So I wanted to share my GEM journey so far, from the day I decided to pursue GEM until now. Prepare for a long post. EDIT, I got tired so I have covered the years 2013-2014 of my GEM journey below. A 2015 post will be coming soon.
The year was 2013 and I was a Graphic Designer stuck at the same old inhouse role I had been in for the past 4 years. The work was easy and a bit unimaginative, budgets and excessive copy text tend to do that to a lot of design work. The staff I worked with were nice (mostly), yet, I yearned to be working somewhere else. My dream as a Graphic Design student was to work inhouse for a large video game developer, Valve, Rockstar, or Blizzard. But, I never did anything to help improve my position to apply to these companies with any chance of success. At home after work I would do practically anything but design work, nevermind tailoring my portfolio towards an industry based around video games. Often I would get ideas, sometimes I’d start to pursue them, but never would I see anything through. Something wasn’t right, I knew deep down I had a good work ethic and that I had the ability to be in a much better position than I was in. It was around this time I realised design wasn’t for me anymore, and never really was. Once I had swallowed this hard truth, I began to think about what I could do instead. I knew I wanted to do something that involved helping people, but I was worried that many of the roles wouldn’t hold my attention or push me to the best of my abilities.
“Perhaps I could become a Doctor?” I scoffed at myself out loud for even thinking it. Yet this thought stuck with me the most. I’d heard of ‘miraculous’ ways that people had gotten into Medicine, so I decided to put my research cap on and go digging for information online. At first my heart sunk, science A-levels here, science degrees there, 6 year foundation courses for people who meet very specific criteria too. It seemed like an impossibility. Then I stumbled upon the ACER/GAMSAT website. Here, my holy grail, informed me of the (then) only four available options I had as an arts graduate with a 2.2 degree. Nottingham (GEM), SGUL (GEM), Exeter (UG), and Plymouth (UG) were all universities that would consider me on my degree alone. No A-levels, no astonishing GCSEs, just (JUST!) a good GAMSAT score and some work experience were all I had to attain. Now I had a goal to work towards and I never looked back. I informed my parents of my decision to wanting to study medicine, of which they were very supportive (despite my father’s dislike for doctors, probably because he expects me to be making BANK £££££ when I’ve graduated). My mother arranged a part-time job for me caring for an adult with learning difficulties through the charity she worked for. Having grown up with a sister with learning difficulties I felt confident in my abilities to transfer these skills to a stranger. Alongside this I began volunteering at my local hospital to see if I could adjust to environment, whether this would be too unrealistic a task or one that wasn’t right for me. Whilst I was still working in marketing/design I had began a new secret chapter of my life, just in time for the end of the year. 2014 held one hell of a New Year’s resolution – get into med school.
As Christmas ended, the reality of what I had to achieve began to hit home. I looked through GAMSAT practise questions and felt like I was reading another language with regards to S3. Shit, even S1 and S2 seemed out of my depth despite it being an arts students ‘strongest sections’. I started slowly. Having read that most students required about 6 months preparation I decided to spend the first 3 months of the year reading through Chemistry/Organic Chemistry/Biology/Physics for Dummies. Getting back to my baseline GCSE science felt really beneficial and some of the GAMSAT science (especially the biology) began to feel familiar and readable. During this time I was continuing to volunteer on a ward at my local hospital. Staff were always so nice and pleased to see me when I turned up on a Sunday morning. Their support of my plans to get into GEM really helped give me the confidence and the passion to continue this pursuit. Here I got chance to speak to some Doctor’s who again were (mostly) supportive and full of advice. My studying was coming along, I had moved onto the Gold Standard GAMSAT book my mother had got me for Christmas (she is very supportive <3). I chose the Gold Standard book as it is more of a ‘one stop shop’ and for an arts student who didn’t want to be learning any unnecessary or irrelevant information it seemed like the most logical choice. Personally I loved the book, despite its flaws. A huge online question bank, forums with support, and teaching that was easy to follow without completely blinding you with terminology and heavy science jargon. Whilst the book has a number of mistakes, as do the online questions, I think it’s still a good place to start as an arts grad. Alongside the Gold Standard I used a lot of Khan Academy, if I didn’t understand or felt like I needed to learn more about a topic then the Khan Academy was where I would go. Fantastic explanations and a very visual style that is easy to follow and apply.
Having explained my future plans to the woman who coordinated my volunteering and by showing my reliability and consistency as a volunteer I was ‘rewarded’ with a summer of shadowing. I was ecstatic, 7 days across 7 different departments. The thought of giving up 7 days annual leave at work and fabricating a story of where I actually was didn’t bother me at all. However, due to the shadowing taking place about a month before the GAMSAT I was beginning to panic over revision. I hadn’t even tackled any of the official practise tests yet! Yet, the shadowing was fantastic, I thoroughly enjoyed all of my pitstops, and despite not shadowing Doctors within every department I felt I got a much better picture of the wider healthcare team.
