Plymouth School of Medicine student Harriet talks to Get Into Medicine about applying, clearing and life as a first year medical student! 

I am now a first year medic at Plymouth University of Medicine and Dentistry and have just started my second term. Just months ago, if anyone had told me that I would be where I am know I would have laughed but here I am.

I first applied to study medicine in the autumn of 2011, in my last year of school. I thought I had a strong application, with fairly good GCSEs, an OK UKCAT score and good reference and personal statement. I was devastated when I received 4 straight rejections without interview and learned that one of the key reasons for these rejections was my predicted grades: AAB, in Biology, Psychology and Chemistry. So not really wanting to take-up my back-up choice of Medical Sciences I decided to plan a gap year. It didn’t occur to me that I might achieve anything less than AAA but I did. When results day came I scored ABB with the A in psychology, I knew I wouldn’t even have a hope of getting in if I applied again with these grades. I had mixed feelings about my future; I didn’t really want to do any retakes so I just decided to ignore it for the time being, if I wasn’t applying to medicine again then I didn’t really have to worry until January.

In the end I decided to apply for 5 medically related courses, thinking that I would choose one and try to transfer if I could or go on to study post-graduate medicine This all changed around November 2012. I kept on thinking about my future career and whenever these thoughts came it was about medicine and being a doctor. I needed to retake some exams to even get into the related courses and since I was retaking anyway one of my teachers suggested I try and put in a late application for medicine. I set about phoning and emailing every single medical school in the UK and consistently received the same replies: “Sorry but we don’t take late applications” or “Why don’t you apply next year?”. I tried not to feel disheartened and resolved to try again. I considered clearing but every time I mentioned it I got laughed at for even thinking that there would be places available.

I let the idea of studying medicine in 2013 slide from my mind and went off to Canada to train as a ski instructor. While I was out of the UK I received all 5 offers for the courses I applied for. I accepted one and put one as an insurance offer, but still the thought of medicine niggled at the back of my mind.  I had an amazing time and came back refreshed and a thirst to prove myself in my upcoming exams. After a lot of frenzied revision and last-minute cramming the exams were done. I booked my UKCAT again and took it in July having spent ages preparing and hoping it might help.

As the 15th August loomed closer I decided I really didn’t want to study the course that I had accepted. So I decided to go against all the advice I had ever received and decline the offers. Everyone thought what I was doing was ridiculous: trying to get into medicine through clearing with grades that I didn’t even have yet, even my family wasn’t sure that what I was doing was the right thing. Then 2 days before results day I decided to contact all the medical schools again in a last-ditch attempt to try and secure a place for this year. I was in luck. I received an email from Plymouth saying if I got AAA in your retakes to come for an interview on Saturday the 19th. I was ecstatic but at the same time terrified at the thought of not getting the right grads and being back at square one. I didn’t rely on just that one stroke of luck; I decided to get my results as early as possible in the hope that other medical schools might also have some places available. I remember opening my results and feeling a wave of relief at seeing those three A grades on the page. I rushed back home and was on the phone from 8 am phoning university after university without any luck. Still one interview was better than none at all.

With little time to prepare my mum drove me down to Plymouth on Friday evening to be there in time for the 8 am start on Saturday. The actual day is a complete blur, all I really remember being told is that there were fewer than four places available and in my interview session there were 15 others and there were to be 3 more sessions of interviews, each with the same numbers of people. The other thing I remembered them saying was that I would be contacted by noon on the following Tuesday.

The weekend came and went and I was starting to feel anxious. On Tuesday I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I wandered aimlessly around the house waiting for the phone to ring. When it finally did it was mixed news. The person on the phone told me that although I had performed very well at the interview they were unable to offer me a place for September 2013, however they said they would give me an unconditional offer for September 2014 they also said I was 2nd reserve on the list if anyone dropped out. They said they would ring me on Thursday if there were any extra places if anyone decided to drop out. I was pleased to have at least one offer, in the end I thought it was actually a great situation because I could then apply again, putting Plymouth as one of my choices knowing I would have at least one offer. My family told me to wait until Thursday and just see what would happen. Not expecting anything the phone rang again on Thursday and was just amazed: someone had dropped out of their place and they were offering it to me instead.

So here I am. My first term is over and I had an amazing time. It is intense, there are sleepless nights and I have more work than all of my flatmates put together. But I am doing something I love and would not change anything.

My advice to anyone who wants to study medicine is never give up. There are always exceptions to the rule. Contact medical schools in person, and don’t be afraid to explain about any extenuating circumstances, you won’t be judged for them. Places in medicine not being available through clearing are a myth me, my friends and friends of friends prove that. There is more than one way to do anything and even if that means you have to go about it a different way to everyone else then go for it all the same; you only have regrets if you don’t try.

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