What is a Stethoscope Stereotype?
This is a new series where I shed light on medical students from a variety of backgrounds and share their experiences with applications, their expectations (and what the reality was) and any advice for people who want to apply. These are people who may not fit the normal stereotype of medicine and will make some of the best doctors of their generation.
Introduce yourself, who you are, what year are you in and where do you study?
Hi, my name is Katie. I am a 23-year-old 4th year medical student studying at Lancaster University.
Tell us a little about why you decided to become a doctor
Oh where to begin! As the first in my family to attend university, being a doctor simply was not on my radar.
I remember looking at a university website for the first time after a (pitiful) high school careers guidance meeting. I turned to my parents asking, “What does undergraduate mean”? All of us confused and lost in the jargon, we could not navigate the higher education system. The whole thing extremely alien to the life we knew, attending university in any capacity was not the plan.
On my first day of sixth form, our tutor asked us to stand and say what we wanted to study at university. I watched person after person proudly stand and announce ‘medicine’. I will admit that I did not know that studying medicine meant studying to be a doctor, but I did know that half the class wanted to do it and the other half were impressed.
Why I decided to become a doctor is a question I am still trying to answer. 5 months into sixth form, not entirely aware of the gravity of the decision I was making, I announced I wanted to study medicine. At the time, I spieled out all the usual culprits, I loved science, caring for people, the diagnostic element, all of which true, but so overused they rarely reflect the more complex and personal motivations that we tend to hide.
In hindsight, my decision was a product of a mixture of reasons. After years of being underestimated in high school, to reach sixth form and be not only encouraged, but also expected to achieve ‘big things’ was intoxicating. I thought of medicine as the most prized career that I could aim for, and so the desire to prove myself manifested as becoming an aspiring medic. Aside from that, there was the sudden rush to have a plan, the immense pressure to go to university and to know what I wanted to do. Medicine is not only a degree; it is a life, a pathway neatly set out with training and clear career progression. It offered a certain level of stability that seemed unrivalled, a ticket out of the relentless and daunting question of what to do with my life, a reliable rock on which to perch.
When I announced my new plan, my life went from 0 – 100. From gaining work experience to entrance exams, I blindly and naively kick-started a whirlwind process that would change my life.
My later work experience in hospital and hospices was the first time I truly wanted to be a doctor because of the work that they do. Not because I wanted to prove myself or out of pure desperation for a plan, but because the job is incredible and more importantly, I could envisage myself doing and loving it. I went out of my way to involve myself in all things medicine, every experience showing me that if I am able to become a doctor, it would be one of the most interesting, rewarding and eye-opening careers to devote my time to. To see all walks of life at their strongest and most vulnerable, to work alongside inspirational people and to learn infinitely about not only the human body, but people, society and our relationship with health and each other, now that is intoxicating.
Where did you apply and why?
I applied twice! First time I flunked my UKCAT, which closed many doors. I essentially applied to anywhere that would consider me, which ended up being Lancaster, Keele, Bristol and Liverpool. Lancaster, luckily, was my first choice regardless of whether I studied medicine or not. I interviewed for Keele but unfortunately did not make the cut.
Nevertheless, we persist! I made sure to work hard at my A-levels and landed the grades I needed to try again, 3 A’s. I took the UKCAT a lot more seriously this time and ended up in the 9th decile, a score that allowed me to apply to any university I wanted. Lancaster, after receiving 1645 applications for just 54 places when I first applied, decided to start using the BMAT, so I took that exam too.
I had the world at my feet and the choice was mine! Lancaster was the top choice for me, the rest I applied to for several reasons. I chose Manchester, Hull-York and Leicester. I visited them all and liked the feel of them, their locations, non-traditional approaches and tactically, I had a good chance of being invited to interview. I received an interview at all four and offers for all four! The choice had me a little overwhelmed, but I stuck to my roots and firmed Lancaster because from the moment I stepped on to the campus, it felt like home and I knew I’d be happy there for years to come (cheesy but true)!
How did you find the application process, any advice?
There is no question that applying to medical school is hard. Navigating general university applications would have been novel and difficult, but medical school applications are their own little microenvironment. It is highly emotionally demanding, daunting and intense. The amount of additional requirements to fulfil whilst studying for top grades is enough to test your motivation for medicine.
I applied first in my final year of sixth form and second during a gap year. I went from zero to four offers in the space of a year, my experience of the first round guiding me in the second.
The most striking difference between my first and second attempt was my confidence levels, which I gained through my experience of volunteering and working. It transformed me into a different person. The first time I felt completely out of my depth, an imposter pretending to belong. The second time I was confident that I deserved a place at medical school and I allowed that to shine through my application and at interview. I believe my self-confidence was what landed me the four offers, in the end.
With this said, my advice is three-fold. Apply tactically, build your confidence and if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!
What colour is your stethoscope?
Burgundy because it is an understated colour but not boring!
Did you have any expectations before you got to medical school?
I expected not to fit in. I expected to be so busy I would not have time to eat. I expected to enjoy every minute and be confident in my decision to study medicine. I expected it to feel very competitive.
My expectations proved to be wrong! I have wonderful friends, I eat (maybe too much), I have days I don’t particularly enjoy, I’ve had moments of intense doubt and the application process was way more competitive than medical school itself.
What advice you would give now you have gotten in?
I will keep it simple! Enjoy it all! When you start to slip and complain about medicine or take it for granted (and you will!), do things that help you to remember how much you once wanted to be where you are now.
Also, think to yourself, when I look back at my days at university, what do I want to feel and remember? Whatever it is, commit to making it your reality! Your memories start from day one and medicine often clouds the fact that this is our youth; how we use it shapes us just as much as our degree does!
Tell us about a strange experience you have had at medical school
I am always slightly haunted by the memory of my best friend and I spending an entire Saturday (hungover) creating a rap of the muscles of the body. Creative? Perhaps. Good enough to send a video of us rapping it to a group chat full of medics? Certainly not. Did we send it anyway? Absolutely.
Felt very cool at the time but with each passing day, it just becomes a little bit more mortifying (lol).
Do you have any questions you wished you had asked before you started and how you would answer them?
I wish I had asked what the most difficult part of starting medical school is.
The generic answer is the volume of work. This is true; academically the volume of content to learn is overwhelming at the start. However, if someone were to ask me this now, I would say that for me it was the challenge to my identity. I found it very difficult to adjust to being a medic and to being a university student in general. People rarely acknowledge the challenging jump from non-university backgrounds to becoming a fully-fledged student. To anyone facing this jump, I would say reach out to others in the same position and make sure to have an outlet of familiarity and consistency such as friends, family, a hobby or society.
What are your hopes for the future?
I am intercalating soon (an extra degree you can take during medical degrees) and after that I hope to graduate in 2022 and start life as a doctor! Long term I hope to be happy with a healthy balance between medical career and family life – the exact details of how I get there and how it will look is yet to be confirmed …
Tell us a little more about the image you chose to represent you:
I have chosen a snapshot of a trip to Sri Lanka. I visited this beautiful country in my second year of medical school with a charity called SKIP. Before this, I had not been abroad since aged 11 and I had never travelled outside of Europe! I chose it because it represents the abundance of opportunities available through medical school and the importance of grabbing them with both hands! This trip is something I never imagined to be part of my medical school journey and one I will never forget.