life · science

“I wan’t to study medicine” – and my heart sinks

I’ve worked part-time while at university since the second term of my first year. I gave myself that free first term with the savings i’d accumulated from my previous jobs so I could blow it all on fun times. It was a fun term! I’ve worked as a part-time ambassador for the Widening Participation department at my university for over 3 years now and absolutely love it. This has also extended to Summer School mentor, e-mentor, Realising Opportunities mentor, peer mentor, work in schools and the list goes on.

As I’m now too far away for most of these roles, I continue with some e-mentoring and recruitment ambassador work. Recruitment is all about attending careers fairs at schools up and down the country to present a stand about Bristol Uni, to give some background on all our degree subjects and help with any questions students have. It’s great fun and I love being able to give honest and constructive advice to students as I was in their shoes only 3 years ago, so I feel responsible to give back in whatever way I can.

It’s weird how much random knowledge I have now acquired about subjects that are far from neuroscience. For instance, the specific subjects and grades required for a degree in aeronautical engineering, the book list for an english literature degree and the fact that our largest society is called ‘wingardium leviosoc’ and is only for die hard harry potter fans.

However, as much as I love this job, I always get anxious when I first start chatting to someone. Are they going to say it…

“I wan’t to study medicine”

A mini bombshell of sadness and pity goes off in my head. These people tend to be the most driven and academically sound individuals you can come across at this level and it always saddens me when they appear so eager to enter a profession that should be noble, courageous and rewarding.

The sad reality is that the NHS at the moment in the UK is being driven into the ground by the current government, most probably in an attempt to force it into being sold off to the private sector (as they’re already doing). That combined with the latest reforms by the infamous Jeremy Hunt (our health secretary) is set to pretty much eradicate any point in wanting to join this profession pretty soon. Time after time I read about junior doctors pulling out and even those that stick at it but their personal lives suffer tremendously as a result.

Despite all this negativity, time after time I ask my peers what they’ll do after graduation and the vast majority reply with ‘graduate medicine’. Even at the events I work on, these 16-18 year olds have their hearts set on becoming a doctor and many probably don’t even know that half of it (including me!).

The reason why I personally hate hearing this at events in particular is I have to then ramble on about the extremely specific requirements our university expects because another reality is that the applicant to place ratio for a place on the undergraduate medical course is around 20:1. They sift out a good 3/4 of this in the personal statement stage of admissions but that still leaves hundreds (sometimes beyond the 1000 mark) of amazing applicants that need to be cut out from the interview stage.

Despite ‘only’ needing AAA at A level to get into our medicine course, the applicants tend to be f*****g incredible people. Their personal statements can be littered with volunteering work, extra reading and work experience but unfortunately there are just not enough spaces for everyone. I’ve even heard of some horrible stories from chatting with post-docs working on the interview stands of how picky they can be about an applicant just because it’s an easy excuse to cut someone out of the running. And yes, they hire in post-docs from semi-related fields just to work on interviews because they take on so many. Apparently, a lot of it is ticking boxes.

It’s heartbreaking toΒ tell a girl of 16 that she can’t apply to our university because she didn’t get her A in GCSE English 2 years ago because she had recently immigrated from India and was just getting to grasps with the language at the time. She literally taught her parents how to speak English, who were there with her, and spoke perfect English (she got a B by the way). She had been chatting with me about her volunteering and work experience at GP surgeries and how she wanted to help others by becoming a doctor. She was wearing a multitude of badges displaying her dedication to academia such as ‘perfect attendance‘ and ‘top student‘ but none of that is enough if you don’t tick the boxes. If she were to apply, the admissions team would see that B in English and go NOPE because it’s easier than hearing out the story when you have thousands of personal statements to read in a few months.

Of course there are plenty of other universities to choose from and I made sure to recommend a few that I had personally looked at when I was her age, looking to study medicine. The Peninsula school of medicine and dentistry (now in Plymouth Uni) still stands out for me as a unique and personalised way of teaching you medicine in a highly clinical environment. Bristol is legit just lectures and placements when they start trusting you in 3rd year.

It’s even worse when you end up with a year 8 kid waddle up in their oversized trousers and ask about the entry requirements for medicine. My response to the younger audience is usually along the lines of ‘CHILL OUT, HAVE FUN, STRESS LATER, IT’S OK‘ usually much to their parent’s hatred if they’re there with them.

So if you’re reading this and maybe thinking of taking up medicine then I applaud your enthusiasm and courage. Please remember that getting into a top university first time round may not happen. There’s a reason they force you to take one subject that isn’t medicine and if you end up with that then take it. It gives you another 3 years to maintain that enthusiasm and allows you to get an insight into the industry from a different angle, which you may find you enjoy! I promise you that this country will always need doctors (moreso when they all quit soon…) so it’s OK if you don’t go to a Russell group to study medicine. You will never be short of a job.

Finally, you’re the students I admire the most and wish you all the luck in the world. If you’re a parent or friend of such a person then appreciate them with all your might as it’s a tough world for a medic!

Despite how annoying their clans can be at socials…


3 thoughts on ““I wan’t to study medicine” – and my heart sinks

  1. This was a really interesting article and I’m glad to see that these views are commonly shared! I was just wondering about Peninsula, isn’t that a really small medical school since splitting from its sister university Exeter? I think the size of each cohort is only around 80…


    1. I only knew it when it was with Exeter, wasn’t until I googled it after this article that I realised it had changed! But yeah it is, still think their teaching methods are amazing.


      1. Yeah PBL in an integrated course with clinical skills and early patient contact is what a lot of new medical schools are doing, I’m on a similar course and in my opinion it is the best way to learn!

        Liked by 1 person

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