Congratulations, you have successfully selected the most difficult profession to get into. The road ahead is laced with obstacles that aim to trip you up, so you need to be on the top of your game. Buckle up.
First off, you need to make sure you have your intentions straight in your head. I’m not talking about your intention to self induce a concussion so you can quickly forget how badly this post is written, but your intention in life; your goal. WHY do you want to go into medicine? It’s a question every Greg House wannabe that is actually willing to follow their dream must pose to themselves, sooner or later. I, myself have pondered on the thought for some time, (of which I am now in excess) and luckily my realisation is the only one that I would have accepted to allow myself to go down this path: my core intention in studying medicine is to help people.
Plain and simple, bread and butter, apples and pears (come on nobody ACTUALLY ever said that instead of stairs, 100% folklore).
Any other ‘motivational drive’ such as the allure of a hefty pay-cheque, or fear of letting your parents down are NOT acceptable reasons to peruse a career in medicine.
Firstly, the big money won’t start pouring in for a longggg time. What do you actually believe junior doctors earn? If you don’t know, please take the time to humour yourself. Trust me, when working as a junior doctor, the promise of quadrupling your salary 20 years down the line will NOT be sufficient motivation to get you through a 40 hour work week, nor through the loss of 4 patients in a day, plus you won’t be happy. Just think: sad doctor, sadder patients.
Furthermore, on the topic of being forced into medicine by your parents: run for the hills. It will be you who will have to live through five long, stressful years of study at university, then work for decades in on of the most emotionally gruelling workplaces known to man. Ultimately, it’s your life, and you deserve to be happy. Make your own decisions, stand on your own two feet, and do something else that you’ll love.
Okay so your head is now in the right place. Fantastic. Hopefully if you’re reading this it’s around a year before you are going to be applying to university, (remember: UCAS applications that include medicine are early entry, so it’s October for us and our Oxbridge pals, I’m afraid) so you have plenty of time to build yourself into an attractive applicant for any medical school your heart desires.
Work experience & voluntary work:
One of the things medical schools search for either in your personal statement, or interview is evidence that you fully comprehend exactly what a career as a doctor entails. This is primarily achieved through the undertaking of work experience and voluntary work.
You can apply to complete work experience at many hospitals, the forms are very easy to find online, although if I remember correctly, there are restrictions in place in relation to which departments you can spend time in, according to your age. But don’t worry about that, to spend any time in a hospital, surrounded by healthcare professionals is an incredibly insightful experience. (this, I have to imagine, as I never got in, oh yes and there is a fair amount of competition for these work experience opportunities, also!)
Although it would be very useful to have spent some time in a hospital, no medical school will treat you any differently if you have not, as not everyone has the same opportunities (some people have doctors for parents, and of course getting into a hospital would be no problem for these individuals). Another thing all medical schools agree on is the paramount importance that voluntary work has. More specifically, voluntary work in a caring environment. I, myself have volunteered at a local care home (whose residents mostly have dementia) for almost two years, and have also done some occasional volunteering in a children’s hospice.
On top of this, it also looks good to universities if you have a part time job, or are involved in any clubs or sports teams. Essentially, two large aspects of working as a doctor are coping with immense responsibility and the use of refined communication skills, to find out crucial information from a patient that may aid their diagnosis. Now obviously you’re not quite at those extremes yet (I hope) but showing that you can interact with a variety of your people in your life, along with having responsibilities such as dealing with money at work, prove to medical schools that you’re on the right path to becoming a doctor.
Great. So you have a part time job, a couple of volunteering opportunities and have a pretty good idea what the inside of a hospital looks like. You’re almost ready. Just one small bump in the road to drive over…the UKCAT.
The United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test is essentially an IQ test for budding medics and dentists. You will grow to hate it, so I’ll save you some pain now and not go into too much detail…spoilers 😉
A few points:
-I’m fairly sure the UKCAT website advises 1 month of study is sufficient. It’s sufficient if you love stressing and spending all day staring at walls of text about the space race and a box of randomly assorted shapes. Personally I would advise to start studying at least 2 months prior to your booking.
-Book your test on the latest date possible, to give you the maximum amount of time to prepare. Do this as soon as booking opens, sometime in may of that year.
-It is a bit pricey, but absolutely worth it: Medscape. It’s an online UKCAT course, with around 8000 questions, in the UKCAT computer format, includes timed exercises plus 7 mock exams I believe. It cost me £50 for 2 months subscription, and after using only books to study last year, I can guarantee that I will score higher this year. I promise that this resource is worth your time and money. Please at least look into it.
-A free resource to use is the Medic Portal’s UKCAT course. While not as extensive or anywhere close to how useful Medscape is, the Medic Portal does have lots of questions to answer, along with a couple of mock exams, in the correct format. Definitely do these. -Yet another free online resource comes from our friends over at the official UKCAT website. On there, there’s a few practice tests, in the correct format. Again, more practice.
I’m very tired at the moment and don’t want to type anymore. This should be a decent overview for anyone thinking about the profession. I’ll talk about the application and then interview in a future post.