So this week has been a bit rough. People have started getting offers from Swansea, and I have not. Speculation runs wild, but others are still pretty hopeful that they have more offers to give out, I am not so sure – but here’s to hoping!
2015 started with a lot of plans. I was studying for the March sitting of the GAMSAT, still volunteering, and still doing my part-time support work, alongside my full-time job. I decided that once I had the GAMSAT out the way I would apply for a Healthcare Assistant (HCA) job at the hospital where I volunteered. Also, depending on my GAMSAT result I would think about doing a Master’s degree to open some extra doors and to make it a bit easier for me to apply as a 2.2 applicant.
March came around so fast, before I knew it I was sat in some big exam room in London flying through my second GAMSAT. I definitely felt a lot more confident about my S3, I had pretty much focused on 80% science revision since my first GAMSAT due to it really dragging my overall score down. But due to this I wasn’t too sure on how well I had performed in S1/S2. It’s odd how by the end of the GAMSAT I struggled to even remember the quotes/themes for S2 even though it was only a few hours prior, S3 just does that to some people! I decided to treat myself to an Ed’s Easy Diner at London Euston, which I felt was severely overrated. Whilst I waited for the train I got chatting to a girl, turned out she was a biomedical scientist who lived a town away from where I was from, small world! We chatted, and I explained what I was doing in London and then she fired even more biochemistry questions at me. Can. Not. Escape!
With GAMSAT out of the way again I turned my attention (a nice distraction) to applying for a HCA job. I found this to be a really easy process, although that doesn’t seem to be true for all trusts in the UK. Having volunteered at the hospital and my support work experience definitely helped strengthen my application, but I had no formal healthcare qualifications. My interview was a panel from three Ward Managers from various wards, each trying to sell their specialty. Whilst the burns and plastics ward sounded pretty interesting, I opted for the more varied Surgical Assessment Unit (SAU) – a crazy decision in hindsight! I was offered a job as a Band 2 HCA and they accommodated my other part-time support work job. I informed the ward I was volunteering on that I would be stopping and handed in my notice at my full-time job, explaining my goals and what I had been doing over the past 12 months. Everyone was mostly supportive of my new journey and career, which was pleasantly surprising!
Before I knew it I was attending the trust induction at my hospital and training with around another 15 or so new HCA’s, many of whom had previous experience in nursing homes or other hospitals. I started to hear stories about the ward I was going to start on, that it was in special measures, that the staffing was horrendous. I began to feel a little out of my depth. The training was good, but very idealistic and was not fantastic at preparing you for the real thing and for much of the conflict and hostility that healthcare workers can face. The trainers, were great at responding to my queries as a healthcare noob, even after the training had finished they have continued to take an interest in my GEM journey and settle any questions I have regarding my current role as a HCA.
Baptism of fire – the only way I can describe my first HCA job on SAU. The rumours I had heard were true, the ward was a very dangerous place to work, and very little was being done to improve that aside from trying to get more out of the staff. Staff Nurses having to care for 14 or 16 patients, sometimes with only one HCA to support them. Surgical patients can deteriorate very quickly, especially if they return to the ward after an operation or procedure. The first two months or so I was were I felt absolutely useless. As a Band 2 we were unable to record observations or blood sugars, which left me with little responsibility and left to enhance care (1:1) many patients. However, I learnt an absolute ton of stuff, nothing compares to being in that environment day in and day out. Handovers in the morning gave me new conditions and acronyms to learn and being able to see the application of science into patient’s treatment helped open my eyes to the application of a lot of the science I had studied for S3 of the GAMSAT.
Speaking of GAMSAT. It felt as though I had not even blinked and the GAMSAT results were out. 58 overall, but with 60 in S3! It was a bit painful overall but I was so pleased with my improvement in S3 a jump of 10 points! At this point I felt I would never get into the high 60’s necessary for a 2.2 holder, so I decided that I would start a Master’s degree in September and resit the GAMSAT again (for a third time) in September. I felt 58 might, MIGHT be good enough with a Master’s degree as some universities have had cutoffs lower or similar in the past, so even if I didn’t improve upon the score in September I could apply the following year (GAMSAT results are valid for 2 years) and might be in with a shot at some interviews! Alongside this doing a Master’s allowed me to apply to four GEM courses instead of the two I could at that time, opening up Swansea and Warwick as options. I’d also read that the UKCAT (which Warwick uses) was significantly easier than the GAMSAT (it is).
With me becoming a bit more settled in my new role as HCA I began looking at Master’s courses. Unfortunately, due to having an arts degree I was exempt from pretty much all Science Master’s degrees (MSc), even social science courses wanted me to have relevant previous study or experience, I didn’t have time to get this, I needed to start a Master’s in September! In the end I found something that was varied enough, pretty local, and with quite minimal lesson time, allowing me to continue to work both my jobs alongside a full-time Master’s degree (not something I would recommend!). The course was a mixture of MA English/History/Media and covered some ethics and other transferable topics into medicine. I went for an interview and was successful in gaining a place, it looked like I would be a student again in 2015, just not in medicine!
