There are so many sources for advice out there for potential medical students. So many books, so many forums, so many careers advice people, and so many confusing and scary myths, that I thought it might be useful to just put up some simple guidelines on what is required to become a medical student and a short book list to get your started.
I am now in my 5th year at university and my 4th year of actual medicine. Since getting into Medical School in 2009 I have gone back to my 6th form college in South Wales at least once a year to talk to the students who wanted to become medical or dental students, to offer some advice, answer any queries that I could.
This year, I tried to to do the same sort of thing for high achieving pupils at my old comprehensive, because if you don't get the right advice young enough then you won't be able to do everything that is required of you to get into Medical school straight after your A-levels. Unfortunately, due to some new rules I wasn't allowed to. So, since I couldn't give any advice in person I thought that a blog might be the easiest alternative way to give young comprehensive students a guide in the right direction. So here goes...
How to get into medical school:
You must show that you have the academic capacity to cope with the huge volume of information that will try to teach you and that you have the determination/tenacity to achieve what you need to. To show this you must get good grades:
a. >8A*s at GCSE + separate science modules if possible = you have to be able to do science.
b. >3A’s at A-Level = Chemistry + Biology + anything else you want, as long as you can get an A.
2. You must have an understanding of what Medicine really involves:
a. Work experience with a doctor – local GP, hospital work experience day, family connections, school connections – you should try to get as much as you can but don’t worry if you can’t because you can make up for it in other areas.
b. Work experience with any health care professional – ask to see what a nurse/ physio/ health care assistant/ phlebotomist/ ward secretary does. Any exposure to the clinical environment will give you an insight into what happens and gives you something to talk about during personal statements and interviews.
c. Caring experience – apply to help out in local care homes, in disabled people’s homes, at charities, look after younger pupils at school. All these sorts of things help to show that you are dedicated, motivated and that you want to help people.
3. Be a fully rounded human being:
a. Medical schools do not want robots! They want students who are smart but who are also able to engage with the common man. So hobbies and interests are a good way of showing that you are more than just a learner.
b. Playing on sports teams allows you to write about how you have developed as a person and helps you develop essential characteristics like team work, fair play, learning to follow commands, learning to think for yourself, hand-eye co-ordination etc. etc. All valuable for a career in medicine.
c. Playing an instrument again shows an ability to learn and the will power to sit and perfect a skill. It also provides you with useful skills that you can use to be sociable and make friends, such as joining student choirs, orchestras and bands or just playing some tunes at a party.
d. Do fun things! Medicine is hard work so you need to be able to do something that will help you relax and allow you to blow off some stress. All work and no play, makes a burnt out wreck!
4. Have a basic knowledge of:
a. The news, especially the health news – Daily Telegraph health section on a Monday, BBC news etc.
b. The career of a doctor – how does it work? How many years of training? What roles would you do? What exams do you need to pass? How many years at medical school?
c. The GMC – know about the “Tomorrow’s Doctor” Document – search google.
d. The BMA
e. The Department of Health and NHS structure – know the basics! GP commissioning bodies, strategic health authorities.
f. What the Medical School you are applying to specialises in, does it do lots of cancer research? Does it do dissection? Does it pride itself on the number of GPs it produces? Does it require extra entry exams or what is the interview process?
These 4 points are very basic and are just a very rough guide to consider for anyone applying to become a medical student. There are many more things you can do and loads of useful little tips that you will pick up along the way. If anyone has any great tips they would like to share then please do leave them as a comment below!
My final thought for this blog is;
READ, READ and READ some more.
I am sure that the reason I got into medical school was because I had read so many inspiring and thought provoking books, I had something to say in interviews and I had already had ideas planted in my head by the books that I could then bring up for discussion with the interview panel when asked about ethical dilemmas or where medicine is going.
Plus reading books about medicine can be so inspiring that they really can push your life in a whole new direction or just give you something to chat about with friends and family. Everyone loves to chat people – how they work, why they are ill, what shapes peoples' personalities etc and these are all a part of medicine that you can read into!
Final Final Thought:
Just go into your local book shop or library and go to the pop-science section and read the first thing that takes your interest! It will almost always give you something to talk about.
BOXING Day, 1.30am. “Are you the doctor on call?” I wrenched my reluctant brain from its REM state. “Yes.”
