So, I think its about time I posted another blog post!
A few weeks ago I received the results from my most recent scan. I was both nervous and excited to find out my results, after months of tests and being misdiagnosed several times I just wanted to know what was wrong with me. However, as I read through the letter from my consultant I realised that my journey was just beginning. I was diagnosed with a rare stomach condition.
Gastroparesis. A chronic illness. There is no known cure, just various treatments with limited success. I didn’t really know how to react to this news. Shouldn’t I be happy that I finally knew what was wrong?
I had convinced myself for months that as soon as the doctors found out what was wrong, they could fix it and I’d be better in no time, but this wasn’t to be. I couldn’t understand how this could happen. Slowly the reality began to sink in, I’ll probably be fighting this battle for the rest of my life.
I think the mental aspect of chronic conditions is so commonly overlooked. I’ve sat through endless lectures about the pathophysiology of illnesses but I’ve never once stopped to think what it must be like to actually have it. The way it can limit your life, from not being able to go for a drink with friends because you’re in too much pain to the countless hospital appointments that your life seems to revolve around. The thing that hit me the most is the amount of medications I have to take on a daily basis just to make my symptoms bearable. I no longer have full control of my life and that's the worst part.
This experience has given me an invaluable insight into how patients with chronic illness feel. It affects almost every aspect of your life and you can never escape. It scares me to think of the future, I never know when I’m going to get my next flare up or how long its going to last. I just have to take one day at a time and hope that when I wake up tomorrow I won’t be too nauseous.
After spending a few weeks feeling down about it all, I’ve realised that I just have to enjoy life when I can and be grateful that I can still live a normal-ish life. It doesn’t matter how much I complain, it's not going to go away, and I think I’ve finally accepted that fact.
If anything, this experience has made me more determined to achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. I’ve been a lot more motivated to work harder so that one day I can help others like me through some of their toughest times, hopefully bringing them some comfort and relief.
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.
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 :)
I am an Anatomy Professor who has taught anatomy to the medical school students in discipline based medical education system for first 10years of academic life. When I started teaching Anatomy in system-based medical education in the later half of my academic life I was surprised to find out that my students in system-based education can retain a lot of anatomy knowledge as they can visualize the application of the contents in the pathology, clinical science contents, PBL triggers and clinical skills sessions.
Surprisingly, medical schools in India still follow the discipline-based medical education. Mostly the students are forced to retain the factual knowledge of Anatomy in this system. When they are in Year 1,they study only Anatomy,Physiology and Biochemistry. Hence it is very difficult for the student to imagine the application of the knowledge of Anatomy learnt in lecture or dissection room.
For example, the students in discipline-based system learn the gross anatomy of the sternum and anterior thoracic wall. They need to memorize the importance of sternal angle without visualizing it as they are still not practising palpation of anterior thoracic wall for apex beat. I know that they learn it provided they are lucky to get a tutor who is a medical doctor, who obviously takes them to the task of palpating intercostal space through palpation of sternal angle in skeleton or over their own body surface marking.
But the lack of Clinical skills practice in traditional discipline based medical education in year 1 does not allow the student to apply their anatomy knowledge automatically.
Dr Nilesh Mitra