Callum is a doctor working in NHS Lothian and founded You can be a doctor. You can email him at Callum@youcanbeadoctor.co.uk. He is from Edinburgh originally and came through Pathways to the Professions who supported him in making his application to medicine. Now he’s trying to help provide that same support for others.
I am the first person in my family to apply to medicine, and I found the application process was quite arduous! I’d advise not just doing things for the CV – do something you really like! Your passion will come across in the interview. I volunteered with adults with learning disabilities, which turned into a passion which I continued at uni!
I’m about to start my fourth year as a doctor, and there’s nothing I’d rather do. I love getting to meet lots of lovely, interesting people every day and hear their stories. Every day is different, and I work with brilliant nurses, doctors, HCAs and pharmacists who inspire me. It can be difficult at times, but the good days make it worth it.
Initially the application certainly seemed daunting. I had recently moved back to the UK from NZ and wasn’t familiar any expectations or the application process itself. It was thanks to a fantastic guidance teacher and a lot of online research that I managed to navigate my way through the initial personal statement, the UCAT and the interviews.
I’m still a very junior doctor and have a long journey ahead but overall, so far, it has been very rewarding. There are certainly busy and stressful times but the people you meet, the skills you learn and the positive impact you can have on peoples’ lives makes it all worthwhile.
I went to high school in Argyll on the west coast of Scotland and decided I wanted to go to medical school in my 5th year of high school. Thanks to the guidance of a local GP and the encouragement of my parents, I managed to get a place at the University of Edinburgh – initially with a view to switch courses to physics or maths if I wasn’t enjoying it. By the end of my second semester I couldn’t imagine doing anything else and now that I’m almost at the end of my training I can’t wait to get started working in hospitals and use the skills I’ve gained over the last six years to help people on a daily basis.
I hope that You Can Be A Doctor can act as a resource hub for young people who are thinking of medical school but perhaps don’t have a teacher at school or parent that can guide them in the right direction. You shouldn’t have to rely on ‘knowing someone’ or being privileged to get into medical school; anyone who is enthusiastic about helping people and can work hard deserves the right to a career in medicine.
I was the first student to study Medicine from my school which was focussed more on vocational subjects such as woodwork and technical drawing. A supportive chemistry teacher suggested that I apply for Cambridge. He gave me some books to study in my spare time for the Cambridge University entrance exam and I was awarded a place. I had no work experience of any sort to back up my application as, unlike now, this was just not available to students like me from working class areas. I simply knew that I wanted to study Medicine and just did my best at the interview! Looking back, I do believe that interview panels then were simply keen to find the best students. [Note: work experience is necessary to make an application now]
Being a doctor is a very enjoyable and rewarding career but it is undoubtedly hard work. During my training as a junior doctor I worked horribly long hours but this has improved significantly. I am an academic kidney doctor and I therefore have multiple roles: clinical work (out-patients and ward work), research (laboratory and clinical studies), student teaching (medical, science and PhD students) and lots of other things such as working for national charities, medical school administration etc. As a result I do work long hours and at weekends but much of this is through choice. It is privilege to look after patients and I really enjoy my clinic and ward rounds. I am often humbled by the stoicism of patients in the face of real adversity and it is very rewarding when you see seriously ill patients get better and go home.
I came to Edinburgh Medical school in 1949 from a technical school – Falkirk technical school, (became Graeme High School after I left.) I have often thought about what led to it. I had been admitted to the local hospital aged 13 for emergency surgery and as I recovered I was fascinated by the ice and interaction in the old fashioned big surgical ward. My mother had been a nurse but up until my fifth year I had dreamed of following in my father’s footsteps (he was a pattern maker in a local foundry).
When I decided at about age 16 that that was not for me I was “lost” in the dilemma of what alternative career I should seek. No-one in my family had ever gone to university, but again when I was in the hospital corridor one evening after visiting in the hospital I had a kind of epiphany – an inspiration that I would like to work in a place like this. On reflection I thought it was an unrealisable fantasy. No university tradition; in a school where football was the main obsession and academic pursuits were unpopular.
