Part 1: 8 Rejections
I heard and read a lot of peoples stories about gap years and travelling around Asia or America or Europe thus leading to them discovering themselves, and coming back home wearing paisley shirts, baggy floral pants and flip flops often accessorized by some form of dreadlock, piercing or token tattoo as a symbol of their “self discovery” However mine isn’t one of those stories, there are no visible signs of my gap year. (I may be in denial about one or two grey hairs born of the stress of checking UCAS track every day for two years but that’s just about it) And this is because I didn’t go traveling in my year out of education but it was still to date the most eventful year of my life.
Its difficult to explain my story to someone who doesn’t know me, its not something I’ve ever had to do, so its difficult to pick a beginning therefore the start of this will sound like every first draft of every personal statement anyone has ever written for Medical School; “I always wanted to be a doctor” and I did, I really did it was something that I had wanted so much and for so long it became apart of my persona. The fact that I wanted to be a doctor was as much apart of me as the colour of my eyes. I never wanted to be a singer or an actress or a princess, I never played dress up like other girls when I was little. I was in fact most happy surrounded by Lego or outside playing football with the boys with grazed knees and covered in mud. And as I got older and as we stopped being children and peoples dreams shifted from wanting to be princesses to wanting to go to university and get married, my dream of being a doctor remained constant. I got the grades at GCSE and at AS level, I thought I was set so in October of 2012 I applied to four medical schools, and eagerly awaited the responses. In hindsight I was so naive to expect any form of positive response, and by March of 2013 I had my first 4 rejections, no interview, no feedback just a notification via UCAS. I remember thinking “ its cool I’ve got this, just need to get my actual grades and apply next year” which is logical, so they were asking for AAA and as long as I got those actual grades I’d be sorted, by god I was mistaken.
October 15th 2013 my second UCAS application goes out to 4 medical schools, I had over 2 years working in the NHS, I was a nursing assistant, I’d been trained to take blood, and I had more than the required grades. Safe to say if I thought my last personal statement was good I thought that this one awesome. And I shall point out this wasn’t “Medical Work experience” where you go sit in a doctors office silently for two weeks doing nothing but check twitter for hours on end, no this is was hands on. And though a lot of it sucked over all it was amazing. I don’t think potential medics should be allowed to call what ever they’ve done work experience unless the following has happened:
1. They are certain they’ve had someone else’s pee on them
2. They have pretended that someone’s mole isn’t the most disgusting thing they’ve ever seen then calmly booked them an appointment to see a doctor because someone needs to cut that off immediately.
3. They’ve accepted a questionable mint off and old lady
4. They’ve got someone else’s blood on them before 10am and that’s on them now till 6pm
5. They have been on hold to the NHS IT department for 2 hours only to be told to turn it on and off again, then being hung up on (only to get more annoyed when you do turn it on and off for a final time and it does work because secretly you were praying that this time would be the time your computer would finally break and you could get a new one)
Had I spent any more time in the NHS that list would go on and on, my mum who was a nurse could defiantly write a very long book. And that’s how my gap year went for the first 6 months, I’d work, check my emails, and stalk my friends social media to see all I was missing by not being in Uni. By the end of December I had 3 rejections from medical schools 1 interview. There was no way I wasn’t going to smash that interview, I knew it was my one shot. My interview was at the beginning of February so I had a good month to prepare. I revised for it like it was the biggest exam of my life, I memorized dozens of facts and statistics about new hospitals being built and new services that would be provided to the area. I read dozens of articles on the Economics of Healthcare a topic I discovered that although is crucial to the NHS it is not one they like to discuss but I read as much about it as possible, in college economics was my cheeky escape when biology became too monotonous or when chemistry made no sense, economics was always a subject I could fall back on that made sense.
February came and so did my interview and you know that feeling when you walk out of and exam and you know you’ve smashed it? like the questions were all the same as a mock you did the night before? that’s the feeling I had I was so sure it went well, my interviewers were really nice and smiling and seemed happy with my responses even looking back at now I still think it went well. And so I waited I knew I’d only hear from them at the end of March so for the first time in 2 years I didn’t have to stalk UCAS every day, I just chilled and I almost forgot I was waiting for anything. However March 31st 2014 came, my Mum described it as the most difficult day she’s ever had being a parent I opened my email, checked UCAS Track so sure I would be able to run downstairs to tell my parents the wait was over and I finally had a place and they didn’t need to worry anymore, and then the page loaded and I saw that I had my 8th rejection. Its difficult to describe, there was no slowing of time, there was no disbelief or moment when I thought that they’d made a mistake. I instantly accepted that I was never going to be a doctor and I think that’s where the pain came from. It was like what I imagine being banned from something is like, like banned from the Olympics or something; though you may never have gone or never won you’d still like the right to go, and you’ve put in all this work and now some random person behind some random desk at a university has decided you’re not good enough, thats the point that sucks. And then I had the other side of me that knew my brother was in Medical school and now I thought I was going to have to be the let down of the family. I thought that day was bad for me but I think now it was much worse for my mum and dad who did the only thing any good parents would do in the same situation, cracked open a bottle of red wine, ordered a takeaway and sat with me until I felt ok.
Part 2: Dots
I have always liked watching Steve Jobs publicly speak, seeing how confident he was it was hard to imagine he’d ever doubted himself or that he’d ever not been successful. My favorite speech of his is that he gave to Stanford graduates in 2005, in his speech he says “you cannot connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back” and this stuck with me long before I’d even applied to medical school and on the day I got my final rejection (after a few glasses of red wine) I accepted that a day would come where I’d be able to look back on what at the time may have been a shitty day and be grateful that it happened. And I am. The following Monday I applied to study economics at Lancaster and much to my surprise a week later I got in. and finally after 2 years I could answer the question I feared the most: “ so what are you doing in September?” I looked forward to people asking me now and although I had to suppress the urge to scream “I’m doing Economics Bitch” it was still a really good feeling knowing what I was going to do.
I often found myself feeling quite alone in my year out, I wasn’t jealous of my friends new lives because I knew I’d go to university eventually, but I did miss them, and even when they were home I found it difficult to explain how I felt its not something any of them had experienced and i realised that for the first time ever we weren’t going thought the same things, its like trying to explain how stressful and exam is to someone who’s never sat one. Also I felt I unconsciously made them uncomfortable talking about university. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say how grateful I am for my best friend, who has proof read ever personal statement I have ever done and who text me everyday while she was at Uni and who was there for me throughout everything, and we eventually celebrated by single handedly drinking “Big Karl” which was the double bottle of red wine I had been saving for when I got into medical school to have with my entire family. So over all if you’re reading this because it reflects something that you’re going through or something you’ve gone through, or maybe because it relates to someone you know, just know it will be fine in the end, you just need a little persistence, a little faith and some red wine won’t hurt.