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An Interview With Laura

How did you get involved in Medic Mentor and why?

To me, Medic Mentor was first a poster. During registration, my sixth-form tutor showed us a poster advertising a Get into Medicine (GIM) conference from Medic Mentor. I remember mindlessly picking up this photocopy of the poster and then placing it in my school bag. I didn’t think much of it at the time. However, I was beyond lucky to have taken that poster home, as my mum found it between all my notes, proactively followed up the website, and offered to take me to this GIM conference with my dad. Without realising it, this seemingly simple decision transformed my experience applying to medical school.

Even though I had started considering medicine over the summer after GCSEs, I only had a rough idea of the steps to apply to medical school. Perhaps because I had only moved to the UK in Year 10 and didn’t know anyone who had recently been through the application process, it seemed like I had a well-trodden mountain ahead of me. I needed to do well in school and sit a few entrance exams, then have an interview, and I would get an offer. Smooth sailing. However, the GIM conference pointed out that I had to do so much more than I expected! From work experience, volunteering, ensuring I continued doing extra-curricular activities, reading non-fiction books, keeping on top of the news, to prepping for interviews in advance… the list seemed endless! To top it off, to get one offer, I needed to be in the top 10% of students. I found this daunting at first. I had heard obtaining an offer to study medicine was competitive, but I never thought it was that competitive.

Having the opportunity to access all the advice for the application process and listening to doctors speak about their first-hand experiences in a myriad of specialties helped me get an insight I couldn’t simply find online. The GIM conference also allowed me to meet Dr Siva and Dr Kennedy, who have ever since been supportive mentors to me. I quickly signed up to all the Medic Mentor programmes available at the time, such as the Medical Leadership Programme, and the Awards Programme. Having all these opportunities and support allowed me to plan ahead and work harder than ever before to successfully secure four medical school offers, including Oxford, where I am currently studying. I am grateful that I come across Medic Mentor while I was applying to medical school, and to now be a Medic Mentor Scholar – a fantastic opportunity which has allowed me to give back to the wonderful Medic Mentor Family!

Describe your experience of the Summer School

I loved my time at the Summer School. Not only was it a fun experience where I got to meet lots of people, but the Summer School also involved hard work, allowing me to learn lots in only a week. I completed a final draft of my personal statement and had some valuable interview practice early on. This lifted a massive weight off my shoulders and helped me to put a very competitive application forward, which allowed me to obtain four medical school offers, including Oxford. For context, I attended the Summer School in the Summer of Year 12 in 2019, which lasted a week. With ever-improving updates, the Summer School now involves more weeks of teaching for entrance exams after the week residential course. Since starting medical school, I have also worked as a Mentor for the Summer School. However, the main focus of this blog post is recounting my experience of the Summer School as an applying student.

For me, the main selling point of the Summer School was finishing my personal statement in two days. I had made previous attempts at a personal statement before the Summer School, as my school had asked to see first drafts. However, I didn’t know what I was doing with them. So, those drafts ended up being very heavy on descriptive details of all the activities I’d been involved with while at school, with little reflection upon my experiences.

At the Summer School, I learned how to concisely put my thoughts and reflections into writing. The support from medical students and doctors was invaluable in allowing me to complete my personal statement to a final draft standard! I was one of the last students to finish my personal statement, as I had done so much throughout the application process, and I just wanted to fit so much of it in! However, with only 4,000 characters to play with, the personal statement can only fit the best experiences that portray all the characteristics needed to be a medical student and doctor. At Summer School, I learned about writing techniques to encourage reflection, such as the Gibbs cycle (which I would recommend you look at online!), which helped me put more of my thoughts and feelings into my writing.

I found it difficult to write the why medicine aspect of the personal statement. I felt my reasons were too cliché: I loved science and wanted to help people. However, after coming up with some fancy synonyms and turns of phrases, that’s exactly how I started my personal statement! Perhaps not the most original nor dramatic personal statement but certainly one that rang true. My decision to study medicine didn’t come from one anecdote I could recall, like breaking my foot in a ballet lesson (this opening line was quickly discarded) or reading a particular book (even though I could come up with a few like The Citadel by A.J. Cronin and Bad Science by Ben Goldacre). Instead, my decision came down to an accumulation of experiences, which led me to first consider a career in healthcare and then medicine specifically.

Another sticking point for writing my personal statement was that I was also applying to Oxford, where I currently study. I had heard the advice that I should aim to make my personal statement mostly academic, recounting my academic interests and experiences in more research-related subjects. As such, I decided to write about my Extended Project (EPQ) on age-related cognitive decline, the article I wrote for the Mentor Magazine on ‘Artificial Intelligence in the NHS’ back then, and a few courses I undertook online out of interest.

