Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Advice for Prospective Medical Students II

When I applied to medical school in October 2011, my university choices were limited to the five medical schools in Scotland. This meant that it was pretty easy for me to decide which 4 medical schools to apply to. However, I understand that it is a lot harder to decide which universities to apply to when you have to consider every medical school in the UK. So, hopefully this post will help answer a question for you: which medical schools should I apply to?

Entry to medical schools in the UK is very competitive, I have heard that approximately 60% of all applicants receive four rejections. I don't have a source for this figure but, judging by the sheer number of unsuccessful applicants that I know myself or have read about, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was accurate. Therefore, I believe it is very important to apply to medical schools that you have a greater chance of being accepted into. That isn't to say that certain medical schools are easier to get into, but different medical schools put more weighting on different parts of your application (personal statement, BMAT, UKCAT etc.). Thus, it is important that you apply strategically to schools which highly regard the strengths of you application or put less weighting on your weaknesses. 

For example, the UKCAT can be a big deciding factor. If you happen to score below average in the UKCAT (e.g. <600avg) it would be foolish to apply to schools such as Glasgow who don't consider applicants with a UKCAT score lower than a certain cut-off, usually around 650avg. A better choice would be to apply to schools that put less emphasis on the UKCAT or those that don't use it at all to decide between applicants (e.g. Liverpool). 

I remember reading an interesting article on "The Student Room" not long ago in which the writer addresses some of the points I have mentioned. I think it has some quite useful information so I will post a segment here:

"As I began my university application process last year, I couldn't for the life of me figure out where I should apply. Having zero experience in the UK, I was a complete layperson and pretty much lost. Going through all the schools and checking out their pros/cons seemed like a logical first step, so that's where I began. I made a giant list of potential schools to apply to and everyday I would cut a few out of that list to arrive at a master list of 4-6 possible candidates.

Then I wrote my UKCAT. Everything changed. I realized that all but one of the schools I had selected placed heavy emphasis on that useless test. I was in panic mode, and the realization that I had just wasted a bunch of weeks researching stuff only to have it destroyed completely freaked me out. 

It was then that I decided on a different approach; one that many applicants easily miss.

Applying to strengths versus applying to preference.

So far in my search, the schools I had compiled were those where I felt I'd be most comfortable, most successful. They included heavyweights like Edinburgh, Sheffield, Newcastle and Manchester. Well established, easily recognizable institutions with great teaching styles, in nice cities, etc. It was all great, but I had forgotten to consider a very important aspect: these schools were great for me...but how great was I for them?

What possible reasons did these schools have for accepting me? What was I offering them? This perspective of me being an ideal to the school as opposed to the schools being ideals to me, was a very important realization.

From that point on, selecting schools was easy. Main criteria became: my suitability for their teaching style, my academic/ukcat scores meeting requirements, how they look at my experience/extracurriculars/etc, what parts of my application do they focus on.

Before this, I had focused more on how great these schools were for me and I keep searching for the benefits they could provide me. However, applying to super competitive programs like medicine requires a reversal in thinking, you have to start seeing things from the opposing perspective.

Hope this has been helpful. It's especially intended for new applicants from high school/internationals who don't necessarily have an idea where to begin. Good luck on your apps!"

The full article can be found here, some of the comments may be of use to you too.

Another important thing to consider is this: no matter which medical school you go to in the UK, the medical teaching is always of a very high standard. Even though some schools have better reputation and, arguably, better teaching methods, at the end of the day they have all been approved by the GMC. Even after graduation when you have to apply for jobs as a foundation doctor, it doesn't matter which medical school you attended. There isn't even a space on the application form to disclose this information. Having said that, there is no harm in aiming high and applying to more "prestigious" universities as long as you are sensible about it. It may have been your life-long ambition to study medicine at Oxford or Cambridge, but make sure you read their entry requirements closely to determine whether you have a realistic chance of being accepted.

