT one year early if possible, (so for example at the end of year 11) in practice for the exam for when you apply. Each UKCAT is valid for one application cycle. By sitting the exam once before will help you know what to expect, and from what I have seen in other people help you get a better score the following year, and this does not in any way effect you in the year in which you actually apply and you do not need to be applying that year to sit the UKCAT. So if for example you have sat it at the end of year 11 you need to sit it at the end of year 12 so it is valid for your application cycle. I wish I had done this myself.

I decided not to sit the BMAT as I did not particularly want to apply to any BMAT universities.

After receiving my predictions for my A levels, it was time for me to begin writing my statement and choosing which universities to apply to. I managed to write my statement fairly quickly and perfect it in a short amount of time with the help of my parents and some friends. Choosing what universities to apply for was another story. My method was to apply for universities I would have a strong chance of getting an interview for, but also one choice that I would really like to go to but would be more of a risk (which was Nottingham for me). Initially I applied for St George's University London, The University of Nottingham, St Andrews University and The University of Birmingham. 

Immediately after submitting I regretted my decision of applying to St Andrews and quickly substituted to The University of Liverpool. 

One day later I regretted my choice of Birmingham and changed that to The University of Bristol. 

You can change each choice on your UCAS once as long as it is within 7 days of you submitting it and as long as it is before the application deadline of October 15th.
And then the wait began…

The first University I heard back from was St George's University on December 5th (which was the best birthday present) where I received an interview which I scheduled for some time in January. 
A few weeks later, on December 23rd, Nottingham offered me an interview which I was incredibly shocked about as I was convinced that I would be rejected. I scheduled this for February 27th. 
Eventually my interview at St George's came around. I was incredibly nervous to begin with but the student ambassadors were absolutely wonderful! I hadn't visited St George's before but I fell in love with the place. The atmosphere was incredible and everyone seemed so nice. I found the interview to be incredibly difficult and I was disappointed with my performance as in practice interviews I had performed so much better. However, one week later I was elated to receive a conditional offer! From then on, I knew that I would not be nervous in my next interviews as there was nothing for me to lose really, I had secured a place at a University I adored!

A few weeks later I received an interview offer for Liverpool. I really liked the fact that Liverpool sent out all their interviews at the same time as this made things so much less stressful for me! All in all, Liverpool were incredibly efficient throughout the process and I am very grateful to their great admissions team for alleviating some of the stress.

Then February rolled around and I had my Liverpool and Nottingham interviews on consecutive Mondays (which was great as I got to miss double maths at school). I cannot tell you very much about the interviews due to the non-disclosure agreement I have signed. All I can say is that I was displeased with my Liverpool performance but thought I did well at Nottingham. 

As lovely as Liverpool University is, I just could not see myself there. I felt very much out of place and could tell that it was just not the place for me. Had I visited the university I probably would not have applied there, but my aim was to apply tactically, just so I could get an offer, as honestly, medicine is medicine and I did not care where I would be studying it, even if it was abroad (but more on that at another time). I was lucky enough to get an offer from Liverpool, which I was so incredibly grateful for, even though I knew it would not be my firm choice. 

Nottingham was the only university I applied to that I had visited before. I liked the university when I visited the first time, but completely adored the place after my interview, despite the mishap! I arrived for my interview at 9AM, which I arrived to just on time due to traffic and my awful navigation skills (although I blame Apple maps for this) and didn’t even have time for breakfast, which, of course, is not a good idea! Only to find out that I was not on the interview list due to administrative errors and would have to wait until the last slot at 4PM where they had a spare space (the only other alternative was to come back on another day). Although this was unsettling I stayed very calm and tried to be understanding regarding the situation. The team of student ambassadors were wonderful! They assured me that the problem would be solved and told me more about the medical school. The main reason I liked Nottingham even more on my second visit probably had something to do with the fact that there were students at the university when I was at my interview but I visited the university early in September before the students arrived the first time. This is often the case with universities if you visit out of term time, so I would suggest visiting universities in term time or on open days to get a real feel for the place. I knew Nottingham was where I wanted to be, even more than St Georges as it was a complete university as opposed to St Georges just teaching medical science, but I pushed it out of my head as much as I could as I did not want to get my hopes up and then get rejected. Nottingham informed me of my offer not too long after my interview (after a few days I believe). 

Now, you're probably wondering what happened to Bristol. So was I. It had reached April and I still had not heard anything back from them. Nothing at all. Not even an automated email. I knew I didn't want to go there but I wanted to know what was going on. I called the admissions department and all I was told was something about there being a "rolling basis", and for some reason they were rolling incredibly slowly. I, and many people I knew found the Bristol admissions team to be very unhelpful as, at each one of my interviews there were many students who were going through the same thing as me. Eventually, my rejection came through! Of course, I was a little disappointed as 4/4 would have been nice, but above all I was angry that they would string me along for so many months (although I was relieved that it was over). I understand that they are busy, but even an automated email to know that they knew I existed would have been nice. I did ask for reason for my rejection and they essentially told me my statement was pretty horrific, but in more politically correct terms of course. They then proceeded to give me a maths lesson (perhaps this was payback for missing double maths twice in a row) on how 60 is a bigger number than 40 when I asked for further clarification on how I was scored. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure on what they were looking for exactly, especially as Nottingham and Liverpool, both personal statement heavy University's seemed to like my statement enough, so if I ever find out, you can be sure to count on post all about it!

All in all, I doubted my UKCAT score and academic abilities too much which is the reason I applied for Bristol due to its huge weighting on personal statements, this was a mistake as I could have gotten interviews in many other universities. My number one tip here is to be confident in your abilities! Do not settle for universities you do not want to go to, personal statements are more subjective that raw scores and statistics, so if you think you are borderline for two universities (and don’t have a particular preference for one over the other), go for the university that has a more black and white admissions policy. 

From then on it was pretty uneventful. I firmed Nottingham and insured St George's. I then studied for and sat my A-levels (which is another saga in itself), and eventually on August 17th at 7:01AM I got my confirmation on UCAS that I had met my offer for Nottingham. This was quite possibly one of the best days of my life!

Stay tuned for my next post on advice which universities to apply for depending on your statistics (GCSEs, AS Levels, BMAT and UKCAT).

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