My first day was with radiographers, watching x-rays and CT scans, who explained the process of interpretation and what happened to imaging after they had gained it.
Second day was on Medical Assessment Unit (MAU) with one of the most passionate and helpful Registars I have ever met, the time he took out to explain to me such thing things as the SPIKES protocol, allowing me to witness him breaking bad news to a patient, asking me questions and telling me information prior to and post every consultation with patients. I felt like this was the kind of Doctor I wanted to become, his enthusiasm and friendliness was felt by everyone he came into contact with, truly an astounding Doctor.
Third day was on a general medicine ward under one of my trust’s most acclaimed professors (though I didn’t know that at the time), unfortunately after the ward round I ended up with a Doctor who was more concerned with telling me how much money she earned rather than anything else.
Fourth day was to Dialysis, a very busy and fascinating unit. Here, passionate nurses explained the dialysis process, why patients need dialysis, how they can recover from such a severe stage of chronic kidney disease, what fistulas were, and so much more.
Fifth day was spent in the cardiorespiratory department. This involved seeing a lot of ECGs, as well as echocardiograms, and watching patients have their hearts monitored through various stages of exercise. One of the nurses gave me a crash course in reading an ECG (which I have now totally forgotten) and shared her passion about all things cardioresp!
Sixth day was the one I was looking forward to the most – Emergency Department (ED). As someone who has spent many hours in ED/A&E with my sister and one of my very clumsy friends it was/is this environment that appeals to me the most. I spent time with an F2 and a GP in training (GPST?) who were both bloody excellent at explaining everything. Despite how busy the area was I never felt like a burden or a nuisance despite my random questions and slow pace.
Seventh and final day was spent on Fracture Clinic with two different orthopaedic consultants. One of whom was not at all interested in me being there, but was still happy to answer questions. And another who was almost infectious, he went through GAMSAT questions with me, asked me plenty about GEM and involved me so much with regards to what patient’s were presenting with and what would be done about it. He even tried to arrange a day for me to spend with him in theatre, but too much red tape (rightly so really)!
After this whirlwind of an insight into not even half of what hospitals have to offer I felt really invigorated looking forward to the GAMSAT. I was revising at least 3 hours per night and began to slog through the practise tests and answers. The Gold Standard youtube page has a fantastic breakdown for all the S3 answers for both practise exams – I highly recommend going through these if you are planning to sit the GAMSAT. The most difficult thing about preparing for the GAMSAT is not knowing where you stand. Other practise exams I have done in the past give you a good indicator of how you will perform on the real thing. Not the GAMSAT. You’re constantly thinking to yourself, “is 60% enough for this section? I wonder if that equate to about 60 in the real test – let’s look online (don’t! There is a myriad of ways that GAMSAT results are interpreted)”. It’s really rough, just keep trying to improve and get the best score that you can. I would really advise leaving the practise tests until about a month out from the exam. This way you can get used to the timings (always do them under timed conditions, the WHOLE thing, even with a strict one hour lunch break) and the whole routine is fresh to you when you sit the actual exam. Whilst a month leaves you enough time to address those topics you didn’t perform so well on. However at the start of your revision tackle at least the free practise questions (I’d also do the other smaller book of practise questions not long into your revision) to see how well you do and to familiarise yourself with the kind of questions you will expect.
GAMSAT time. Welp here it is. In what felt like no time at all I am suddenly sat in the Crypt Hall in Liverpool surrounded by over a hundred other hopeful GEM applicants. It was at this time I realised how competitive GEM is. The day is draining. If you are a worrier like me, and the thought of being late stresses you out then I would advise getting there early. Even if it means waiting in long queues for what feels like hours, at least you can relax knowing you are at the venue, mentally prepare yourself, get all your ID and other bits ready. Also make sure to take a lunch with you. The queue at the local Tesco or whatever soon gets astoundingly long when over 50 of your fellow applicants are getting their teeth into meal deals, one less thing to worry about. I took some pro plus with me, but I am a bit of a sugar fiend and you are not allowed sugary drinks on your table during the exam. So I took 2 pro plus before S1 and before S3. In this sitting we were given a little toilet break between S1 and S2 which saw about half of the exam hall going to the bathroom, the nerves are real. Despite how long the exam is, it does go fast. S1 is over in an instant, and S2 is similar. S3 goes from “I’ve got bags of time don’t panic”, to “holy shit is that the time? I’ve still got half of the questions to do!”. My advice for S3 would be:
Blind guess the physics questions unless you are really confident with that specific topic, the equations, and the math. Electric circuits, positive and negative charges, some simple velocity stuff are some really easy marks if you are familiar with them (even if you aren’t some are really straight forward). Others are just not worth the time or energy.
