Doctor’s diaries – Part 1, so you want to go to medical school

Hello!

I thought I’d start a new series for my blog, called Doctor’s diaries. This will be a little different but I hope valuable and helpful for anyone considering applying to medical school, at medical school and wondering what being a junior doctor is actually like including the application process for jobs or just interested in the life of a junior doctor.

I will be writing about each stage of my journey so far from applying to medical school to a week in the life of me right now! A word of warning (and for professionalism), as I’m currently practicing as a doctor any reference I make to patients will be anonymised and dates/timings and any identifiable details changed to maintain patient confidentiality.

I decided pretty early on that I wanted to go to medical school. I loved biology at school and had generally a more sciencey brain than languages or the arts. I think I also liked how I knew what I was going to do/could see a job at the end of the degree. I don’t think I would have ever been good working in the city as too much of a countrybumpkin! My parents are doctors but didn’t pressurise me to go into it, in fact in lower sixth my Dad suggested I look through the entire A-Z of degrees at the university I most wanted to go to at that time.

Did I know what being a doctor actually meant when applying? No! To be honest I think it’s really hard to know before actually doing the job. I also think I’ve changed so much since the 16-year-old choosing to go down this route.

In this blog I’m going to talk about a few things which I think are important to think about when choosing to apply to medical school. It’s not a ‘how to’ guide, but just some thoughts I hope will help anyone considering going down the same path.

Do you want to do medicine?

I don’t mean this as the classic interview question, really work out if you think it’s for you, why do you want to do it, is this actually what medicine provides? Try to find out what a medical career actually means and the potential it offers and harder side of the job. I know this is hard, as I’ve said I don’t think you can really know exactly what it’s like before you do the job. Some ideas for how to find out more about what being a doctor is like:

  • Read books: This is going to hurt by Adam Kay and Also Human by Caroline Elton I think are good.
  • Ask any doctors you know what their life is actually like.
  • Work experience – spending time with doctors on the wards/in GP if possible
  • Documentaries are ok but a lot of them are over-dramatised and Holby City really doesn’t paint the real picture!

Know what you’re getting yourself in for – here’s a rough flow diagram of the training pathway:

training pathward drs
This is a basic representation of the UK medical career pathway. This said, you don’t have to do it just like this. There’s an ever-growing proportion of doctors who take a year out after FY2, called an F3 year.

Just a little bit about something that’s not often mentioned before the end of medical school, but I wish I knew before applying and that I think people should know:

  • Once you’ve finished medical school you’ll apply for training and will set preferences for where you want to live and work (I’ll talk more about this in my diary about applying for your first job). But from then on you’ll be moving around, some rather large, areas of the country every 1-2 years until you qualify as a consultant (unless you apply for GP training after Foundation Training). What this means in reality is:
    • You can set preferences but don’t have complete choice about where you live if you want the job.
    • You could be in situation where you either choose to buy a place to live and then have long commutes for several years, or delay getting a house and rent, moving around when sent from place to place. If have a home and get sent a while away you could have a family living in one town paying the mortgage and you living 2 hours away renting and trying to get home on weekends when not on call (as one of my surgical registrars had who hardly ever saw his 2 year old daughter).
    • They don’t help couples stay together, whether your partner and family is a medic or not. This can mean you can be sent to Edinburgh and your partner to Cornwall (as one of my friends discovered!) and they had to choose between their job and living together, with some specialities saying if you don’t take a job offered to you, you can’t apply for that speciality again!

I do not tell you this to put you off, but to ensure you go into it with your eyes open. I’m a massive nester and wanted to settle down and buy a house I could make a home as soon as possible and think if you’re the same this system of being moved around regularly might matter to you.

If you’re not really sure have you thought about graduate medicine? This is where you go into medicine after an undergraduate degree. Obviously, these days there is a financial implication to this. The graduate schemes are usually 4 years so if you did a 3-year degree it could be only 1 year longer it total compared to a 6-year medical degree which many universities have these days. It can be competitive as not all universities with medical schools offer graduate medicine. Something to consider thought if you’re not sure and want to see how you feel and who you are once in a few years’ time.

Where to study?

The next thing to think about if you think you want to do medicine is where you want to go to medical school. There are 33 medical schools in the UK alone. I’m going to discuss these as know about them the most, but don’t limit your horizons, there’s always other countries such as the USA. I would recommend you go to a school that teaches in a language you’re fluent in though as learning medicine is like learning a whole knew language anyway!

Things to consider when choosing medical school are:

  • Type of course – some courses are more traditional, having basically a science degree followed by clinical school. This appeals to some but others like seeing the clinical side sooner.
  • Traditional style of lectures vs Problem Based Learning – everyone learns differently. Some universities focus more on lectures, whilst others do more PBL which is more self-directed.
  • Is there an additional degree? Many universities now either offer or have compulsory degrees one year in the course, making the entire medical degree 6 years. If this interests you look at the range of courses offered as some schools are more restrictive than others.
  • Where in the country? – do you want to be near home in a familiar environment or further away exploring new areas.
  • How large a medical school? There is a wide range in the size of medical schools and how integrated they are to the main university. Consider which would suit you more.
  • What sort of people go to the university? Do go and see it, the place will be your home for 5-6 years! Do you like he feel of the place and the people there.
  • Grades you need to get there – this had to be said! Do you do the subjects required to get in and do you have the grades, these will be clear on the entry requirements stated on every university’s website.
  • Extra entry exams to get there – BMAT/UKCAT – do you need to take them and what sort of marks do they tend to accept/how are they used in an algorithm for choosing who to interview/accept.
    1. Although you ‘can’t revise’ for these exams you can definitely practise for them and I recommend doing so. There are books out there which guide you through the structure of the exams and have practice papers.

Interviews:

Just a quick note to say these are worth practising for! Read scientific articles, newspapers and books. Find a topic you’re interested in that you could enthusiastically talk about in an interview. Find out any topical subjects in health care/the NHS and try to understand them and be able to present your view. Most importantly get practice being grilled and thinking on your feet! As much as you practice you wont be able to plan every answer or know every question, it’s good to get used to this and it’s often surprising how you can come up with logical answers on your feet!

I could talk more about this here, but this isn’t meant to be a guide to how to do the medical school interview and it might not interest you, so I’ll stop there.

Where I ended up

Well a lot of work, exams, hours and hours of interview preparation and several interviews later I was accepted into Oxford University (Worcester College) to study medicine. Next week I’ll talk about my first few years there starting my journey on becoming a doctor….

Emma x

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