I think I was 11-years-old when I decided I was going to be a doctor. Being quite impressionable, I loved the idea of this heroic career where I could right all the wrongs and save humanity from the evil grips of suffering. It is also worth noting I was quite dramatic and fantastical at that age. Nonetheless, once I had set medicine as my goal, I decided to pursue it full-force and commit to it completely.
It’s hard to stick to your goals and get things done when you have an omnipresent voice in your head constantly making you second-guess every choice, or when there are so many thoughts and worries in there that you can no longer distinguish truth and reality from speculation and doubt. Growing up, I didn’t hear many people talking about mental illness in aspiring medical students, although I appreciate it can be seen as quite a niche topic for public discussion. Unfortunately, I felt like therefore it was something I had to hide and disguise. I feared it would disadvantage me from my peers, or that the harsh reality was that people like me couldn’t or shouldn’t be doctors.
Becoming a doctor seemed unattainable. Somehow, feeling this way made it easier to get through GCSEs. University seemed so far away that I could ignore it altogether and focus solely on my studies. I was able to pass all my exams with flying colours; however, when I got to Sixth Form, things took a turn. My personal life was going through a lot of changes and my mental health hit an all-time low. I was feeling extremely unmotivated to do anything and I fell behind in my work, not achieving anything near the grades I needed to apply to medical school. On top of this, university applications were drawing nearer and nearer, which meant I finally had to face the reality of whether or not I could actually become a doctor.
I was also starting to question my motivations. Was this what I really wanted or was I doing this for another reason? Perhaps to please my parents, or for later job security, or maybe just because I liked the positive connotations associated with medicine. I knew I wanted to help others and make them feel better, but what if this was all just so I could feel better about myself? I felt like a fraud, like I was trying to pry open the gates to medical school with these groundless motivations.
Before I carry on, I would like to clarify something. I no longer beat myself up for having what I once thought of as ‘fake’ motivations. Although I still feel those motivations were not what I needed personally, and wouldn’t have been enough to fuel me through medical school, it’s important to note everyone’s motivations are different and extremely dependent on the person as an individual.
What I was feeling was closer to something known as ‘Imposter Syndrome’. It’s something I’ve become more and more aware about over the past year; in fact’ve heard it’s actually really common for people around this age, more than I ever anticipated. Learning that I am not the only one feeling this way has helped me accept it and work on my self-confidence and self-worth.
I digress. In the spring of year 12, I decided to take a gap year and not apply to university until after my A-Level exams. This was mostly to take a break from education (so not to start university burnt-out as I did with Sixth Form) and also to take the time needed to heal myself mentally. Most importantly, I figured that I wasn’t ready for university yet.
The following year, just after finishing my exams, I went to the Medic Mentor Summer School. I wasn’t confident in how my exams went at all, and I was giving serious thought to applying to another course altogether. Nonetheless, I was already signed up and felt even if I was no longer planning on studying medicine, the summer school could help me with applying to university and career skills in general. Plus, it would be something productive to keep me busy during the long summer holidays, which appealed to me.
Going to the summer school has been the best decision I’ve made yet in my journey to becoming a doctor. For the first time, I started to find what I felt was a true motivation to study medicine. Being surrounded by like-minded aspiring medical students, learning about everyone’s personal experiences and being supported by so many inspiring and motivated people helped me overcome my fear of failure and choose to pursue medicine because it’s what I want to do, and to give it all I’ve got.
Medic Mentor know and understand just how unique each student’s journey to medicine is and will be. With this in mind, they cater their support to best assist and compliment a student’s strengths, helping them reach their full potential. They don’t coach students to become ‘rehearsed model applicants’, but teach you to develop your skillset and promote self-development. I’ve realised this was an essential aspect which allowed me to never feel pressured by them, only encouraged. All the mentors and supervisors at that summer school are some of the most understanding, dedicated and genuine people I have ever met. I will always be grateful for all the help and support they have provided me with.
When it finally came to applying to medicine, I chose to be honest. I believe that if I try to ‘hide’ the times when I’ve struggled, I’m declaring them as something to be ashamed about. I also now believe that struggling is never something to be ashamed about. It’s nothing more than being human. It’s also important not to dwell on these things either, as being entirely engrossed with them is just as harmful as hiding them.
Instead I chose to address it full on, and actively work on improving my mental health in the present and learn how to maintain good mental health in the future. As it turns out, being open worked to my advantage when applying. Among other things, such as taking a gap year and reading Also Human by Caroline Elton (which I would highly recommend), it helped me gain a more realistic insight into not just medicine, but the great big world outside high school and adolescence.
Medicine is challenging. There’s no question about it. It’s imperative to find a true sense of motivation that is personal to you, and also to stay realistic about your journey and experiences to come. However, once you are able to embrace both those things, little to nothing can stand in your way.
I applied to:
Liverpool A100 Medicine
Manchester A106 Medicine
HYMS A100 Medicine
Sheffield A100 Medicine
Manchester Biomedical Science with Japanese
I was offered:
Liverpool A100 Medicine, unconditional
Manchester, A106 Medicine, conditional
HYMS, A100 Medicine York Campus, conditional
Sheffield, Biomedical Science, unconditional
Manchester, Biomedical Science with Japanese, conditional