However, this seemed to take up too much of my personal statement when balancing my work experience and volunteering, both of which were essential for my application to other medical schools. Fortunately, Lucy – a medical student from Cambridge – was one of the mentors at the Summer School! She helped me find the right balance in my personal statement so that it came across both as academic and, most importantly, still conveyed all the motivation and skills needed to become a medical student and doctor.

At the Summer School, I also had the fantastic opportunity to receive interview advice from doctors and medical students. Then, I put that into practice on the last day with the MOCK interviews. I fondly remember the evening activities the Summer School Mentors (most of whom were medical students) put on. For example, an interview warm-up game we did was having one person talk about a skill, such as communication, teamwork, leadership etc., for a minute to practice keeping our cool while making points and reflecting on personal experiences. We went through the often-dreaded question ‘why medicine’, as well as playing other group games like ‘Werewolf’ (you might have heard it called Mafia). All of these evening activities were not only a well-deserved fun break from the day but also, without noticing it, a great practice to get to know each other and shake the nerves off for speaking in front of others as interview preparation!

Something unique about the Summer School was that everyone there was applying to medical school. Never had I had a full classroom of people with similar aspirations and surprisingly extracurriculars and interests. Initially, I had been slightly uneasy, thinking that students there would be competitive, and everyone would try to one-up each other. However, my worries couldn’t be further from the truth! I found it easy to make friends and essentially bond over the fact there was so much to do to have a shot at getting into medical school. Today, I still keep in touch with many people I met during the Summer School! They are now at medical schools across the country, and many of them have gone on to become Scholars at Medic Mentor, like me! I am always interested to hear about how they are getting on, especially as my course at Oxford is split between preclinical and clinical training, whereas at other medical schools, medical students start learning more practical skills from day one.

Overall, the support I received from my mentors at the Summer School was invaluable. From writing a final draft of my personal statement, to helping me prepare for entrance exams like the UCAT and BMAT, and interviews, the Summer School helped me achieve so much in only a week! In addition, this freed up much of my Summer, which I would have otherwise spent agonising over my personal statement. With this extra time, I could do two more weeks of work experience, revise for my entrance exams, and, of course, have a break before the start of Year 13. I recommend attending the Summer School if you are fully committed to applying to medicine, as it is a large investment. It was a big decision for my parents when I was applying, and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to attend! Wishing you all the best with your application to medical school!

Describe your experience of preparing for the UCAT, what was difficult and what helped?

My experience preparing for the UCAT was challenging, but my main learning point from it was the importance of mindset for coping with stressful situations. I started my UCAT preparation a month before sitting the exam. I used apps like Medify and the official UCAT website, which I found helpful. However, I was still learning about the UCAT until quite late, so I didn’t give myself sufficient time to do enough practice questions. So, on test day, I did not feel prepared. I found the start of the test hard. I felt there was so much riding on the UCAT, so I became a bundle of nerves. I could barely focus through the first section – verbal reasoning – which had previously been among my highest-scoring sections. By the time I finished that section, there were only a few moments to compose myself before the next section.

I tried to hype myself up and told myself to forget about it. I didn’t want to let my hard work go to waste! Encouraging myself helped as I completed the other sections and thankfully made up for my initial stumble. When I came out of the exam and saw my result, I wasn’t happy at first. It wasn’t the score I was aiming for. However, realising that the score was good enough to put forward an application to medical schools where the UCAT wasn’t the main deciding factor for interview offers quickly lifted my mood.

If I could go back, I would try to reassure myself more before the UCAT exam, which would have made the first section much more straightforward. Just arriving at the exam setting more confidently would have made a difference. And, looking back, had I spent a few more weeks doing practice questions, I probably would have felt more confident. As such, my main advice for the UCAT is to familiarise yourself with what the test is about as early as possible. Learn what each section involves and what it is testing as soon as you can, even months before the exam. Then, in the month or two leading up to it, do lots of practice questions. Whenever you make a mistake, don’t mindlessly move past it. Instead, work out the reasoning behind why you got that question wrong and revise that area so that next time you come across a similar question, you’ll be more likely to get it right, and so you’ll constantly improve throughout your practice sessions.

Some might tell you that you can’t prepare for the UCAT as it is an aptitude test. In my opinion, there is much you can do to prepare! There is some element of pattern recognition in the questions, especially in the abstract reasoning section. So, use all the resources around you, and importantly, take care of yourself! Try to work on your mindset and believe in yourself. You’ll be surprised to find out how much it really helps with your application to medical school. Even if one section doesn’t go as planned, you will be more than fine. You can do it!

Describe your experience of preparing for the BMAT, what was difficult and what helped?

