Things I wish I knew before applying to study Medicine

To study medicine has always been a dream of mine… or that was what I told my interviewers anyway. In truth, medicine or dentistry felt like the only options available to anyone who took a shine to biology. Medicine was something I chose out of ignorance at first, but came to love later on, so I don’t regret the decision in the slightest. However, if I was to go back to 17 year old me and talk some sense into them, this is what I would say:

  • There are many options out there
    If you were somewhat above average in school and vaguely interested in biology, odds are, someone, at some point in your life has suggested becoming a doctor to you. For me it came to a point in year 13 where I genuinely thought my only option was to study medicine, and if that didn’t work out, I’d be unemployed for most of my working life. However, after doing a BioMedical Sciences degree, my eyes were forced to open to vastness of the science field and the endless possibilities within it. From academic lecturing roles, to being on the cutting edge of commercial research, or even something more patient centred like genetic counselling, the options are there and it is well worth knowing your options before committing to a 5-6 year degree

  • Being a Medical Student is unbelievably rewarding
    When you think about the benefits of studying medicine, you immediately think about long term, how many patients you’ll treat over the course of your career, but what is often overlooked is the impact you can have as a Medical Student. In the most simplest of ways, a shocking amount of patients are stuck in hospital for days to weeks, some without visitors for the most of it, and you are there trying to take your histories for the day. But they don’t see it that way, they see it as someone who cares about them, taking their time to speak to them for more than 5 minutes, and most patients really appreciate this. Everyone knows studying medicine is a graft, but what you need to know is that it will probably be the most enjoyable and rewarding graft you ever have.

  • 5 Years is a long time, but also not that long at all
    One thing that used to slightly discourage me from applying for medicine was the idea that I’d be in Uni for at least 5 years…half a decade… it’s a long time no matter how you spin it, and it does grate on you at times, especially for me as a post-graduate medic. You see your friends moving on to the next stages of their lives, onto bigger and exciting things, while you keep telling yourself that they would still rather have your student discount. Times like that can be demotivating, you can find yourself sitting down questioning every decision you’ve made that ended up in this never-ending degree. However, medicine is also the perfect length, you have your 2 pre-clinical years where you get to enjoy uni life with very little stress, then 3rd year is like a tween year where you are getting to grips with clinical placements while your other non-medic friends are getting serious with their job applications, and then 4th and 5th year hits you and no-longer feel like much of a uni student anymore, more like an intern trying to get a hold of the workings of a hospital.

  • You don’t need to have your whole career planned out, and you really shouldn’t
    If you asked 17 year old me, what speciality I wanted to pursue, “Sports Medicine” would’ve been mindlessly thrown at you. Why? Because the idea of treating famous athletes sounded sick! And I know I wasn’t unique there. The amount of freshers who claim to know exactly what they want to do is astounding, and very limiting. With very little knowledge and experience in any field (and 2 weeks of work experience doesn’t really count) so many people limit themselves in terms of the conferences they attend, societies they join and general exposure they get, to one sole field. Use medical school as an opportunity to try and taste every speciality, go into each clinical placement block with an open mind, mix and match the topics of the conferences you attend, speak to as many people as you can, and even then, don’t commit to something fully until you have to. Take steps in the direction you want, to ensure that your application to the training pathway is strong, but don’t limit yourself just yet.

  • Science isn’t what they teach you in school
    “I don’t want to study a science subject at Uni because Lab work is boring”, sound familiar? I was the same, until I actually did my under-grad in BioMedical Sciences and the laboratory component nearly swayed me away from applying to Medicine again at all. It was a world away from following simple instructions in a chemistry lab. It was intellectually stimulating as it allowed me to analyse the most current data available across the globe, work out novel methods to further test the validity of the conclusions derived from the data and then produce a piece of work that would be considered cutting-edge in that niche of the scientific community. That experience was a far cry from the mind-numbing experiments we did in chemistry class in school. But as enjoyable as it was for me, it may not be everyones cup of tea, my point is; don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

  • Medicine is vast
    When you think of the role of doctor, something specific comes to mind for everyone. For some it’s the calm face of an A&E doctor in the midst of chaos all around them, for others it may be the steady hands of surgeon, or the familiar smile of a GP. The role of a doctor is far from monolithic, it can be moulded to a large extent into what your interests and skills are. Not only do you have the various specialities, which differ quite noticeably in terms of the roles and expectations of the doctors, but on top of that, you have those that go into the business management side of healthcare, whereas others prefer to share their hospital working hours with laboratory time or lecturing duties. The first GP I shadowed in medical school had used medicine to help him pursue his passion of managing reality TV stars, so the stars are the limit…literally.

  • Medicine as a degree
    We all know medicine is a degree, that’s a given, but the way we think about it is very similar to a vocational course, as a means to becoming a doctor, and thats what 95% of medicine graduates become, practicing doctors. Even though it may be seen as controversial or even frowned upon to study medicine but not practice it, medicine is a very strong degree, and those degrees can easily open doors for you. You have graduates going into law, business consultancy and investment banking, some of the most competitive job markets in the country. But why would any company hire a medic? The whole process of studying medicine equips you with countless transferable skills that are so invaluable to these firms, they don’t mind spending that time and money to train you up in that industry. Now it doesn’t really make sense to embark on studying medicine with the intention of becoming a lawyer or what not, but it may something worth keeping in the back of your mind if you aren’t 100% sold on the idea of medicine, but are heavily leaning towards it.

The whole process of becoming a doctor is very experiential, from the application, to med school itself, and even life as a doctor afterwards, so there is always a lot you can learn from the people who were in your shoes not too long ago. This was the thought process in setting up En Route Medicine, providing prospective medical students with an experienced mentor to walk them through the whole process, optimising their application while also giving personal advices from their own experience in travelling down this same path.

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