Applying for medicine at university

Applying for medicine

Dr Amanda Kilsby studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and is now based at a busy hospital in the north of England

Q Amanda, perhaps you should start by dissuading someone from applying for medicine? How might you do that?

The best reason is that I’m 26, I’ve taken exams almost every year for eight years and I’ve got at least five years – if not more – of exams ahead of me. Every day at work is different, but that means that planning your evenings can be difficult I can never say I’m going to be out at 5pm like other people can. I can’t get in early so that I can leave early. I don’t get to choose my days off or my holidays, and I work nights and weekends, which makes socialising with friends very difficult. Were you passionate about medicine when you were applying to study it at university? I was. I had never thought about doing anything else with my life. Even when I was as young as five, I can remember playing with my toys and wanting to be a doctor. My whole school career pointed me in the direction of medicine.

Q What’s special and different about studying at Cambridge?

You have the tradition when there’s still the academic rigour of teaching you the basic sciences and the reasons behind why you are learning what you are learning. So rather than simply training you to be a doctor, they are teaching you to think around a subject and your everyday work and setting you up for a really academic career as a doctor. I spent the first couple of years with the same timetable as a science undergraduate, and then things changed in the later years as I moved on to work in a hospital. That clear divide is important. Three years in the centre of Cambridge, studying at a college, then three years based at a hospital.

Q Why did Cambridge suit you?

The college structure appealed to me. A caring environment, where you know the majority of your peers and you get to know your tutor through the weekly supervisions. There was also that distinctive divide between pre-clinical and clinical. Three years just doing sciences, followed by the three years on the wards, appealed to me, as I felt I did not want to see patients before I had got to know a bit of what I was talking about.

Q What proved the most helpful aspect for you in your interview preparation?

Someone told me to remember what it was I was trying to achieve, and what I wanted and what I felt would be was good for me. Deep down, in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to go to Cambridge and I really wanted to do medicine. I was passionate about science and I was keen to learn. Really, the practice I had was in getting across my interest in the subject and how I was keen to learn, and to show the people interviewing me that I was interesting and interested.

Q What would be some specific advice?

Anything that you’ve done in your later years of school you need to justify. Work experience, for example. It’s not enough to have done it. Think about what you took away from it and what you learnt and why it encouraged you further to do medicine. For me, it’s all about thinking about more complicated problems you may not know about and applying principles to them, so rather than preparing for specific questions, I got practice at answering more obscure questions but with a structured approach.