Then to get into medicine was one of the most difficult entries to aspire to. But I was encouraged by my parents not to abandon this objective. I was fortunate to be elected school captain and for two years I was school sports champion; I was high average in Maths and English but not particularly brilliant; But I think the school principal gave me a good reference.
I was “over the moon” when I was accepted for all four Scottish Universities but I felt like a fish out of water when I went up to Edinburgh and mixed with students from all the Scottish fee paying schools like Fettes Loretto and Watsons as well as many from English public schools. It was not until I began second year, having struggled and scraped through first year chemistry physics, botany and zoology, that I felt part of the medical school and began to enjoy it. I graduated in 1955 and overall, University was a great experience which changed my perspectives on life though contact with so many interesting people from such different backgrounds to mine.
After 3 house jobs I went to Congo as a medical missionary for seven years and became an accomplished GP surgeon but we were caught up in a civil war and had to be rescued by mercenaries. I went back to Edinburgh as a demonstrator in anatomy hoping to gain an FRCS, but instead under George Romanes as supervisor I did a PhD and eventually became a professor of anatomy in Perth Western Australia.
When I first realised I wanted to do medicine I can remember being told that it was probably too competitive and difficult to get in. I suppose this spurred me on to go ahead and apply – I knew there was a good chance I would get the grades I needed. I tried to make my application as attractive as possible to the medical schools by working as a healthcare assistant in my local hospital. This early experience caring for patients undoubtedly helped get me in to medicine, but has also allowed me to understand better how to interact with unwell people.
I love being a doctor. All through my training, and now I’m a qualified GP, I’ve relished the opportunity to meet and get to know patients and their families from all walks of life, and provide care for them. I really enjoy the scientific aspect of diagnosis and treating disease, but also helping people understand and cope with their illness on a more human level. I’ve never had a boring day at work – it’s often full on, and my day is packed full. That can be emotionally and physically draining, and I work hard to de-stress out of work and maintain a healthy home/work balance. I like the opportunity to work in a team based setting, working with many people to help deliver great patient care. At the moment there is a lot of uncertainty in the NHS, and the pressures on us to provide care are increasing all the time. However, I’ve often wondered what job I’d do if I wasn’t a GP, and to be honest I can’t think of anything as rewarding and enjoyable.
I went to two state schools. One terrific one in Cardiff run by Christian Brothers — I never lost a game of rugby on Welsh soil! — and then at 15, to a >2200 pupil school in the North of England which I hated, where discipline was awful and bullying rife. I had lots of home support to ‘do well’ and fortunately all I had to do, was get good A levels, and I didn’t have to do any of the extracurricular activities that seem common now. No med school interview either. My extracurricular activities were smoking, playing in a rock band, and other things I shouldn’t mention.
I was a miserable medical student for the first two years. More me than the medical school, I suspect. Then a couple of staff took at an interest in me, invited me to their houses, and encouraged and supported me. I owe an enormous debt to the then intercalated Newcastle degree: class size n=12. Life changing.
What has been good? I have loved research, teaching and *some* clinical practice. I have worked and lived in four European countries, met people from all over the world, and still have enormous autonomy over what I do day to day. I never know whether I am working or just doing what I think is fun. Life/ work balance is an anathema for me. But then I am fortunate: dermatologists don’t get up in the night.
Hi , My name is Eleanor. I graduated from Edinburgh university in 2014 and I’m currently an FY2 doctor working for NHS Lothian.I went to a state school in a town called Lockerbie which is in the south of Scotland. Though my teachers were keen for people to work hard and achieve well, and were very good at offering extra curricular activities, they didn’t have the resources or inside knowledge to prepare me specifically for the practicalities of applying for medicine , for example organising work experience , practise interviews and having to do the UKCAT.
I managed to arrange some work experience at the local hospital and sought help from one of my favourite teachers about doing my personal statement and reference. I found some helpful information online and in the university prospectuses which outlined the various things I had to do to apply for medicine.
