Road to Medicine: Charlene (UCL)

My road to medicine is similar to many, as we pursue our first undergraduate degree–medicine. However, I think many of us would agree that the ride was not at all smooth and cosy…

In Year 11, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to study at university. I applied for internships in fields that were vastly different, ranging from an economics internship at JP Morgan to volunteering at a care home. Most of them failed to pique my interest and I was getting rather frustrated as to the uncertain future that lay ahead of me. It was not until one hospital shadowing experience changed it: I shadowed a general surgeon, and observed an endoscopy operation, a surgical operation of removing an enlarged lymph node for the first time. The combination of human anatomy and physiology, compassion, communication, manual dexterity in one career amazes and excites me. From then on, I emailed a lot of consultants so that I could have a glimpse of the wondrous life of being a doctor. Yet, a task that looks deceivingly simple has turned out to be a very difficult one to me and many others: Hundreds of emails that were enthusiastically sent out would be rejected, or ignored. Worse, among those hundreds of emails, only three or four consultants would reply and offer you a place. Being a determined person (or some might call it stubborn), I kept sending, until my eyes were tired from the bright computer screen, until the “sent” box on my Gmail were filling up to its maximum, until I got at least a single reply from one consultant. Yet, weeks later, as I was sitting behind the consultant, listening attentively to the various medical cases, I felt an immense sense of joy. It was all worth it.

I started the preparation for medicine in Lower Sixth, after being certain that medicine was the path I want to pursue. Despite the admonition of past students that medicine is a difficult path, I prepped myself for the various hurdles along the way. The first hurdle was UCAT.  I remembered my first mock UCAT test was horrendous: Under timed conditions, it was impossible to answer those long questions in the Verbal Reasoning section, to effectively calculate in the Quantitative Reasoning section, to find patterns in the abstruse images in the Abstract Reasoning section, to answer all the codes in the Decision Analysis Questions, to get top marks for ambiguous answers in the Situational Judgement Questions. Luckily, “Practice makes perfect,” I was proud to have achieved a good score and was placed in the second highest quartile for that cohort of students. I found that with more practice, the quantitative and abstract sections become surprisingly easier, so I would urge prospective medics to do more practice questions. However, perhaps, due to the fact that English is not my native language, I still find the verbal reasoning sections quite tough. Getting favourable results in the UCAT is important, as it gives a sense of security to students and places them in a good position to choose the universities that they want to go to on UCAS, but there were a few more that I wanted to choose. So I decided to approach the second hurdle–the BMAT. BMAT is the admissions test that most students fear, as it is notorious for being arduous. BMAT books were bought, BMAT courses were booked, but my marks did not bulge. With the UCAS having been submitted and the BMAT looming scarily in the distance, it was a stressful experience, because there was no going back from the chosen BMAT but reminding myself of my goal, aspiration and dream, I kept pushing myself and fortunately got highly positive results. For IB prospective medics, the usual subjects to take are HL Biology and Chemistry, instead of physics, so it is important to bear in mind that in section 2 of the BMAT where physics is also tested, so it may be a good idea if you haven’t already burnt or thrown away your physics IGCSE study guides!

Being offered all four interviews, I thought my future was all set, but of course, I was wrong again. Little did I know that the last, but also the most challenging hurdle to me, was the interviews. As an international student, with a limited international student quota, there was more emphasis to do well in order to secure a place at a university. On top of the struggle to give a decent reply to the “why medicine” cliche question, (most of the answers used by prospective medics are merely variation of the same theme, just be sure to make yours as unique as possible) there were many more challenges, including the different techniques in answering MMI questions and traditional interview questions; paraphrasing what you have learnt and reflected in your work experience and many more.

The cruel irony is, despite the hard work put forth and being given 4 acceptances and that even if I were to finish a medical degree in the UK, I would have to take a conversion test if I want to be a doctor in my home country– Hong Kong. And guess what? This conversion test is worse than UCAT, BMAT and the IB (A-level equivalent) combined, because the passing rate is only 10% to 15%. Nonetheless, I should be thankful that I have at least reached the beginning of this adventure, so that I can reach my goal and help you in yours too.

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About the Author:

I'm a medical student at Cambridge University, and one of the co-founders of 6med. I created the BMAT Crash Course and Interview Crash Course, and helped code BMAT Ninja and UKCAT Ninja. If you need a hand with anything, feel free to give me a shout!

One Comment

  1. Josephine 28/11/2018 at 14:21

    Hi Charlene!
    Could you share more about the things you did to serve as a competitive international candidate for British Medical Schools? I am from Singapore and was hoping to understand what I can do to be a more competitive applicant.
    Thank you so much!

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