And that brings me to my final point–research each university that you are thinking of applying to and find out exactly what they are looking for from their applicants. This website, created by the same people that wrote the "600 Questions" UKCAT book, offers a quick overview of each universities entry requirements. Clicking each university gives more in depth information. TSR Medicine Wiki is also very helpful and should provide a lot of information about different aspects of the application. However, the best way to get the most up-to-date information is to check each medical schools website individually. If you have any additional questions, emailing/phoning the medical schools' admissions department will get you the most accurate information.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Colombian Men

It's almost two weeks since I've returned from my trip to Colombia and I have become accustomed to living in the UK again. My sleeping pattern has returned to normal and it's no longer a surprise when it's still daylight after 9pm. However, when I first arrived in the UK (or Europe, for that matter) there were a few things that struck me as very different. The most obvious thing to me was that people no longer stared at me! Now, I am in no way a particularly attractive young person but my pale skin, freckles and uncommon hair colour attracted a lot of attention in Colombia. I quickly got used to people looking at me in the street, making comments or asking questions (is your hair natural, where are you from? etc.).

If you are curious about these "comments" that were made, I will share a story with you. One afternoon, I was walking around the town of Pasto by myself. I was walking towards two men outside a bakery. One of them caught sight of me and muttered "Que bonita. Gringuitano?" to the other man. I ignored them and walked on quickly, only for him to shout "¡DELICIOSA!" after me. That was one of many similar comments that were made by strangers during my trip and I'm sure any other British travellers have has similar experiences! It was, however, the first time I have ever been called "delicious" which creeps me out a little bit.

Here are some other things that I remember being said to me across the country (translated into English):

"You are so precious, I will marry you."
"You have the face of a doll."
"Oh no, I have come to the wrong table, maybe because I am in love!"
"How lovely is that girl."

Looking back, I find this pretty funny. I'm sure the men that made these comments were completely harmless. It's also quite interesting because if a man in Glasgow wanted a woman in the street to know that he found her attractive, my guess is he wouldn't use words like "precious" or "lovely". His words are likely to be more blunt or possibly a little vulgar. However, I never get that kind of attention here in the UK anyway because I am pretty average looking and blend into crowds. I stood out significantly in Colombia though! I'm sure that other white British travellers to South America will have similar stories to tell. And if you are planning to travel there yourself, it's something to be wary of!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

I'm back!

Yesterday, after a journey that took place over three days, I returned home from Colombia. I had such a great time! I'm going to miss the country and the people I met but it still feels so good to be home!

I should probably start off by saying that things didn't quite go according to plan. It turns out that I didn't get very much hospital exposure at all. The problem was that I don't have the required insurance because I am not yet at medical school. I was still able to meet a few doctors, and was shown around a hospital, but I was not able to observe the work of any doctors. To be completely honest, I wasn't too disappointed as I know I will get plenty of experience in hospitals come September! It also meant that I had more time to get to know Colombia, which really is a beautiful country! Below are some photos that I took in different parts of the country. 
The top row is from Bogota, the second from Medellin and the third from Pasto and Narino.

I was very close to missing out on Las Lajas (bottom-centre) but luckily I managed to go on my last day in Pasto. Phew! I would have been devastated if I hadn't because it was truly amazing. Another exciting thing that happened in Pasto was that I ate the popular dish called "cuy". Here's a picture:
Can you guess what animal it is? I'm not ashamed to say that it's a guinea pig and it was delicious! I don't quite know how I'll react the next time I'm see somebody's pet guinea pig though.

Despite feeling pretty nervous before my trip, I feel I got so much out of it. I still have a long way to go but my Spanish has improved immensely. I'm surprised by how much I picked up just by hearing the language everyday. Also, it's strange because I believe it has made me more confident as a person. Maybe it's just because I can be a little shy and nervous at times but after speaking a foreign language everyday for the past month, it has made me realise just how easy it is to speak English again. It's hard to explain but I definitely think I will have less problems in certain social situations now.

I do miss Colombia, and hope I can return one day (there is still so much of the country I would like to see), but I think one month was just enough time. I didn't feel homesick but as a 17/18 year old travelling alone for the first time I was satisfied with a month. It feels so good to be back in my own bed again and I'm relieved to say that my cat hasn't forgotten me. Embarrassingly, that was one of my biggest worries as I do love my cat!

One another note, I wasn't entirely sure where I would go with this blog when I first started, but it's already clear that it won't be solely dedicated to medicine. I plan to write more advice posts to hopeful medical students but aside from that you'll have to put up with these personal posts until I'm actually at medical school. After reading some other blogs though, that's not necessarily a bad thing though, right?

P.S. Paris-Orly airport is bloody horrible!