I managed to muddle through to eventually get a place at Edinburgh university where I did 6 years including intercalating in zoology.
Now that I’m working as a doctor and really enjoying it, I’m glad my hard work and investigation skills paid off. I know it’s difficult to concentrate on applying for university when you’re bogged down with studying for highers, which can seem overwhelming but the extra effort is worth it in the end.
Hi, my name is Rachael. I am a doctor working in Edinburgh, and graduated from Edinburgh Medical School in 2013.
I went to a state school in Kirkcaldy which is in the east of Scotland and completed my highers and advanced highers. I was the only person applying for medicine from my year at school, so it took some digging on the internet and university prospectus’ to work out how to apply.
I had a hard time finding any work experience but I asked the school for help and they managed to organise for me to go into a GP practice. One of my family friends was in medicine and between her and my GP I got another couple of weeks in a hospital.
Although experience in hospitals is good, the best thing I did was probably volunteering in a hospice. They are always looking for volunteers so I just went in and asked if I could help.
I wanted to get experience outside of medicine too, so I taught gymnastics at my local club and volunteered as a classroom assistant. This really helped me learn how to talk to people of different age and teach effectively. All these extra skills helped with my application.
I went to the open days for medicine at Edinburgh, Dundee, Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities. These were useful as they helped me get a feel for the city and the university, and the structure of the course that they offered. Each medical school does thing their own way and it is important to find out what would suit you.
I had family and school teachers read over my personal statement to check for mistakes and to make sure it was as well written as it could be. If you are a bit frightened of the interviews then I found it really helpful to practice interview questions with anyone who would listen! Make sure you know why you are applying for medicine and why you want to go to that particular university.
I enjoyed my time as a medical student, and also got the opportunity to take a year out to complete a second degree in Medical Biology. Applying for medicine needs some perseverance but it is a rewarding career.
I wanted to be a doctor from the age of three and informed my teacher so on my first day at Gallatown “wee” school. Perhaps it was watching my mother giving my grandfather his insulin every day or Dr Girvan, our GP, visiting my grandparents fortnightly, all part of the fledgling NHS: I was in awe of this good GP in the mould of Drs Finlay and Cameron.
I never changed my mind so at high school I chose subjects, defying the Rector’s view that Latin was essential, to help me get what in those days the universities required. No one in my extended family had been to university and none were in medicine but my parents – totally working class – supported and encouraged me all the way and, in turn, they were encouraged by my great primary teacher, Mrs LBG Loggie. Back in the 1960s they were reassured that fees would be paid, a government maintenance grant would be awarded and sufficient and pupils from my state school could get into medical school. I was fortunate: my fifth year Higher results brought an unconditional offer from Edinburgh – my first choice – on Hogmanay of my final year, and five others from my year joined me (though only two would graduate). So, no UK aptitude test, no interview, a basic personal statement with no training in what to write, no requirement to get job experience and, I guess, a reasonable reference from my high school rector.
Medical school was a new experience but generally enjoyable partly because it was easy to make a few friends. We also had good teachers. However, while at university I came to understand that I am homosexual. I did not start the process of “coming out” even to myself until three years post-graduation. Then I was training in surgery. Friends and colleagues helped and never did I feel this led to problems for me. I met my partner, now spouse, two years later and Peter and I have been accepted as a couple throughout my career.
That career led me from surgery into cancer medicine as a clinical oncologist – trainee then consultant in Edinburgh with a year en route in Texas; professor and head of a new department for eleven years in Melbourne; and finally medical director of the UK’s second largest cancer centre in Glasgow. My specialty interest was breast cancer. Thanks to my patients, I found that rewarding, always interesting, yes demanding but never overwhelming.
Neither at medical school nor on graduation did I dream my career would be so interesting, enjoyable and fulfilling: it turned out so because of our patients and many wonderful teachers, mentors and colleagues including nurses, physios, radiographers, physicists, ward domestics, technicians, all of whom made up for the few who behaved badly or were intensely irritating (you find all sorts in any profession). Altogether a most enjoyable career with no regrets.
