I’ve always enjoyed studying a wide range of subjects, and during school I found it really difficult to decide exactly what to study at university and do as a career. I considered medicine, and would have been well supported to do, but many of the students at my school who went to study medicine had doctors for parents, who had set them up with work experience and I didn’t think I could compare. I was a good musician, singing and playing lots of instruments, so I went on to study music at Oxford.
I loved the course, and knew I loved academia. My mental health became a concern during the beginning of my degree and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder II – which explained a lot of my previous experiences of depression as well as the euphoric exuberance I had for projects I had pursued (which often came coupled with anger, recklessness, and, occasionally, delusions). I had a lot of support to stabilize my moods and recover. However, there were positives to this experience. I find that I loved volunteering and began teaching children and working with prisoners. I also became very involved with mental health, disability, and welfare at the university. I loved doing this, and realised I was pretty good at it too. I managed to gain hours of training in peer support through the university’s counselling service, was the Chief Editor the blog for the charity, Student Minds, and ran peer support groups through them (I still supervise student facilitators). I also chaired the Oxford University Disability Campaign, where I wrote a workshop (which is still delivered to students) on understanding and accommodating disabilities and mental health, and created a network of online support groups for specific disabilities and mental health conditions that are still used and support thousands of students in Oxford. I won a Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Award for my work. I got so much from giving back, and loved learning about different medical conditions that, when I realised the Graduate Entry Medicine was a thing and was possible for humanities students, I knew I wanted to be a doctor.
Naturally, I’ve been wary of entering a career with such great responsibility when I’ve dealt with a mental health condition that can affect your insight and judgment. I think lots of students with mental health conditions and disabilities worry about that. But equally, it is incredibly important that the medical community has diversity, and having medical conditions does not mean you cannot thrive in medical school and the medical career, and become a great doctor (even if there is still stigma attached). My experiences quite literally led me to the career, and not away form it.
My Tips for You
- I guess my advice relates most specifically to those planning to pursue medicine who have experiences with mental health difficulties.Diversity in medicine is important – there may be extra hurdles for you when it comes to getting your study done, or reaching each goal, but patients are diverse, and so should medics. Your experiences may be difficult, but they can also lead to opportunities and experiences (like me even applying to medicine!). It is totally possible to do an accelerated medical degree if that’s your aim, and there is no harm in applying. And, it’s worth noting that there are many medics with mental health conditions and disabilities.
- Make sure you have the support you need – while you’re studying, make sure you have a good network around you, made up of family, friends, tutors, university disability services and medical professionals. Sometimes things don’t go how you want or expect and having a safety net to turn to and get things sorted sooner rather than later is preferable. Honestly, this applies to everyone, not just those with diagnoses.
- Medicine doesn’t have to be a totally competitive experience – I think it’s fair to say that lots of the medical experience involved comparison: from admissions tests scores, to rankings for exams, to doing things to maximize your points for jobs, there is a big pressure to be doing more than the next person. But you can work hard and become a good doctor who makes a difference to patients, without trying to compete or have the top test score or ranking. In fact, the medic Instagram community has taught me how much more beneficial supporting each other at each stage is over trying to compete.