The Ashbourne Medical Program: Advice from 3 qualified doctors

In order to gain a realistic insight into the medical profession, Amy Youngman, our head of Natural Sciences Department, has asked three practicing doctors a series of questions. As you will see, they have all given a very honest account of what life as a doctor is really like including the challenges they face and the rewards of making a difference to peoples lives.

Dr Rebecca Wood

Becky studied Medicine at Imperial College London and is now
working in Birmingham.
1. What first attracted you to Medicine as a career?
I enjoyed science-based subjects at school. I liked to know how things worked and
why certain things happened. I find that curiosity has been helpful to me in
motivating me through my job as a doctor – to learn more about different
conditions when I see patients who consult with things I have not got much
experience in.
I also enjoyed talking to people and did not want to do a job where
communication was not an aspect. Something which attracted me to medicine
where you often have to deal with meeting a lot of new people daily and
communicating with them and their friends and family through what can be a
difficult time in their lives.
2. How did you decide on which medical schools to apply to?
I was very keen to go to London but aware that it was competitive so tried to pick
just one school in that area. At my high school they did not give interview training
for prospective medical students but they did for students applying to Oxbridge.
So I applied to Oxford so that I could gain more experience preparing for
interviews, which was very helpful.
I wanted to have a safety net if I decided medicine was not for me so I considered
courses, which had an intercalated BSc. This is useful in future when applying for
foundation jobs as it gives you extra points on the application and also gives
opportunity for further research or study into an area you are interested.
I would also suggest looking into how the courses are taught. Some people love
lectures and end of term/year exams but others are better with more continual
assessment, small group sessions and problem based learning. I would consider
what best suits you when looking at where to apply.
3. What were the toughest parts of your 6 years at medical school?
Some of the parts that were tough were having a different student experience to
my friends who were not doing medicine. You end up with a lot more studying to
do and as well as this the hours that you are expected to be at placement or
lectures are usually longer. However this did prepare me well for life as a doctor
and is often very rewarding as even at that early stage you get to interact with
patients and follow their journeys.
At times it can be frustrating when patients don’t want to be seen by students
but it’s worthwhile persevering as it’s all good experience.
The toughest time for me was having to resit my final exams and the worry that
after all that training you may not reach your goal but the staff at my medical
school were very supportive and having met many doctors since who have failed
exams at some point in medical school I have learnt that it doesn't mean you
won’t be a good doctor if you struggle. The important thing is to recognise where
you are weak and work to improve it. Something that continues to apply to
everyone after qualification including senior consultants.
4. What were the best bits?
Some of the best bits were getting to make differences in patient’s lives even
when you are a student. You’re not just sitting in lectures and tutorials. You get to
be hands on - you learn practical procedures, get to attend and assist in theatre,
go to clinics and gain a better understanding of what you will be doing when you
Also the friends that you make during that time as medicine is a very small world
and you will find yourself interacting with these people possibly for the rest of
your career.
5. What do you find most challenging about life as a doctor?
There are often a lot of challenges during day-to- day work. Dealing with upset
and angry patients or families can often be difficult and make you feel quite
stressed out but everyone will experience this at some point and people are good
at supporting you through this.
The other thing that people sometimes find difficult is dealing with patients
dying. This is often hard – especially if you have built a close bond with a patient
or it is something unexpectedly sudden. Whilst you never get completely used to
it, it does become easier to process when patients die and you can find comfort in
making sure they are well looked after during the end of their life.
I often find it difficult dealing with rota's – especially during a busy job like A&E
where you may be working a lot of evenings and weekends and you may miss
important events such as family and friends weddings or birthdays and find you
don’t have as much time free as your friends doing different jobs. The most
important thing with this is planning and making sure you book leave well in
advance something that you will quickly learn when you start work in the future.
6. What do you find most rewarding?
The thing that I find most rewarding is the difference that you make in people's
lives and the interaction with people on a daily basis. When you see a patient,
make a diagnosis and successfully treat them it is very satisfying to see them
improve and know that you have made a difference in their lives.
I also enjoy the fact that you get to spend time interacting with people – not just
patients but also the staff you work with and the relationships that you build with
the teams you work in are often very supportive and people you will end up
having lasting relationships with.
7. What advice would you give to a student applying to study medicine?
I would advise people to think about where they want to study with regards to how they teach the course as this can make a lot of difference in the university experience. I think the important thing is to be prepared for the fact that it may be challenging and different from a typical student experience. However the overall experience is rewarding, you come out with an almost guaranteed job at the end and you get to make a difference to people's lives.

