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Holly’s journey to Manchester Medical School

Holly’s journey to Manchester Medical School

Holly Melvin
4th Year Medical Student at The University of Manchester, Instagram account: @that.girl.medic
December 9, 2021

Everybody’s journey to studying Medicine is different, and that’s part of what makes all doctors great. Our individual stories and journeys shape who we are as doctors and give us unique skill sets. This article covers my journey to medical school.

I’m by no means saying that this is the only or the best way to get to medical school. Indeed, the best way for you to get into medical school will be your own journey which I imagine you’re embarking on right now. Instead of using this article as a strict guide to follow, I hope you can use it perhaps as a source of inspiration or at least find it an interesting read. 

Choosing to study Medicine 

I decided at a very young age that Medicine was for me! In fact, I was 6 years old when I went to an appointment with a paediatrician, was seen by a lovely kind doctor, and decided I wanted to be just like her. 

Ever since then, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I was interested in people, their lives, their stories and wanted to be in a job where I felt I was helping them and could have a real impact on their lives. The only barriers to my dream were GCSE maths and actually my self-belief. 

Whilst sciences weren’t my strongest subjects, I still achieved As and A*s. In hindsight, I wish I had had more confidence in myself and my hard work, which helped ensure I secured the grades I ultimately needed to get into medical school. The lesson here is to trust yourself and back yourself when pursuing your dream!

UCAT or BMAT? + preparation 

For me, the choice between UCAT and BMAT was a very easy choice to make. I chose UCAT, although when I took it, it was called the UKCAT (the same people still run it and basically covers all the same areas and skills).

The BMAT says that it requires a GCSE level knowledge of physics and maths. I had achieved an A in both of these at GCSE, so in theory, I had a good enough level of understanding to be able to do well at the BMAT. However, I hated GCSE maths and physics (often, this isn’t a sentiment shared by many medics!) and couldn’t think of anything worse than having to study them again.

Also, having looked at universities, I knew that overall the medical schools I was interested in wanted the UCAT, so it made sense for me to only take the UCAT.

I chose to take the UCAT about a month after my AS level exams. I figured this way, I would still be in revision mode, so it would be easier to maintain and meant that I would enjoy my summer holiday a little more! This worked really well for me, so it’s a method I always recommend to people. The only thing I would say is that I definitely spent too much time obsessing over results and rankings of how people were doing – avoid this because there’s nothing you can do to change it!

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Volunteering 

Volunteering was a part of my medical school application that I really enjoyed, and I think it’s a really important part of it. I decided to do two different lots of volunteering a week, and there were definitely pros and cons to this.

The positives were numerous. I really enjoyed my volunteer work both in a play centre for disabled children and on a busy hospital ward helping out nurses and HCAs, and it was a really good break from studying for A-levels. 

By undertaking 2 volunteering opportunities, I doubled my exposure to interesting and thought-provoking experiences that helped me reflect and learn, making me a stronger medical school candidate and, hopefully, a better doctor.

I also chose to undertake volunteering in the hospital, as I felt if I was not able to secure work experience in a clinical setting, I could use what I had learnt during my volunteering in a ‘work experience’ style reflection. Luckily, I didn’t need to do this, but again, I think it’s a really good tip if you’re struggling to arrange work experience.

On the other hand, juggling two lots of volunteering a week, along with working 2 mornings a week as a swimming teacher, studying for A-levels and undertaking extracurricular activities such as studying for Grade 8 flute was really hard! Especially as I chose to do 5 AS levels. In hindsight, I think I was putting too much pressure on myself to do too many things for my application to medical school. 

I’ve since learnt the importance of self-care and downtime, and it’s made me a much happier, less stressed person. I understand that your medical school application can feel like the most important thing in the world, but actually, the most important thing should be your health and well being – make sure you don’t lose sight of this when you’re trying to pack everything in. 

Work experience 

Organising work experience was a real struggle for me, so I fully relate to anyone who is desperately emailing and contacting anyone and everyone in search of a placement! In the end, I managed to do one day of work experience through a scheme my local hospital ran for sixth form students – make sure you check out your kickball foundation trust website to see if they run something similar.

One day’s worth of experience was more than enough for me to reflect on. As I always write in my articles, the amount of experience you have isn’t the important part, because if you can’t reflect on it in an insightful and intelligent way, there was no point doing it in the first place!

I spent the morning with an endocrinologist (a doctor who specialises in hormones) in a diabetes clinic. This was a really good experience because I got to see doctor-patient interactions in an intimate setting first-hand, which was really interesting to witness. I then spent the afternoon in gynaecology surgery and got to see surgical procedures such as ‘sling procedures’, which help women suffering from urinary incontinence. 

I chose to reflect on this in my personal statement as I understood the impact these procedures could have on the quality of life these women had. I also met a medical student whilst I was in surgery, and she was so kind and helpful, later reading over my personal statement for me. I would say if you do meet medical students, be sure to chat to them – we’re very friendly and might even be able to help you out!

How I chose which universities to apply to 

I chose universities to apply to based on a number of different criteria. I didn’t really look at rankings, or UCAT scores or anything like that because that wasn’t what was important to me, but if it’s important to you then make sure you do look.

The main things I wanted were: early clinical experience, PBL style teaching and learning, requiring UCAT, opportunity to study abroad, and not requiring AS / A-level physics or maths, as I had chosen not to take them. I applied to Liverpool, Manchester, Cardiff and Newcastle and received offers from all of them except Cardiff. In the end, Manchester was the best option for me because I really liked the fact I could study medical French, achieve qualifications that would allow me to practice as a doctor in France and get to go on extra placements in France too. 

Interviews 

I received interviews at Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool and subsequently received offers from all of them. All the interviews were in an MMI format, and so I can’t offer much advice on panel style interviews. 

I made sure to keep up to date with health news via BBC health and read articles like the ones on here. I also made sure to do reading around Medicine (my favourite being books by Atul Gawande and also ‘when breath becomes air’) and read through my personal statement and journal of experiences the night before my interviews. For Liverpool, we had to do a station on mental maths, so I downloaded a mental maths app and practised for about 10 minutes a day in the lead up to my interview.

My honest advice for interviews is to just be yourself. Be honest, be open, be thoughtful in what you’re saying, and if you’re truly passionate and motivated, this will shine through.

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