This section may feel dated now, depending on when you are reading this blog post and your position in the application cycle. Recently, Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing announced in November announced that they will be withdrawing the BMAT from the academic year 2024/25. Therefore, check whether you will be required to sit the BMAT before you read on (unless you just want to read about it out of interest)! I’ll share my experience and advice for sitting the BMAT in this blog post.

You may be wondering how the BMAT differs from the UCAT. In my opinion, Section 1 of the BMAT is very much like the UCAT, as it includes questions testing your verbal reasoning, decision-making, quantitative reasoning, and even abstract reasoning in a few questions. However, BMAT questions tend to be more involved than the UCAT, requiring a few more steps. To account for this, you have a bit more time per question. The main difference between both entrance exams is that the BMAT has more sections which test other skills. In the BMAT, Section 2 involves science questions, and Section 3 asks you to write an essay, usually on a topic to do with medicine.

Having learned from my rather stressful UCAT experience, I decided to take my BMAT preparation much more seriously. Instead of leaving my revision to a few weeks before the test, I started two months in advance, and I made a clear and achievable plan of what topics I wanted to cover and what past papers to practice. Revising with time was especially helpful for Section 2 of the BMAT, which involves answering science questions. This allowed me to go over the topics I hadn’t covered at GCSE due to differences across exam boards or I had forgotten about by early Year 13. I did Biology, Chemistry, and Maths A-Levels, so I was particularly worried about Physics and made sure to allocate more time to it. This is a common position for students; however, not to worry! Section 2 requires GSCE-level knowledge only. Instead, the main challenge actually comes from applying that knowledge to solve the questions.

Like in the UCAT, mindset is crucial while preparing for and during the BMAT. With your practice, try to do at least a few full MOCKs in timed conditions. It’s good to get a feel for taking the exam as close to the real thing as possible. Remember to be kind to yourself: it’s not the end of the world if things don’t go as planned the first time! Medic Mentor has fantastic resources and advice for re-applying if you are unsuccessful the first time around. Your health comes first, so reach out for help from your support network if you need it.

An easy mistake is routinely allowing yourself a few extra minutes to answer questions at the end, as you think it’ll just take a bit of time. However, the insidious thing about practising with a bit more time every time is that you may get used to having those precious few minutes, which, unfortunately, will not be there on test day. For me, this rings especially true for Section 3, the essay. There are 30 minutes allocated for it. Perhaps a couple of minutes to pick the question, a few more to plan, and you are already left with little over 20 minutes to write an essay. Personally, I had only done science subjects at A-Level. So, despite doing more essay- based subjects at GCSE, I had grown less confident in writing essays in timed conditions. During my practice, I usually would allow myself a few minutes at the end or only start counting the time once I decided on the question. On test day, I was very pressed against time, and I remember one of the examiners had to take my test paper away from me as I had just scribbled the last sentence of my conclusion! Learn from my mistake, and hopefully, your Section 3 on test day will go smoother than mine.

As a side note, you might need to find out whether to sit the BMAT early in August or October! Oxford requires students to do the later sitting in October, so that’s what I did. This essentially meant I was flying blind, not knowing my score in advance. However, I had my heart set on applying to Oxford, so I didn’t mind taking the risk. If anything, this made me work even harder in preparation as I knew there was no going back as my UCAS application had already been sent off.

The BMAT is a challenging exam, but you can certainly prepare for it. Aim to give yourself plenty of time to learn and go over your weaker topics. In a practical sense, preparing for the later sitting of the BMAT may be arguably more difficult than the UCAT because you are still at school and are expected to complete homework and exams while preparing for it, so you may find it more difficult to find time to practice. However, I encourage you to make time if you can. For example, I woke up half an hour earlier for school to cram in some revision every morning. Then during lunchtime, I would spend the second half of my lunch break in the library or the computer room to cram some questions instead of having a full lunch break. While hard work and challenging for me, it was worth it, as I arrived at the test day feeling as prepared as I ever would be. I wish you all the best with the BMAT!

Describe your experience of preparing for the interviews, what was difficult and what helped?

In this blog post, I’ll tell you about my experience preparing for interviews, including what I found difficult and what helped me succeed. I successfully interviewed at four universities: Oxford, UCL, Exeter and Southampton. They all have different interview styles, including traditional panel style, multiple mini interviews (MMIs), and even a group interview. However, the advice covered in this blog post will hopefully help you regardless of the medical school you are applying to. I believe interview success comes down to three factors: 1)knowledge, 2) skills, and 3) practice.

1) Knowledge.

In terms of knowledge, I built a bank of notes as if I was studying for an exam with topics such as NHS structure, current news, and medical ethics. In my notes, I also included what I would say in response to ‘bread and butter’ questions which I expected to be asked, such as ‘Why medicine?’, ‘why this university?’, ‘What is your main strength/weakness?’.