Dr. Laura Quint

Laura studied medicine at Imperial College London, and is
now practicing medicine in the US.
1. What first attracted you to Medicine as a career?
My mum was a nurse and her father was a GP so you could say it runs in the family, but really I just felt it was the only career that made sense to me. I like problem solving, working in teams and interacting with people. A regular office job never appealed to me. Medicine really is a vocation and something you feel you are meant to do.
2. How did you decide on which medical schools to apply to?
Umm, my reasons are not the best/most rational. I applied to Manchester because
my Mum had been a nurse there, I liked the city (curry mile anyone?), I also
applied to Oxford (because my then boyfriend was studying there), UCL because it
was in London and I applied to Imperial because a friend was already at medical
school there (I knew nothing else about the program before interviewing)
I loved Imperial when I went for interview and accepted a place there despite
being previously convinced I was going to go to Manchester. 
Previously you were advised to pick the medical school in the area of the country
that you ultimately wanted to work afterwards but that has changed now as job
applications after medical school are set up differently. 
I would advise looking at The Insiders Guide To Medical School, it's available on
Amazon and is updated by current medical students. It gives you a flavour of the
differences in curriculum and what the town/city life is like.
3. What were the toughest parts of your 6 years at medical school?
Failing an exam and having to cancel a holiday to study for the repeat.
4. What were the best bits?
All the rest of it! I met my husband at university (he's not a doctor); I loved living in
London going to the clubs, bars and occasionally the museums. Enjoying picnics in
St James Park. Graduating at The Royal Albert Hall.
5. What do you find most challenging about life as a doctor?
The never-ending exams. I graduated in 2009 and I am still studying for exams.
We still don't know everything about the body and how it works. Even if I am not
studying for an exam there is new research coming out daily that I have to
evaluate and possibly change my practice. It keeps you on your toes.
6. What do you find most rewarding?
Going home exhausted but knowing I made a difference in people's lives. Even
when you can't stop them from dying, you can be there for them and their
family. Nurses do this too but as the doctor you are usually the one giving them
the bad news and doing that well can make a big difference. It's also great when
you can reassure someone that his or her breast lump etc. isn't cancer.
7. What advice would you give to a student applying to study medicine?
Sadly a career in medicine is far from the glamour of ER, Gray's Anatomy and
even Scrubs (although that's probably the closest). If you are prepared to
sacrifice nights out to study, your weekends and nights to be in the hospital
dealing with blood, poop and pee, spend half your days telling people to stop
smoking, drinking, doing drugs, reassuring them that their pain does not need
narcotics because it's being caused by constipation, and live for the few
moments of glory when you do make a difference, then sleep for a few hours
before you have to get up and do it all over again, then you might just be able to
make it as a doctor (or a nurse, pharmacist, physiotherapist, social worker).
There are several great books you can read to find out more, "In Stitches" by Dr
Nick Edwards, "Confessions of a GP" by Dr Benjamin Daniels, and a quick search
on Amazon will find many more. Anything written by Atul Gawande is worth a
read too. Try and get some experience in a GP office or a local hospital.
Volunteering at a nursing home is good for you too and looks great on your

