There are many roads that lead to medicine. All have the same requirements but some roads have a few more twists and turns than others. My car has almost run out of petrol with the cantankerous route I’ve traversed. Here goes…
I started prepping for medicine in my 3rd year of a 4 year degree in biochemical engineering at a university that was a bit out of my depth to start. With graduation as the only thing on my radar, I never considered medicine. Not only because the thought of seeing blood made me light-headed, but because my grades were far subpar. The average acceptance for US medical schools is now a 3.7 GPA (out of 4.0), which is equivalent to a first in the UK with distinction. I was sitting at a solid third when I decided to become a doctor. As far as the map was concerned, I had a long way to go before I got to dawn the coveted white coat.
I started tailing my a roommate to volunteering at a local hospital. My first thought: if I can survive volunteering in the oncology ward, I can make the drive. This stemmed into my first foray into clinical experience as a medical assistant at an Internal Medicine practice. Freaking out the first time you stick a patient with a needle and have to take down an accurate history for a physician becomes a very real fear of being a part of someone’s healthcare. It’s not fixing someone’s broken phone where if you mess up you can restart. My actions meant that someone may get sicker or ill when they weren’t previously. After a month of being stressed out and second guessing myself, it all became routine. Personally, this has been the hardest lesson to learn within healthcare. You will mess up, it will affect someone, but you have to accept the mistakes, own them, and correct them. After getting over that hurdle, I took an enormous pleasure in all that I was exposed to: ordering labs (that had been requested of course), taking blood pressure, pulse and temperature readings, taking patient histories, performing ECGs, giving injections and drawing blood. It was an incredibly eye-opening and humbling opportunity that prepared me in ways I could never have imagined two years prior.
At this stage, I took my MCAT, began a master’s program in Health Science to increase my GPA and completed my first application to US medical schools. The application process is quite similar but requires three letters of recommendation, two from science subject professors at university and a more personal reference. You also have to submit every letter grade earned in each course taken at university which was disconcerting since my grades contained more variety than a supermarket. This was my first rejection(s)… 10 in total. This wasn’t really a boost to confidence, but kept me striving for the finish line. At this point, my personal life took over and put the career on hold. I went to the UK to marry my wife, leaving the medical assistant post. When I returned, I went back to the hospital I was working for as a financial analyst. I was introduced to the business and political governance that is healthcare, an area that not many medical students get to experience until they are having to deal with its implications.
This job led me to my second round of US applications, which still turned up nothing, and to my eventual move to the UK in January of 2015 (this process started in 2010). With my car starting to putter, I signed up for the GAMSAT to apply in the UK. I can’t say I have much experience in what the differences between GAMSAT/BMAT/UKCAT are, but the GAMSAT requires your first year A levels of Chemistry, Biology, Physics, and Organic Chemistry. I likened it to the MCAT in the US in that the questions were not simply solving for an answer. They wanted to see how you used your knowledge and how you could apply scientific principles to different problems, be it engineering, clinical, etc. All were doable, but you had to find the root problem to solve which is what I would expect of diagnosis. The results were positive and led to 3/3 interviews. The experience I had in the past and my dedication of 6 years of efforts at this point led to 3 acceptances and one of the happiest days of my life (outside of my wedding day).
I can see all the exit signs coming up now, but I’ve started to run on fumes again. Being an international student is like the extra bag of luggage that was tied down to the rack that’s creating too much wind resistance and weight to carry. As a second degree student and an international student, I am not eligible for many of the grants and charity offerings available. With the limitations of my visa, I am unable to receive UK student loans, I can muster up an advance from places like PurplePaydayLoan but that’s about it for now. The medical program won’t accept the lower interest rate US federal loans, and the one’s they will accept have quoted ~10% interest resulting in my paying more than the degree is worth and likely by the time this car will implode. Family funding may be an option but is not looking good. So while the exit signs indicate that the destination is approaching the next year will lead to further creative solutions to adapt to the journey. You don’t come this far after you find you forgot a charger at home. You roll the windows down, turn the music up and adapt while you wait for the next part of the journey to fulfil an incredible dream. I’ll be sure to send updates from the road.