Rejected, Reflected, Accepted: My Journey into Medicine - Is taking a Gap Year worth it?

March 2016: 4 rejections received.

March 2018: 1st year medical student at King’s College London.

After receiving 4 rejections from my chosen universities to study Medicine during my first application cycle, admittedly I felt defeated. But as A-level exams drew closer, I knew I had to redirect my focus towards achieving the grades I knew I could. My burning desire to study Medicine was not going to go away that easily!

Deciding to take a gap year was not an impulsive decision nor was it one that I entered into lightly and making that decision earlier on in the process allowed me to plan out my year effectively. The main aim of my gap year was to secure a place at medical school of course, but it was also a time in my life where I wanted to make personal growth, to experience new things and become more independent.

October 2016 rolled around soon after results day and I found myself starting my first day at my new job as a healthcare assistant at my local NHS hospital. As the keen new employee, I was elated at the chance to experience healthcare from a different perspective: as one of the staff as opposed to being on the outside looking in as a work experience student. My ward – a combination of Rheumatology, Elderly Medicine and Infectious Diseases – depicted the chaotic, busy NHS we often see plastered across the front pages of newspapers. It accommodated 21 patients at any one time and very rarely did we have empty beds! Cardiac arrests, sudden deaths and patients with distressing and uncomfortable conditions became part of my everyday working life. However, above all else, what brought me into work for my 12-hour long days and night shifts were the patients. The gratitude I was shown for the little things I did for them confirmed within me that working in healthcare was going to give me the personal fulfilment and lifetime satisfaction I wanted for myself. A chat with a patient; helping them to brush their teeth in the morning; offering a cup of tea and even the tasks that made up my job role such as toileting and washing were some of the moments where I realised I was making a change, contributing to improving the quality of life of each patient I came across, however small that may have been in the grand scheme of things.

Needless to say, working at a hospital was far from easy. Surrounded by sick people and anxious relatives for majority of your day has a toll on both your physical and mental health. I would listen to nurses tell me how stressed and tired they were; junior doctors who’d been working 4 16-hour shifts in a row that they’d forgotten what a good night’s sleep felt like and student nurses querying if this was really the career they set out to pursue. The NHS is undeniably understaffed and overworked – a deadly combination that is slowly but surely destroying morale and not giving us the chance to be the compassionate, kind human beings we are (which is why nearly all of us decide to enter the healthcare profession). Sitting down and having a chat with a patient is a luxury before somebody else needs you. It made me reflect on how my role would change when I graduated from medical school in years to come. What could I do to make a positive contribution to the NHS? What could be done to make it more viable and live up to its core principles: that it meets the needs of everyone, that it be free at the point of delivery and that it be based on clinical need not ability to pay?

These questions along with always having wanted to travel made me wonder what healthcare was like abroad and so, my annual leave was spent in the Dominican Republic with the Gap Medics programme. As opposed to my healthcare assistant role which was ward-based care, the Gap Medics programme threw me into the more surgical side of things. I had witnessed surgeries I won’t have the chance to see before my foundation years as a junior doctor here in the UK! Procedures ranged from C-sections to hysterectomies to cosmetic procedures like abdominoplasties and vaginoplasties (yes, vaginal reconstruction). I noticed the dexterity and concentration surgeons had to have in the operating room as well as the care that they must continue to give to the patient on and off of the operatio