I first felt the pressure to go to university by my sixth form’s underlying culture, the unspoken presumption that if you chose not to go to university you were somehow wasting your potential.
I walked into that culture as someone who didn’t know what undergraduate meant and had no intention of going to university. On one hand it was flattering, I had spent years in high school fighting for teachers just to remember my name, now they were expecting me to aim for the stars. On the other, I felt lost in a sea of prospective futures, all of which I felt indifferent about. To be poetic, medicine was my lifeboat. I was interested in science and I have always been caring, so it satisfied the need for a plan and nobody could argue with an aspiration to become a doctor.
As the first in my family to attend university, the world of medicine did (and still does) feel very removed from my ‘normal’. I had no medical connections and little idea of what a doctor truly did. I did not know cardiologists went to medical school, I thought they did a special heart degree straight from A-Levels and then became cardiologists. Laughable now, but this is how little I knew and how challenging navigating the system can be for those coming from non-university backgrounds.
Luckily, my local NHS trust had a fantastic work experience programme and I also started volunteering for a children’s hospice. These first experiences of medicine changed my life and exposed me to a world I had never seen before. To learn so infinitely about everything, from the mechanics of the human body and ground-breaking treatments, to the intricacies of relationships and society, to study medicine is to study life and I was hooked! The lifeboat on which I blindly jumped upon turned into a life-long cruise.
My major problem was myself. I’ve struggled with self-confidence from an early age and it was bold to suddenly declare myself able to become a doctor. I knew I was academically able, but I doubted my qualities and scrutinized myself intensely. If I made a slight error such as booking a wrong train, I would ask myself, would a future doctor do something like that, are you really cut out for it if you can’t even do this right? As a member of the general public I held doctors in the highest regard, almost to a superhuman level thinking they never made mistakes. Now that I am almost one, I am understanding that doctors are human, they make human mistakes and it is okay for us to make them too.
My lack of confidence manifested as imposter syndrome during my first application. I had one interview, in which I felt like a complete fraud. Safe to say I didn’t get the offer! I took a gap year and filled it with experience, from volunteering in A&E and working at the hospice to working twilight shifts in Sainsbury’s. It built my confidence 10-fold and my second application resulted in four offers!
As a fourth-year medic my confidence is now better than ever, but I am still described as ‘quiet’, which feels like a kick in the stomach as it is synonymous with under confident.
However, the last time I was called quiet by a tutor, a lovely doctor swooped in and said, “from one quiet person to another, being quiet is not a bad thing”. It changed my whole perspective and now I embrace being quietly confident.
My Tips for You
1. Build your confidence
The best way to do this is to purposefully put yourself in new situations. If it scares you a little, that is exactly what you need to go out and do!
2. You are the template for a doctor
Try not to scrutinize yourself as I did. Doctors are people just like you, they are simply further along in their training. Medics need to represent the population they serve. We need different personalities and life perspectives. Try not to view your background or personality as a disadvantage, as in fact it they are your strengths and what will make you a great doctor!