Getting into Medicine without straight As

My name is Laura and I am currently a third year student on the Graduate Medicine course at Imperial College London. I believe if being a doctor is really what you envision for yourself, no number of rejections will stop you – take it from me! I’m enjoying this process and wish all medical students out there the courage and wisdom to finish the course and remember why you started in the first place.

Unfortunately, to practice in the field of Medicine, good grades are a must. But for those of us who didn’t quite get there the first time, it’s not something to give up on. Like many aspiring medics, I first realised I wanted to become a doctor as a teenager. I liked the sciences and knew I cared for people, so why not? Now I look back, I can recognise how terribly hard it is to decide what your life will look like from the mere age of 16. Along with the priceless ability to save a person’s life, one has to sacrifice a great deal to practice medicine. When you enter the profession, you’re already accepting a good decade of studying at a minimum (if not for life). You’re embracing the fact that often the workload will not match up to the pay and sometimes, you’ll have to reject things which would have actually been a lot of fun. But does a 16-year old really consider the weight of any of that? Of course not.

In the Summer of 2012 I receive my GCSEs: 2A*s, 6As and 2Bs. Now this is a set most likely above average for the country, but in the field of competitive medicine, this was not sufficient. I had predictions of 7A*s so perhaps understandably I spent that whole day in and out of tears and frustration. Nonetheless, my marks were sufficient to study at one of my top 3 sixth form choices. I remember being excited to start afresh and set my head down for what I expected to be a successful two years. I was a hard-worker but just needed to have a little more discipline.

Fast forward to the Summer of 2013. I’d settled into school nicely that year and despite the ‘jump’ often talked about between GCSE and A-levels, I viewed myself as well prepared. On AS-level results day, I remember opening the sheet of paper seeing the letters ABCC in Art, Maths, Chemistry and Biology, respectively. Perhaps the bounce back was a little quicker than at GCSEs as I then began to set up a game plan; I knew these weren’t my standards. I was also very aware that to study Medicine at a London university, I’d barely get past an open day with these grades.

The next year I dedicated practically all my hours to academia. I didn’t go out to parties and made up the additional work experience I thought would look impressive on my application. With my grades from the year prior I wasn’t in a position to apply to any British universities for Medicine and so, opted to study an affiliated degree. Many applicants who choose to go into Biomedical Sciences (this is the popular one), Physiotherapy or Biology, to name but a few, then proceed to study Medicine as a graduate. Instead of the usual Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) 6 year course, this would provide me with a 3 year BSc and a further 4 year MBBS course (often shortened if you have covered sufficient concepts at undergraduate level).

Results day Number 3. I had three conditional offers to study Biomedical sciences at AAB and yet upon opening those final A level results, I read that I had achieved ACC in Art, Biology and Chemistry…respectively. To say I was disappointed would have been a wild understatement. I’m confident that throughout life we all go through periods where our hard work doesn’t quite result in the goal we had expected (and perhaps for good reason). My results left me little other option than to enter clearing and now I can gratefully say I received a place at St. George’s University of London to study Physiology. At the time I was incredibly disappointed but adjusted well once the course began. I received much more from the course in terms of intellectual challenges, interpersonal skills and clinical exposure than I’d initially expected and again, only in hindsight, do I see how valuable those three years really were.

School grades weren’t the only obstacle getting in between me and my place at medical school; the aptitude tests were next. These tests are a combination of problem solving and critical thinking (not to mention the ability to squeeze 15 seconds thinking time for several of the questions). I graduated with a 2.i from my BSc (Hons) in 2017 and still remember on the day of my last exam heading straight to the library to begin my University Clinical Aptitude test (UCAT) preparation.

I dedicated my entire summer to this exam and one other, the Graduate Medical School Admissions test (GAMSAT). After a gruelling 6 weeks of intense revision, I scored an average of 685. I was devastated. The breakdown was 490, 700, 720, 770. The first section (verbal reasoning) heightened my anxiety and whole heartedly messed me up. This exam confirmed two things in my mind: (1) Longer periods of revision could actually cause burnout, and (2) An individual’s mindset on the day has significant weight on performance. I think you can see by now how dedicated I was on getting into Medicine. Despite the value of my undergraduate degree, becoming a Cardiac Physiologist (as this is what I’d specialised in) wasn’t really what I wanted to do.

I spent just over four weeks studying for the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT). On average, interview-worthy BMAT scores tended to range between the 5s and 6s so when I received a 4.4, 4.5 and 3.5A, my results reconfirmed my heavy doubt and disappointment.

February 21st 2018. I hear my phone buzz. An Interview. What a feeling! I was ecstatic. I was overwhelmed. I was in shock, really. This was an interview for Imperial College London. A university placed 8th in the world rankings was inviting me to interview? This opportunity demonstrated that all the times I had questioned myself, felt looked down upon and underperformed had not gone to waste. It was over six weeks following the interview until I got a response from Imperial: I had been accepted to study Medicine.

I want to demonstrate that no matter how many times you fail, if you dedicate all your efforts to a single goal – it will happen. Perseverance does work. Ultimately you have to take a bit of a tunnel-visioned approach when a goal is so big, so as to avoid people interfering with your vision. For those of you who wish to enter Medicine, or competitive careers alike, rejections do not equate to your competency for the field. Let me be proof of that.

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