Coming from a very humble background I genuinely didn’t encounter too much trouble getting into medical school. I had known from quite a young age that I wanted to be a doctor and so spent my time in school working towards that. I suppose my greatest opponent was myself, in believing that I could actually do it. My parents divorced when I was 8 and I was raised by my mum along with my 2 brothers and a sister. Having always lived in a council house as a child, we suddenly found ourselves in need of temporary accommodation which ranged from B&B to temporary ‘homeless’ flats for the better part of a year until we got a council house for us all. My mum always encouraged us to do well in school and despite some upset following my parent’s separation I knuckled down at school and did well in my exams. My teachers were all very supportive as was my GP who let me go with her on weekend surgeries and school holidays. She wrote me a wonderful reference to support my application to medical school and I applied to Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee. I got offered a place in both Glasgow and Aberdeen and I accepted Glasgow as it was my first choice. I have to be honest, no one ever said, Stuart being a doctor isn’t something you can realistically hope to achieve, everyone supported me and helped in any way they could.
Being a doctor is wonderful, it is without doubt the best job in the whole world. Because at the heart of it all, a person’s health and ultimately their life is the most important thing to them and their families. Money, success, power, fame all counts for very little without your health and as a doctor you get to directly influence people’s health and help them when they fall ill. Making a difference to someone, whether it is just seeing the antibiotics you prescribe for a chest infection make someone better or performing a liver transplant, has a thrill that is hard to find anywhere else. You have made a difference to someone, and they will never forget that. You will meet many interesting people, old, young and everything in between and they all have a story (in some cases several stories) to tell. You will meet someone for the first time and they will trust you with their most intimate and personal information which is a huge responsibility, sometimes disclosing information to you they have never told another soul. Medicine can be very tough at times and stressful and exhausting and there are days where you can see it far enough. But ultimately you know that it is the best job in the world and the bad days are easily eclipsed by the good ones a thousand times over. If it is what you want to do, then go for it. If you have the drive and passion and determination to succeed, you will.
I did well at school but wasn’t sure until quite late on what I wanted to study at university. Fortunately the Scottish education system affords the opportunity to keep options open and after my 5th year at high school I had a broad range of Highers that meant I could apply for any university course. I was leaning towards my strongest school subjects of maths or physics but my father (not himself a doctor) encouraged me to do medicine, highlighting that it was a stable career that would always be a ‘meal ticket’, would allow me to travel if I wished and would give the job satisfaction of helping others. He also emphasised the high regard that the public holds for the medical profession, and that I would always be trusted as an upstanding citizen in life if I was a doctor. I left school after 5th year and spent the next year at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college in Skye, where I took the opportunity to hone my spoken Gaelic while doing an HNC in information technology. I applied for Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen and was offered places at all three. I chose Glasgow.
Being a doctor is an incredible privilege. To be ‘let in’ to people’s lives in the way that we are as doctors, to see the full spectrum of society on a daily basis is still a great thrill for me even after 21 years as a doctor. I’ve had the opportunity to work all over Scotland and also spent a year working in Melbourne, Australia. I have been grateful over the years for the structure that a medical career gives to my life – I might have easily floundered with lack of direction had I not studied medicine. Working for the NHS and knowing that all patients are treated equally is particularly fulfilling. I chose a career in hospital medicine partly because I enjoyed the social buzz of working with a great number of professional colleagues from various backgrounds. I’ve been fortunate to become formally involved with medical education and it’s a terrific privilege to try to inspire the next generation of doctors – I’ve discovered that I enjoy teaching as much as I enjoy my clinical duties. A career in medicine offers such a plethora of different opportunities and everyone should be able to find the particular branch that suits them best.
Paula is a 4th year medical student at the University of Edinburgh and handles social media for You can be a doctor (@youcanbeadoctor)