 Dr Charlotte Goumalatsou

Charlotte studied Medicine at King’s College London and is
now working in Brighton.
1. What first attracted you to Medicine as a career?
For some reason I always wanted to do medicine ever since primary school. I
don't really know why, but I guess I thought it would be a really interesting
job. I always loved biology at school as well. I did have a wobble in sixth form
and considered doing music but realised I would never be good enough at
that to earn a decent amount of money, and I'd seen my mum really struggle
to earn anything reasonable as a painter. I did work experience in a nurse
clinic in a holiday camp and that sealed the deal for me!
2. How did you decide on which medical schools to apply to?
No one else in my family has done medicine so I relied on the opinion of the
local GPs on the Isle of Wight! They had mostly been to Guy's or St Thomas'
(now King's College London) so my first choice was there. I did order the
prospectus too and loved it, as well as going on an open day. Also chose
Cardiff because it looked friendly, Southampton because it was close to home,
and Imperial because of its reputation. Looking back I wasn't really that
fussed as once you come out the other side of medical school a doctor is a
doctor - you're all equal at 3am on a night shift! I didn't want to go to Oxford
or Cambridge because a significant number (I think it's around half) have to
switch to London for the final 3 years - I wanted to be in the same place all
along. I also never considered the newer med schools like Brighton or
Peninsula because they didn't offer human dissection and were untested at
the time.
3. What were the toughest parts of your 6 years at medical school?
The toughest part for me was first year. It is a huge step up going from
school, where your teachers really look out for you, to being in a year of over
a hundred (at King's where I ended up, 350) where lecturers don't get to know
you personally. No one checks up to see if you've handed an assignment in - if
you're late you just get zero, end of. The material we were learning as well
was a lot to take in - cell biology was a world apart from A level, medical stats
was hard for me (I didn't do maths at A level) and biochemistry was pretty
tough going. Also, if you don't get it in the lecture, no one is there to help you understand it later - you have to do that with friends or in the library. I would liken the first month of lectures as being similar to being dumped in a foreign country, knowing only swear words and numbers in that foreign language. As the weeks go by it does all start to make sense, and the fog lifts.
4. What were the best bits?
Best bits: meeting people who will be friends for life; learning actual medicine
and how to fix people; the social life is awesome; for me getting to know
London after growing up on an island (took me 2 years to get on a bus as was
paranoid about getting lost - the days before the stops were called out by a
computer!). I also got mentored by the editor in chief of Gray's anatomy; a
formidable woman with so much knowledge but who was also so human. The
absolute best bit for me was delivering my first baby. I'd been up for about a
million hours in a row, delivered this boy at 2 in the morning and then phoned
my mum to tell her.
5. What do you find most challenging about life as a doctor?
The most challenging thing about life as a doctor is probably the moving
around. Your hospital will change yearly after you qualify.
In my deanery that means Chichester one year, and then could be Margate
the next. I've moved house 7 times in 7 years. I've lost countless important
documents as a result of that! It's not so bad being single but once you settle
down it gets much more problematic. The second worst thing at the moment
is the government's will to destroy the goodwill of those who work for the
NHS. It has really damaged the public's perception of what we do.
6. What do you find most rewarding?
I am now an obstetrics and gynaecology registrar. If you told me that's what I
would end up doing whilst I was at school I would never have believed it in a
million years! I come from the most un-naked family ever and the fact that
I've seen in more vaginas than I can even count is well....actually I would find
it weirder looking at someone's tonsils now! But it means that I get to deliver
babies (I do the Caesarean sections and forceps deliveries), and help women
through difficult times and that's the best bit. I also love being in the
operating theatre. Manual work is so relaxing - I feel at my most Zen doing a
perineal repair! I liken it to baking.
7. What advice would you give to a student applying to study medicine?
You need to do medicine because you really want to, not because your
parents think it's a good idea or you have the right grades. Gone are the days
where it is really easy to make a lot of money and you are the most respected
person in the town. It involves a lot of hard physical and mental work, there is
no overtime pay, you will finish late a lot, patients shout, relatives can get
angry, and I'm not sure how much longer we will have the NHS as we know it
now for. However, it is such a rewarding job, it's incredibly social (I feel like
my day is one long social event) and offers so many diverse careers - there
really is something for everyone. Medicine also offers the opportunity to work
abroad so is not limiting to the UK. I don't ever remember a day where I've
woken up and thought "I don't want to go to work today" - mostly because I
don't really think of my job as work, it's part of my life and I love it.