“I’m worried about my wife. She’s 16 weeks pregnant and very gassy.”
“Burping and farting. Smells terrible! It’s keeping us both awake. I’m worried it could be serious.”
By the time I ascertained that there were no sinister symptoms and that the likely culprit was the custard served with Christmas pudding (the patient was lactose intolerant), I was wide awake. My brain refused to power down for hours, as if out of spite for being so rudely aroused.
I have a confession to make. When the Australian Federal Government announced that it was planning to abolish after-hours practice incentive payments, I was delighted. I know, I know, I should have been outraged along with the rest of you. After all, the RACGP predicted that after-hours care would be decimated if incentives were removed. Comparisons were made with the revamp of the UK system in 2004, which led to 90% of the profession opting out of after-hours work. Much as I sympathised, I was secretly rubbing my hands together with selfish glee. Surely this would mean that our semi-rural practice would stop doing all of our own on-call and free me from my after-hours responsibilities?
I detest being on call. I loathe it with a passion completely out of proportion to the imposition it actually causes. I’m on call for the practice and our local hospital only once a week and the workload isn’t onerous. Middle-of-the-night calls aren’t all that frequent, but my sleep can be disturbed by their mere possibility, leaving me tired and cranky. If I’m forced suddenly into “brain on, work mode” by a phone call, I can kiss hours of precious slumber goodbye.
I love to sleep, but, as with drawing and tennis, I’m not very good at it. I gaze with envy at those lucky devils who nap on public transport and fight malicious urges to disturb their peaceful repose. If I’m not supine, in a quiet, warm room, with loose-fitting clothing, a firm mattress and a pillow shaped just-so, I can forget any chance of sleep. Let’s just say I can relate to the Princess and the Pea story. I bet she wouldn’t have coped well with being phoned in the middle of the night either.
If these nocturnal calls were all bona fide emergencies, I wouldn’t mind so much. It’s the crap that really riles me. I’ve received middle-of-the-night phone calls from patients who are constipated, patients with impacted cerumen (“Me ear’s blocked, Doc. I can’t sleep”) and patients with insomnia who want to know if it’s safe to take a second sedative.
The call that took the on-call cake for me, though, was from a couple who woke me at 11.30 one night to settle an argument.
“My husband says that bacteria are more dangerous than viruses but I reckon viruses are worse. After all, AIDS is a virus. Can you settle it for us so we can get some sleep? It would really help us out.”
I kid you not.
Genevieve Yates is an Australian GP, medical educator, medico-legal presenter and writer. You can read more of her work at http://genevieveyates.com
It’s quick, it’s easy and we’ve all done it. Don’t blush, whether it’s at our leisure or behind the consultant’s back we can confess to having used the world’s sixth most popular website. You might have seen it, sitting pride of place on the podium of practically any Google result page. Of course, it’s the tell tale sign of one of Web 2.0’s speediest and most successful offspring, Wikipedia.
Now for fear of patronizing a generation who have sucked on the teat of this resource since its fledgling years, the formalities will remain delightfully short. Wikipedia is the free, multilingual, online encyclopedia, which harnesses the collective intelligence of the world’s internet users to produce a collaboratively written and openly modifiable body of knowledge. The technology it runs on is a highly flexible web application called wiki. It is open-source software; hence the explosion of wiki sites all united under the banner of combined authorship. Anyone with internet access can edit the content and do so with relative anonymity. It would be unthinkable that a source, which does not prioritize the fidelity of its content, could possibly play a role in medical education. How ironic it seems that medical students can waste hours pondering which textbook to swear their allegiance for the forthcoming rotation, yet not spare a second thought typing their next medical query into Wikipedia. Evidently it has carved itself a niche and not just among medical students, but healthcare professionals as well. According to a small qualitative study published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics, 70% of their sample, which comprised of graduates from London medical schools currently at FY2 and ST1 level, used Wikipedia in a given week for ‘clinical purposes’. These ranged from general background reading to double checking a differential and looking up medications.
We are so ensnared by the allure of instantaneous enlightenment; it’s somewhat comparable to relieving an itch. "Just Google it..." is common parlance. We need that quick fix. When the consultant asks about his or her favourite eponymous syndrome or you’re a little short on ammunition before a tutorial, the breadth and ease-of-use offered by a service accessible from our phones is a clandestine escape.
