Thursday, 13 May 2010

Some Advice

This is a question I was asked a few weeks ago, via my formspring page. I thought it might help those students starting 6th Form, or about to start thinking about the dreaded UCAS (University and College Application System).

As a second year student, what advice would you give to anyone considering the same career path that you have chosen?

Think VERY carefully about whether this is REALLY what you want to do - you will be devoting your entire life to this degree for 5 years. You will lose your social life, and it will be hard to make and keep friends. Discuss it with your adults, your tutors, your friends, your family, ask questions to people like me who have already been through this (I'm happy to answer emails from anyone about this - It is hard, physically, emotionally and mentally.

It's a rewarding career but if it's not right for you, it will wear you down. Also - pick the right type of degree for you. PBL doesn't suit everyone, nor does a traditional course, nor a course with clinical placements from the word go.

Get lots of experience - being a doctor isn't glamorous like on Casualty or ER, it's hard graft and very demanding, and can often be very unglamorous - particularly when you're examining stool samples or putting maggots into leg ulcers! It's incredibly demanding, tiring and stressful. It can be upsetting, it can make you angry, get you frustrated. You'll experience more emotions in your first few weeks of clinical placements than you ever thought possible. It's a lot of hard work, and won't be much like you expected it to be. Do some work as a healthcare assistant or something in a hospital, do lots of shadowing.

If you're serious about it, go on lots of open days, ask current students about the courses and what they think about them, work hard at your A levels and GCSEs, and pick the right subjects for the courses you have in mind - DO your research. If you don't think you're going to get the grades, look at Access to Medicine courses, or Medical Schools that offer lower grades depending on what school you're at, or Medical Degrees with a Foundation Year.

Do lots of practice interviews, find out what they're like at the universities you've applied to - they vary a lot. For example, UEA is an OSCE style interview, whereas St George's University in London is a traditional interview with 3 consultants and a medical student firing questions at you.

But ultimately, do what YOU want, and what you think is going to make YOU happiest.

Good Luck


  1. Wow ! as a FY1 I disagree with everything you've just said.

    firstly 5 years to devote to a degree is less time than a lot of people devote to a car loan, it really is no time at all and if you can't give up 5 years for the trainng then your not going to give up the rest of your professional career to being a doctor ?
    In my training I can honestly say I have never lost my social life or found it hard to make friends, some of my best friends I made in my first 2 weeks of university.
    I will agree it is emotionally and mentally draining however I have never got to the end of a day of placement feeling physically tired, also show me a job that deals with people that isn't all these things and more.

    Picking a good Course is important, but! if you can't addapt yourself to the learning environment provided, then you'll not be able to adapt as a doctor in your future career.

    As for examining stool samples we have labs for this (have had for some time)not something i've ever had to do, and maggots on leg ulcers?, i've never seen done usually we only bio-debride on diabettic pts with vascular problems in feet never legs, leg ulcers would be far to big an area for this to be affective. oh and I forgot to mention we have specilist nurses for this sort of treatment.

    My clinical placements have never been a rollercoaster of emotions like you suggest, generally we just followed a consultant about and learnt things, asked questions and answered with our thoughts/opinions when asked.
    of course if your serious about any career you will do everything to 1. get the grades, 2. find out everything about the subject this goes with out saying. and 3. follow the path that suits your circumstances.

  2. Whilst you are fully entitled to your opinion, medical school is different for everyone. I'm not saying this is how it is for everybody, and I have to say a lot of what you say isn't justified.

    Firstly, our clinical placements involve a lot of time shadowing all healthcare professionals as well as doctors - saying that things are just for the scientists in labs or specialist nurses isn't a brilliant attitude to have. Doctors aren't above everyone else, and examining stool on the wards can often be part of the job - you need to know if your patients have melaena or other issues with their bowels and things like that. I'm currently on a respiratory medicine placement, and we're actively encouraged to look at our patients' sputum samples by our supervising doctors.

    I've found it incredibly difficult to make friends during my time at UEA because it's so competitive in this degree, and I don't want to be friends with people who will just use me for my notes or because I'm good at a particular area of study. And as for a social life, I work to fund my degree alongside my loan, and spend most of my time revising and what time I have left, I can rarely afford to go out. It's difficult for me.

    My clinical placements have very much been a rollercoaster of emotions - I've seen patients with similar situations and conditions to close friends and family members, which has been upsetting at times, and when patients get "lost in the system" so to speak, it can be frustrating that there isn't much you can do for them.

    I agree that you need to pick the right course, and adapt to the learning environment, but there is only so much one can do to adapt! If a course really isn't right for you, then you're going to struggle. At the end of the day, we're all only human.

  3. I'd actually agree with a lot of what Faye said.

    Although 5 years is less than many car loans, it's an awful long time, especially if you're not 100% sure it's what you want to do. So it really is something you should think about long and hard before starting.

    I'd also agree that its emotionally, physically and mentally draining at times. Although I really enjoy the course there has been more than one instance where I've really got down after seeing a patient. It happened when I watched a child die that I helped resuscitate and it happens every time I see a patient with the same cancer my mum died of. I'm very impressed that Dr Steph doesn't get physically tired after a day in the hospital... I clearly need some stamina lessons because it gets to the point where I sometimes feel that my legs are about to give out!

    I've also had to deal with stool samples as a student. Scraping poo from nappies to go to the labs. Not my favourite job, and certainly not ER glamorous!


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