The decision to study medicine is not one that any A-level college student should take lightly. The application and interview processes alone are hurdles at which many find themselves falling, and they are designed that way for a reason – medicine is not easy. It is not easy to study, nor is it easy to practise once a student eventually qualifies, so a difficult process is necessary in order to distinguish between those who are cut out for it and those who are not.
There are many factors that contribute to a student’s decision to study medicine. A fascination with the field is important, but so is the right advice. Without access to a family member or friend who has taken the plunge before them, many students lack ‘from-the-horse’s-mouth’ accounts of what applying for and studying medicine can really be like.
Samantha Chioma, who took what she describes as a ‘complicated route into medicine’, explains why it is important for prospective medical students to prioritise work experience and speak to as many medical professionals as possible to find out what the journey can really be like.
Samantha Chioma – Fourth-year graduate medical student at St George’s University
I’ve had a really complicated route into medical school, despite the fact that I’ve always wanted to be a doctor.
In year 12, I took five AS levels, including Chemistry which I had always found challenging. I continued to struggle with it through to year 13, and when medical school application time came around, my chemistry teacher discouraged me from applying as it was unlikely I would make the grades needed to secure an interview. I agreed with the teacher and applied to study Biochemistry instead. Three years later I had finished my degree but I still wanted to do medicine, so I applied for the first time, for a graduate course which was four years instead of five. I was unsuccessful.
I got a job and over a couple of years applied again to do medicine. I was successful the third time round and was offered a place at all the schools I applied to.
Being a medical student is everything I expected and more. Having done a very scientific, academic course before, medicine is very practical and you’re given a lot more responsibility very early on. It’s exciting and particularly interesting when you’re studying conditions that you’ve seen or heard of on TV, or perhaps a family member or friend has. The relevance to real life and real issues is what I value most about the course.
As I approach the end of my course I am thinking about either becoming a GP or specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology – or both. The other great thing about medicine is that there are so many options to choose from when it comes to deciding your career, and even if you choose one speciality, there is scope to change it to something else.
For any students hoping to study medicine, I would say, in the application process, get as much work experience as you can and speak to as many doctors and medical students as you can to get a feel for what medicine really entails. And don’t let anyone dissuade you from doing something you really want to do; even if you don’t succeed, it’s always best to at least try!
When you get into medical school, find a good study group, do lots of practice questions for exams and always read more than you need to. With medicine, there is always something to learn so you can never read too much!
If you don’t get into medical school the first time round, don’t be disheartened – remember there are always other options, e.g. a gap year before reapplying, a different undergraduate degree and then apply later (like me). You have choices!