Tuesday, 28 June 2011

In which Zoe has only herself to blame

They say it's hard to get into medical school, especially as a graduate, and so in a way I feel like a bit of a fraud. I worked hard, but I didn't kill myself over it. I wanted it, but it wasn't my whole life's passion. Perhaps it will become so. And perhaps the work began a long time ago. Like the time a good friend and I sat one of our first degree exams dressed as witches. Or the time I met someone for the first time by falling asleep on them in a lecture. Oh yes, the groundwork was laid long ago.

Someone asked me the other day whether I've applied for my place at medical school yet. Was she joking?

I revised for the UKCAT entrance exam ten months ago while on holiday in Thailand. In retrospect, probably not the best idea. My friend Garry tried the questions with me (they all seemed to be about families of rabbits hopping at different speeds around rectangular fields, or unintelligible collections of shapes) but the lure of the beach and the cocktails in coconuts was always stronger. I sat the test in September in a soulless building in the middle of Oxford, chewing nervously on fisherman's friends. I didn't do well.

Right now I work in a large international development charity (you've heard of it) and last October, med school deadline days, found me on a trip to Colombia, meeting small farmers, visiting indigenous communities, and travelling for three days by boat through the rainforest to remote villages you can only get to by river. It was amazing, but thank goodness for wireless internet.

I pulled an all-nighter to write that personal statement, made my uni choices off the cuff based on where I thought I could get in (Kings, no chance. Oxford, ditto. Birmingham, too much concrete but they don't use the UKCAT). I had just hours to submit a reference and my referee was on the road between Spain and Portugal, the other side of the world and several time zones away. Was the wireless even working? The tropical rain fell outside and reggae throbbed out of huts on stilts in the dark. I fired the thing off and went back to looking for huge spiders on my mosquito net.

Did I mention that I'm a last-minute kind of girl?

I flew back to England, letters arrived from universities, and I swapped the book on 'how to pass the UKCAT' for one on 'medical school interviews'. I prepared answers to the most obscure of questions: 'What do you know about practice-based commissioning? What would you do if your consultant turned up drunk?' I walked into the room shaking, in a suit jacket with the label still on.

'So, have you visited this city before?' Oh come ON! Link

When the decision dropped into my inbox I was at work and too afraid to look. What if it was no? What if it was yes? I still couldn't quite picture it, it was like being me playing a game. What's the hardest thing you can think of? Getting into medical school. Ok, you like challenges, right? But the reality, me with a stethoscope? Surely that's laughable.

As the days pass it's become steadily more real, less terrifying, more exciting. At the same time that ego that just wanted to show people I could do it, 'a doctor, wow, you must be really clever', has diminished and I'm left with the certainty that only people who are crazy go to medical school. Ok, when you're 18 you're probably excused (god knows I couldn't make that decision back then) but if you're older and you've tried other things, had time to look at it from every direction and STILL pressed 'accept' on that form, well, then you really only have yourself to blame.