What attracts you to medicine? It’s more than just an interview question, and can offer revealing insights into the future make-up of the profession and what drives doctors. Medical students in Manchester and London told the BMA about their motivations and background
‘My dad used to drive a van and now works in a builders’ yard. My mum works in our local shop.
‘I had a brain tumour when I was two, so I’ve been around health professionals for a long time … There was a possibility that I could have died but I feel I have made the most out of it.
‘I think my mum is proud of me because I turned that experience around and am now trying to do what they did for me for other people.’
Milly Wilson, Manchester University second-year
'I started off as an apprentice lab assistant and realised I really liked pathology. I went to see a post-mortem, which sealed the deal for me. I thought, this is a really big privilege. A pathologist can play such an important role.
‘I’m from Bradford and I live on a council estate. My mum’s a domestic cleaner and she’s been doing that for years. It’s just me and my mum. She’s really proud of me. My mum was crying a lot when she found out I was going to medical school, she’s really happy for me.’
Grace Haley, Manchester University first-year
'I’m a graduate in pharmacology from Newcastle and medicine wasn’t the first thing on my mind out of school, it wasn’t something I always wanted to do.
‘It was the second and third years of my undergraduate degree where I had an increased number of patient hours and contact with patients, which made me think this is actually something I’d quite like to do more in depth.
‘So I thought medicine combined my interest in drug therapy with that patient contact, and I like problem-solving, so that’s why I’m here.
‘Looking at the future of the NHS, with all the dark and gloomy things that are coming out of that, I think there’s a need to have students going into the profession that have had some prior experience, that have tried something else, and having done that it’s that certainty that “yes this is what I want to do, I’ve had a taste of other things”.
‘I’m not sure what specialty I’d like to go down and I think the landscape of how the NHS will look when I graduate may change my mind.
‘I think you need to go in with your eyes completely open. You need to make sure that you’ve had that experience and that you’ve spoken to doctors – and not just consultants, they have worked for an NHS that is not the same as it is today, it’s the foundation year 1s and 2s that really provide you with probably the most realistic or similar experience to what you’ll have.
‘And that’s what I did, I spoke to them in detail, warts and all. Acknowledge that you’re not going to do medicine for the money, you’re not going to do it for the nice working hours, you’re doing it for the satisfaction of helping people and working out difficult complex problems using your brain.
‘I think if you go in with that attitude as opposed to “I’m a hero, I’m going to make lots of money” and all of those kind of things, you have to be realistic about what you’re doing it for. And as long as you are, and have a fully informed decision, then I think it’s something you’ll love.’
Joseph Middleton, graduate-entry student on the first year of an accelerated four-year course at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ School of Medicine
'In year nine I shadowed a physiotherapist. I got to hold on to a patient’s hand when the doctor was helping her to stand up. And she squeezed my hand really hard. And that sense of responsibility to squeeze back and to reassure her that I was there to help her to stand up was the best feeling.’
Jennifer Wang, second-year biomedicine student at Melbourne University on an exchange at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ School of Medicine
I think policies need to be made to address how to give students that want to do medicine, that want to do sciences, the opportunities to make it because there’s nothing worse than losing potential. There are students that would soar by just giving them a little bit of help.
‘But if they’re in the wrong place, if they have no help, they feel like that’s all they can achieve and they’ve got one route and it’s heart-breaking because the NHS needs doctors, needs nurses, it needs so many healthcare professionals and by not giving opportunities to everyone who is willing and who wants it is a travesty.
‘What I would love is more support in a sense because as a mature student there’s certain things that aren’t available for you financially and a lot of things are means tested, especially childcare, and you don’t get as much help as you could.
‘I’ve left a very well-paying job, and obviously I’m not going to be making any money
for five years and then I’ll be taking a big pay cut when I do start compared to what I was making. So all of these things my husband and I had to discuss, had to look at how we were going to be able to afford it with childcare in London. So it involves a lot of sacrifice and help from my parents.
‘But you have to look at the bigger picture, you have to look at the long-term and you just have to tighten your belts and go for it. But I think anything the Government can do to make it easier for mature students.
‘The issue for me was the lack of student loans for the five-year course. So, being able to produce the fees upfront is a big concern with childcare as well. It’s things like that. Anything that the Government could do would be really great.’
Lola Arowoshola, first-year student at St George’s, University of London
'I started off as a professional footballer. Then I completed a sports and exercise distance learning BSc while working as a health technologies researcher first, and later as a project manager for a clinical commissioning group. I always, always wanted to be a medic if I’m honest.
‘The choice between football and medicine was a choice that I made when I was 16, it was one or the other. In retrospect, I definitely made the wrong choice at that age, but I’ve ended up in the
‘Graduate medicine is unique in that you have to deal with loss of earnings alongside tuition fees. Lots of us have come from fairly decently paid and stable jobs, often within healthcare where we felt we were already making a positive impact. With graduate-entry medicine you are committing another four years of your life to education without pay when you already have an established career. Although it’s certainly worth it and your occupational experience greatly supports your learning.
‘None of my parents have got degrees, no one in my family has got a degree – although my younger sister is working on it.’
Jack Barton, first-year graduate-entry student at St George’s, University of London
'I arranged two weeks of work experience in a hospital and I found myself interested and wanting to see more.
‘I followed a specialist nurse in the chemotherapy department. Just looking around the cancer patients I realised that there’s no textbook definition of “sick” – these people looked healthy to me, so I was shocked that this was the cancer ward. That really surprised me that there are other ways sickness can present itself.’
Tobi Oyebanji, first-year student at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry
I’m from Wales so I did some work experience back there. The population and the sizes of the hospitals are smaller. There are more universities here [in London] and people are more familiar with it, so are perhaps convinced to stay here and practise.
‘But I feel it’s important for more doctors to practise in places such as Wales where they are exposed to different medical conditions because the environment is different, as are the working lives of local people. And while it may be quieter, it’s important that doctors go there and experience the quieter wards and the different demands.’
Katharine Benedict, first-year student at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ School of Medicine
'It was a long process for me. I put in the work, improved my application during gap year and came here.
‘My parents were actually a bit surprised when I said I wanted to do medicine. My mum’s a social worker and my dad’s a private hire driver, so it’s different. It was a long process for me. I got a lot of help. One of my friends started a campaign to help more [black and minority ethnic applicants] get into medicine.
‘He and the organisation he started up helped me a lot with the whole process: the personal statement, the interview skills. They helped me prepare a lot. Mock interview, the entrance exam (the UK Clinical Aptitude Test), they gave a lot of books, revision resources. And Medify, they helped me find out about that. The organisation is trying to get more [black and minority ethnic applicants] and people from non-traditional backgrounds to go into medicine.
‘I think the problem with black and ethnic minorities going to study medicine is more of a mentality. If I can do it, anyone can. All people need is a helping hand. So raising awareness and giving people the opportunity will increase the number of people that want to do it. Not everyone wants to do medicine but there are some who want to do it but are unable to because they just don’t have the opportunity. So I think raising awareness and providing the support that they need is very important. Education above all.
Jürgen Awotula, first-year student at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry
‘I like the holistic side of it, treating patients and being one-on-one with them, cradle-to-the-grave. I think what really sold me doing nursing home volunteering, because it really one-on-one with the patients and you get to know them throughout the weeks you’re volunteering with them.’
Nayan Thampi, first-year student at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ School of Medicine
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