Check the last few sections of questions. In the times I have sat the GAMSAT there is often a number of pretty straight forward sections at the back. When some candidates sit the paper from front to back they run out of time on these questions and have to just fill them in randomly out of desperation. I feel as though I have picked up marks from giving these sections some extra love (no proof on that though!).
When blind guessing, stick to a single letter. Don’t know this topic at all? All four of these questions are C then. Don’t mix them up (unless you are taking an educated guess), just choose a letter and commit to it, statistically this is better than assigning random letters to your blind guesses. Also, you practically will HAVE to blind guess some sections due to time, unless you’re an absolute fucking genius you will run out of time in S3.
Start with your strengths. Whilst I didn’t do this personally, as I felt Chem/Org Chem/Biology were all pretty equal to me. Others have felt they performed better when answering all the topics they knew well first. So if you’re a Chemistry graduate start there, get them done quick, then you can sink a bit more time into your weaker topics.
Biology questions are time consuming. There is a lot of information, you don’t know how much of it is going to be relevant to answering the questions, so you end up reading it all anyway. GAMSAT Biology requires the least amount of information recall, for the majority of the Biology questions all the information is given to you, you just have to figure it out. Though there are some topics which definitely require recall (Miosis/Meiosis, Genetics).
The GAMSAT is over. Despite being absolutely drained I felt pretty good. It didn’t feel any harder than the practise exams and I felt quietly confident that I’d done well enough to get interviews. Boy, how wrong I was.
With the GAMSAT over the next step was actually applying. It’s horrible going in blind to an application, not knowing whether you’re submitting a laughable GAMSAT score or not. Fortunately there’s that many applicants that it would be a massive waste of resources to even consider those who miss the GAMSAT cutoff by a significant margin. I contacted a couple of friends from my past who were studying or had studied medicine and asked for some advice. These lovely ladies helped me spruce up my Personal Statement and gave me lots of great advice and well wishes. 95% of Doctors I have met through this journey have been incredibly supportive and shown nothing but good feelings towards me. I decided to use my employer at my part-time job as my reference, as I had not yet informed anyone at my full-time job of my GEM plans (as this would be career suicide). Once the application was complete it was time to rock back and forth in GAMSAT score announcement purgatory on thestudentroom (an absolutely fantastic and invaluable resource for any med school applicant – https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/forumdisplay.php?f=195).
Then, after waking up through numerous nights at 3am checking emails for results they finally came through. I woke up, a huge surge of adrenaline rushing through my body. Turned my PC on and anxiously looked at ‘View Results’ tab on the ACER website.
Overall 53. No chance of getting in anywhere with that score. I cried myself to sleep. Never in my life had I failed an exam that I had tried on, I felt like Bart in the episode Bart Gets An F. I had poured hours and hours over months and months into this exam and for nothing. In the morning before work I rang my mum and couldn’t hold back the tears. Here I was a fucking 26 year old man crying to his mum over an exam. I felt pathetic. But it just showed to me how important this was and how much it meant to me. I had vowed at the start of my GAMSAT revision that if I failed horrifically then I wouldn’t try again, but 53 was middle of the pack (48% or so). It wasn’t a good score, but it wasn’t a terrible one. Definitely something that could be improved upon, and so I told myself to get ready for another shot at the GAMSAT for March 2015.
Everyone that knew about me going in for the GAMSAT was so sympathetic and offered kind words and well wishes. The ladies who had helped me with my PS prep told me of their struggles to get into medical school and I began to understand just how difficult this process is for everybody.
I saw out 2014 with my nose once again pressed firmly between the pages of my Gold Standard book, along with the Griffiths GAMSAT Review (which I would recommend to everyone as their first port of call for GAMSAT prep, it is so cheap you CANNOT avoid to miss out on it). With a year of work experience under my belt as a Support Worker and Volunteer, some small positives to take forward with me into 2015. If 2014 brought about some changes to my life, then 2015 was on another level. The events of that year will have to be saved for another post, as I am up for work in 4.5 hours – oops.
It is my sincerest hope that fellow and future GEM candidates can find words of reassurance and familiarity within this post. As an arts student I felt (and still often feel) very alone throughout this process, we are few and far between. Yet, tackling and overcoming the GAMSAT is a real possibility despite how difficult it may seem. Always remember that hard work beats talent, when talent refuses to work hard.