After securing myself a place on a Master’s course I could once again focus on studying for the GAMSAT. This was really difficult, I felt as though I had exhausted most of my studying tools. I managed to buy some second hand Des O’Neille papers and questions which were another great source of practise questions and quite difficult! I was still studying 4-6 hours a day, even alongside work. It was not uncommon to find me asleep on a desk in the hospital library after working 7am-3pm and studying until past 7pm. Studying like this was pretty tough, but I knew it would be something I would need to accommodate myself to if I wanted to become a successful medical student and Doctor. The learning never stops!
As autumn approached I had to adjust my hours at work to accommodate my Master’s degree. Lessons were 2 days out of 4 (Monday – Thursday) so I would work 8 hours at the hospital Friday and 4 hours in the evening at my support worker job, long day Saturday (14.5 hours) and long day Sunday too! This worked out quite well financially as I ended up actually earning more despite doing slightly less overall hours, due to weekend pay bonuses. However, I would be so tired that I’d spend practically all of Monday in bed as all our Master’s teaching was in the evenings.
Prior to my Master’s starting I had to sit the GAMSAT, again. Once more I was sat in the lovely crypt hall (title image) blitzing my way through this absolute monster of an exam that I had become so familiar with. This felt like the hardest exam I had done of all them all. I felt the first sections went a bit better than March, but S3 I was so unsure – the passages were so incredibly long that I really struggled with time. But with this exam, who knows, anything can happen! When I returned home I stored all my GAMSAT materials away, knowing that I wouldn’t be using them for at least the next year. It was nice to look forward to studying something a bit different on my MA, but I was going to miss the sciences which I had come to really enjoy learning about – especially organic chemistry, something I had zero knowledge about which had become one of my strengths for S3 in the GAMSAT.
Not even a week after the GAMSAT I started my Master’s, it lined up pretty well. Lots of new information, new people, a new routine. Yet, I felt myself coping really well, I thought about the bigger picture constantly and how this degree was going to be my ticket to getting into med school. Initially I was worried about the amount of pre-reading required for sessions, but upon facing it the truth was it was easily manageable and as time went on I became underwhelmed at the amount of pre-reading some of the modules and lessons required. One of the more harsh truths I had to face though was the quality of my writing (probably quite evident throughout this blog!). My first set of essays fell short of the Merit standard which I needed (for Swansea). I sought advice from tutors and services within the university (which were great) and made a real effort to improve my writing to reach the standards required. From then on I was pretty comfortably achieving Merit scores in the rest of my assignments and modules. It would be braggish to say the Master’s was easy, but it certainly wasn’t as difficult as I had expected it to be. Although, I did have to face my fears of doing presentations – something I dread, but certainly have improved upon since completing this degree. I’ve no complaints with chatting to large groups of people if it is on my terms, when it is in a forced and formal setting then I begin to panic! But I always scored rather well on my presentation assignments – which helped my confidence going into the next one.
Time, as ever, moved quickly. November was upon us and the Master’s was well into the swing of things. The third set of GAMSAT results were here and I only managed an incredibly minor improvement, scoring 58 overall or 59 using the non-science biased version that Nottingham uses (no double weighting on S3). This was really disappointing, even though it was an improvement, I really wanted to have an overall score in the 60s as a minimum, as I felt this would ensure me at least an interview somewhere. Still, Notts, SGUL, and Swansea had had similar/lower cutoffs in the past, so some hope remained. My S1 score had improved significantly, but at a cost of my S3 score (it always seems to be one or the other, never both!) with my S2 score slightly improving upon my second sitting. Still an improvement, was an improvement, no matter how small.
Christmas was here again. I was working like a Japanese prisoner of war (but a happy one (Alan Partridge)), but had managed to get Christmas Day and Boxing Day off work (apparently unheard of for new HCA’s!). 2016 was going to hold some big challenges, I decided when my ward was to advertise some Band 3 HCA jobs then I would apply for that. Alongside this I had some conference presentations and my dissertation to look forward to on my Master’s. Oh and a best man’s speech. I ended 2015 on a bit of a high, I managed to make a significant improvement upon my original GAMSAT score, got onto a Master’s course and was excelling in that, and had fully committed to my new career in healthcare with a new job as a Healthcare Assistant. I felt a lot happier in myself, healthcare is such a rewarding career despite its many challenges. Being able to make a difference to people’s lives everyday fills you with happiness, whilst many patient’s can be unappreciative to what you do, it only takes one or two to brighten up your day and make you realise that all the hard work is worth it.
Hopefully readers of this post have learnt something that they can apply to their own GEM journey. If anyone has any questions feel free to post and I’ll help in any way I can! I will try to get round to writing my 2016-17 post a bit sooner than it took me to do this one. Until next time.