The concept of Wikipedia, the idea that its articles are in a way living bodies because of the continual editing process, is its strength. Conversely textbooks are to a degree outmoded by the time they reach their publication date. While I commend the contributors of Wikipedia for at least trying to bolster their pages with references to high impact journals, it does not soften the fact that the authorship is unverifiable. Visitors, lay people, registered members under some less than flattering pseudonyms such as Epicgenius and Mean as custard, don’t impart the sense of credibility students (or for that matter patients)expect from an encyclopedia. Since the prestige of direct authorship if off the cards, it does beg the question of what is their motivation and I’m afraid ‘the pursuit of knowledge and improving humanity’s lot' is the quaint response. There is a distinct lack of transparency. It has become a playground where a contributor can impress his/her particular theory regarding a controversial subject unchallenged. Considering there is no direct ownership of the article, who then has the authority to curate the multiple theories on offer and portray a balanced view? Does an edit war ensue? It is not unheard of for drug representatives to tailor articles detailing their product and erase the less pleasant side-effects. Obviously Wikipedia is not unguarded, defences are in place and there is such a thing as quality control. Recent changes will come under the scrutiny of more established editors, pages that are particularly prone to vandalism are vetted and there are a special breed of editors called administrators, who uphold a custodial post, blocking and banishing rebellious editors. A study featured in the First Monday journal put Wikipedia to the test by deliberately slipping minor errors into the entries of past philosophers. Within 48 hours half of these errors had been addressed. Evidently, the service has the potential to improve over time; provided there is a pool of committed and qualified editors.
Wikiproject Medicine is such a group of trusted editors composed primarily of doctors, medical students, nurses, clinical scientists and patients. Since 2004, its two hundred or so participants have graded an excess of 25,000 health-related articles according to quality parameters not dissimilar to peer review. However, the vast majority of articles are in a state of intermediate quality, somewhere between a stub and featured article. Having some degree of professional input towards a service as far reaching as Wikipedia will no doubt have an impact on global health, particularly in developing countries where internet access is considered a luxury.
March this year saw the medical pages of the English Wikipedia reach a lofty 249,386,264 hits. Its ubiquity is enviable; it maintains a commanding lead over competing medical websites. The accessibility of this information has catapulted Wikipedia far beyond its scope as a humble encyclopedia and into a medical resource. Patients arrive to clinics armed with the printouts. As future doctors we will have to be just that one step ahead, to recognise the limitations of a source that does not put a premium on provenance but is nevertheless the current public health tool of choice.
Illustrator Edward Wong
This blog post is a reproduction of an article published in the Medical Student Newspaper, November 2013 issue.
It's been a while since I've added any thoughts to this blog. In that time I have finished my Obs/Gynae placement, I have spent a week on labour ward, and done my first week of my 4th year surgical placement. All the while cramming in revision between various activities and general staying alive measures. This, I feel, is how most people who are sitting their final written exams are spending their time, so I don't feel so alone.
I just want to bring to the attention one amazing incident that happened on my labour ward week. I was on a night shift, there wasn't a lot going on. Absolutely everyone was knackered, the registrar who'd been on nights for the past week was just chatting to me. I have never seen someone look so tired. The emergency alarm went off and a lady had a cord prolapse, which is an obstetric emergency with a high foetal mortality rate. Now I think it's amazing that the doctor went from nearly falling asleep to switched on 'surgical-mode' in an instant, successfully performed the C-section, delivering the baby in about a minute, then went back to being absolutely knackered and let the SHO close up the wound.
It just really impressed me and I felt it was something worth sharing. Actually I was incredibly surprised that I enjoyed Obs/Gynae. Women's health was a placement I was dreading, it was my last major knowledge gap and I didn't have a clue what it was going to be like. If my tutor for the block does read this, thank you for all your help and getting me involved in everything. I would encourage other students who are going into it and feeling any level of apprehension to just throw yourselves into it and give 110% effort. It is a great placement for practicing transferable skills (this is important to remember, especially if you don't have any desire to go into it you CAN transfer and practice skills from elsewhere!) and getting heavily involved in patient care.
Also I'd like to point out the Mother and Baby were fine :)