First, I researched and read into those topics, thought about what I would say, then noted down bullet points. You are not looking to memorise a script but rather to have a good idea of what you will say when asked those questions. For current news, I kept up with BBC health news every day while on the bus to sixth form. And medical ethics, I read a brilliant book called ‘A Very Short Introduction to Medical Ethics’ by Tony Hope. Throughout my time applying, I read widely, especially books which gave a first-hand account of working in medicine, such as ‘Your Life in My Hands’ by Rachel Clarke and ‘This is Going to Hurt’ by Adam Kay.

Overall, amassing all this knowledge took me over a year. I worked a bit every week, which meant that by the time interviews rolled around, I wasn’t running around trying to learn all this content at the last minute. Instead, nearer the time of my interviews, I had more time to focus on my interview technique and get lots of practice in delivering my answers. I would advise reading lots in advance, not only because it will help with your personal statement and interviews but also because it can help you confirm whether you want to study medicine after all.

 

2) Skills

Visit the Medical School’s Council’s ‘statement on the core values and attributes needed to study medicine’. You will find a long list you might expect, including values and attributes like motivation, ability to reflect, problem-solving, dealing with uncertainty, conscientiousness, effective communication, teamwork, leadership, empathy, honesty, and resilience. These skills are all needed for studying medicine and working as a doctor. Therefore, the interviewers want to see that you already have some of these skills. And you most likely do! The important part now is to back up your points with real-life examples. As part of my interview preparation, I went through all these skills and wrote down an experience to share with the interviewers if asked about a time when I had shown x skill. I found this helpful for structuring my thoughts before the interview and not panicking when trying to find a good example. Saying that, structure in your answers is key, and having some frameworks to help you will go a long way. A great way to share a reflection at interviews is the STARR method. S= situation, T= task, A= action, R= result, and R= reflection. I found this structure at the back of my mind helpful because it helped me ensure I was covering all the points I had thought about in an organised and coherent way (which can be challenging in an interview setting). Make sure you finish your points as confidently as you can. It can be tempting to ramble on, especially as the interviewers might not give you any indication of whether they are happy with your answer. However, it’s best to make your points concise and have a small conclusion which directly answers the question you were asked, showing the interviewers you are ready to move on to the next question. 3) Practice The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ couldn’t ring truer than for interviews. I was lucky in that I managed to get my first interview practice at the Medic Mentor Summer School in the Summer of Year 12. It was a bit of a wake-up call to me: interviews can be pretty hard! But it was great to have a go at them and receive feedback which I worked on months before my interviews.

 

My parents also helped me with my interview preparation, which was incredibly helpful. My mum and dad ran through some practice questions with me, especially in the weeks and even days leading up to my interviews. I am beyond grateful for all their support, advice, and encouragement throughout the preparation period. During these practice sessions, I recorded myself using my phone and quickly realised I had said the word ‘like’ an uncomfortable number of times, as my dad has pointed out early on. I found it difficult to get rid of it at first, but with practice, I managed to remove that filler word from my vocabulary for a few months!

 

I also practised for my interviews using a green book I borrowed from my school’s library called ‘Medical School Interviews: A Practical Guide to Help You Get That Place at Medical School’. My friend from school kindly helped me practice for my interviews during lunch breaks at school in the common study room. Even though I found it a bit embarrassing at first, I quickly got used to it and even looked forward to it. My friend would ask me the questions in the book, then I would answer, and we would read the model answers together. My friend also gave me helpful feedback, not so much about the content of my answers but more about how I came across them. We went through this book twice! I was also lucky that my teachers at school offered practice interviews. I took every opportunity: from the MOCK MMIs to the Oxbridge-style questions from my biology and chemistry teachers. These interview practice sessions felt more formal, which made me a bit more nervous, so they were excellent practice for handling my nerves on interview day. My advice would be to reassure yourself that the interviewers already like you before the interview. It might sound odd to you now, but anything you can tell yourself that can increase your confidence can be invaluable. And the interviewers are not there to put you off or be intimidating. It’s in their interests to let you express yourself. You are choosing their medical school as much as they are choosing you at the end of the day.

 

During interviews, always take a moment to listen to the question carefully to make sure you are answering the question you are being asked, not the question you wish you got asked. And if you don’t understand the question, make sure you ask for clarification. You can also ask the question to be repeated if you can’t think of an answer. I used this trick a few times, and it helped, but don’t overuse it too much. Otherwise, it will seem like you are not paying attention! Ultimately, interviews for medical school can be challenging and daunting, but they can also be rewarding. Interviews are the last step in obtaining an offer, so this is your time to shine and chat about what you’ve been up to in the lead-up to your application and your aspirations in medicine. Wishing you all the best with your interviews!

 

 

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