Even before you can start, think. Is this really something you want to do? Did you find your work experience interesting? Do you have the qualities required to succeed as a doctor? You’re probably thinking ‘How on earth am I supposed to know, I am only 16!’ You’re perfectly right: how are you supposed to be sure of a decision that will decide the rest of your life? The answer is, you’re not. The people who say ‘I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, I can’t wait to do medicine, I’m going to love it’ are a bit weird. You don’t have to be sure; it’s a career that is very demanding, and you are going to see lots of things that are really horrible…it’s not all enjoyable. Every time you make a decision, you are gambling with the patient’s health and possibly life. The responsibility on your shoulders is huge. You must be able to deal with the stress that comes with making mistakes. Having said this, it’s a very rewarding career. You might be lucky enough to sense that in your work experience. If you’re genuinely passionate about people, and you like the way science is used in treatment, then you’re on the right track.
Right so, where to start? Work experience. Get as much as you can. The G.P, the hospital, the children’s hospital etc. I cannot express how important it is to understand what you’re putting yourself through. Nothing is more valuable in giving you an insight into this career. Forget about expensive courses such as Medlink (although rather fun and a good to put into your Gold DofE residential section) – they’re quite useless, but WORK EXPERIENCE IS FREE! Email doctors or departments – if they don’t reply, try again. Keep on trying until you get responses. And apply early. Eventually they’ll have to accept you. Once at work experience, ask questions about things you don’t understand. Observe how doctors act around patients and ask yourself if is this something you want to do for the rest of your life. If after all this you’re still in, then do a lot of volunteering. Again, apply early to care homes and hospices; although there are often lots of volunteering spaces, in a sector ever growing with the ageing population, there will be lots of applicants. It’s not fun. It’s so sad to see what conditions like dementia can do to people. But you learn so much about compassion. You learn so much about communication. And you learn about making a small difference to a person’s life just by talking to them. It’s that ‘rewarding feeling’ that makes being a doctor so worthwhile.
You probably ought to aim to start your work experience during Year 11, while you’re thinking about your AS choices. All universities will require Chemistry, so if you don’t like Chemistry, maybe you shouldn’t be considering this career path. Most then also want Biology, but not all, so if you absolutely hate it you could always bear that in mind – but again, it’s incredibly relevant to medicine. I’d recommend Maths, because there are so many numerical and statistical skills required in the other sciences, in a medicine degree and in a medical career, and I took Physics to further my interest in science generally. However this fourth option is really up to you – some people use it to study an arts subject like History or a language like French or German. Pick the A Levels you really want to do, because they will guide you towards the right sort of degree for you.
Where to apply? Well, this all depends on what sort of person you are really, how you learn, and your academic record. Don’t worry if your GCSEs aren’t up to scratch, although you might want to reconsider if don’t have at least 6 A*’s, since you are going to be up against candidates who will have perfect academic records. You should be aiming for 4As at AS level, although it’s not compulsory. Medicine is highly competitive: the people applying are really the crème de la crème of the country. So, revise a lot, sort out anything you don’t understand and use the support you have from all your teachers. Then there are two medical admissions tests, the UKCAT and the BMAT. You will know your UKCAT score before you apply but you won’t with BMAT. Therefore, I’d say it’s too risky to apply to more than one BMAT university but it’s your choice. It’s what you feel confident about when you’re preparing for them. Look up which universities require which test as I think it changes slightly every year. In order to prepare for them, I’d recommend doing the Kaplan course for UKCAT. I know it’s annoyingly expensive but from my own experience I’d say it’s definitely worth it. They give you a huge amount of practice material, and it is a really important test, as so many universities require it. So cut down on new clothes, forget that new laptop you want and invest in Kaplan. Sorry. And do the test in the summer holidays of Year 12! It’s way too stressful to do it during school time in September. Knowing your score early will give you more time to focus on other parts of your application. As for the BMAT, revising your GCSE syllabus and doing the practice books should be sufficient; I’ve heard bad reviews about Kaplan for BMAT, although as of yet I haven’t been myself.
Which university? The way medicine is taught will differ from university to university. Problem-based learning is much more independent than integrated or traditional. Research which universities offer what type of course. What sort of learner are you? Do you like to be told things or do you like to figure out things for yourself? Your desire to attend a particular university should be balanced with whether you stand a realistic chance of getting in. Do you think you will meet the universities requirements? Sadly, not everyone can get in, it’s almost like a lottery, and you could be the ‘perfect candidate’ but still can be rejected. The process is tough. You need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario – do you want to take a gap year or do something else? This process tests your commitment and resilience. You must be prepared for failure. There are a lot of things to consider when applying to medicine. I haven’t even talked about interviews yet because I don’t know much really. I am still in the stage of filling out my UCAS form and editing my personal statement. Your non-medic friends will probably get offers very soon after sending their UCAS form, whilst you might have to wait all the way until March. Don’t be disheartened: you’re not alone.
Is it worth it? I don’t know. I’m not a doctor yet. However, I know I love science. I know I love helping people. I’ve loved my volunteering, brightening someone’s day by engaging in a basic conversation with them, and I’ve loved how studying 3 sciences has broadened my knowledge. Best of luck!