Working class kids getting into medicine - tips

(47 Posts)
Bakingnovice Tue 12-Mar-13 15:01:33

I volunteer with a fab group of youngsters. They set up
And run their own youth group. They all derive from one of the most deprived areas in the country. Amazingly, despite very poor schooling, no support at home, no access to extra curricular activities, no money etc some of them have achieved great gcse and a level grades. What I have been asked, and what I want to ask you, is how does a kid from this kind of background try and fulfil a dream of studying medicine?

Bear in mind that these kids have no adequate advice network at school, they don't have gap year exploits on their cv, but they have achieved top grades against all odds. I've told the boy who asked me about it that medicine is highly competitive and is not simply about getting the best grades. How can he optimise his chances? He currently leads the youth group and works at tesco to help his single mum put food on the table. Any advice anyone has would be much appreciated!!

Can I just add that this boy is delightful. Well mannered, kind, enterprising, compassionate.

pipsy76 Tue 12-Mar-13 15:09:32

They need relevant work experience in health care , at our hospital we have someone who is head of workforce development who will offer hospital work experience placements to those over 16.

Scrazy Tue 12-Mar-13 15:13:15

A medicine applicant will need some work experience relating to a medical field, e.g. helping/volunteering at a care home, write to the local hospitals and ask for some work shadowing placements too.

Also lots of interests outside of school.

It is possible, providing you meet the criteria, which sound fine in this case, to apply for either access courses or foundation years with less than 3 A grade A levels. The access courses I can think of are Bradford for Leeds Uni and Lancaster/Liverpool Uni. They don't guarantee you a place but an interview, if passed. Foundation years are Nottingham Uni, Southamption, East Anglia. The foundation years bring the students up to speed and are guaranteed entrance to the 5 year course provided they pass the year. Leeds Uni do an access to Leeds which requires extra work rather than an extra year. There will be more that I don't know about.

Of course if a student has 3 A grade A levels they can apply anywhere.

You can buy a book cheap book to practise for the UKCAT and such like entrance exams.

Scrazy Tue 12-Mar-13 15:15:55

Sorry ignore most if my post if he has achieved top grades already. It's just a question of getting relevant experience, practising for UKCAT and doing a great PS. With top grades nobody, no matter what their background should be at a disadvantage.

Copthallresident Tue 12-Mar-13 15:17:35

I would suggest he actually contacts the Admissions Officers for courses he is interested in. They may well run outreach courses or have mentoring schemes to help pupils like him. I am involved in a mentoring scheme, but I am not a Scientist / Medic but know that when Science / Medic mentors have accompanied pupils on look / see visits to Oxbridge they get a lot of practical advice on how to maximise their chances of success. His grades will be viewed in the context of the overall performance of his school and the med schools will take any other contextual information, like supporting a single mother, into account.

LondonMother Tue 12-Mar-13 15:26:19

Good luck to them! I have little to offer except that King's College London, which has the biggest medical school in the UK, has a fantastic extended medical degree scheme for young people with potential but who don't quite have the grades normally required:

There are 50 places a year and applicants must have been in non-selective state-funded education since the age of 11 - up to 5 places will go to applicants from outside London, the rest go to applicants from Greater London.

The students on the scheme take 6 years to get a medical degree rather than 5. I think there's quite a bit of financial support available as well to those from lower income families. There should be more schemes like this. There's one at KCL for dentistry too.

Scrazy Tue 12-Mar-13 15:54:26

Do kids need to support single mothers? confused

Mine worked in a shop to help with her expenditure as do to lots of other students but the amount I earned or the benefits I would have claimed if I hadn't worked were to support us.

Bakingnovice Tue 12-Mar-13 16:13:47

Wow. Thank you to everyone. The kids I help do have to support parents in many ways sadly. Either financially, or by acting as babysitters for parents to work evenings and quite a few of them are carers for parents/ siblings. The area they live in is one of huge deprivation, high levels of underachievement, very poorly performing schools and no funding at all.

I posted the question as I felt I had to try and find a way to help very able young people break through constraints and enter professions which to them appear to be unattainable. The advice given here is amazing, thank you amazing mnetters. I will relay the info back, and will get them to ring local hospitals.

It breaks my heart that some youngsters literally have to crawl their way out of poverty.

boomting Tue 12-Mar-13 16:54:46

Manchester also has a medicine foundation scheme, and an excellent widening participation department. If you're in the Greater Manchester area, then I would suggest contacting them to see if they can offer anything.

In fact, wherever you are in the country I would suggest contacting the widening participation department of the nearest university that offers medicine. These departments are entirely separate from the medicine departments, and their entire remit is to help kids from backgrounds like the one you describe into good universities (often their own, but actually they're invariably equally happy if they go on to another university)

However, medical work experience is a must for all applicants to medicine. I would suggest trying to get some sort of paid work in the sector - being a healthcare assistant in a hospital, or a domiciliary care worker (the latter only if they have access to some sort of transport, though a bike would probably do it) would both be good options.

Also, get them to sign up to The Student Room. There's a lot of dross on there, but the medical forums are actually quite good.

alreadytaken Tue 12-Mar-13 17:15:54

If they already have 3 A grades, including Chemistry, at A level then they apply through UCAS in September. Meanwhile they ask their gp if they can offer work experience (could be in reception) and they contact their local hospital and ask them for work experience. They need to take the UKCAT exam in August, there are bursaries for those on low incomes and they need to apply for that in advance - details available in May. To help prepare for the exam they need the 600 ukcat questions book. The test will change next year but old copies of the book may be on ebay, in public libraries or on Amazon. If he got really good marks (all A or A* at GSCE and over 90% in all AS modules) he should be considering Oxford or Cambridge. Both offer better than average bursaries.

He doesn't have to have lots of extra-curricular activities. He does need a good reference and to really understand what medical schools look for. Leading anything is good so he should put leading the youth group on his personal statement. He can get help with writing that through the Student Room website - if he doesn't have internet access at home he should make friends with his local librarian as libraries offer some free net access. He also needs to carefully chose medical schools to reflect his strengths. We were told by someone from Nottingham that Sheffield has a reputation for widening access. Birmingham introduced a scheme this year to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

If there are students who have not yet completed A levels they should look at Sutton Trust summer schools

If you want to post more details of grades then we can try and be more specific.

Yellowtip Tue 12-Mar-13 17:38:34

Good grades against those odds will make this boy a highly sought after applicant. He'll almost certainly have the edge over other more standard applicants. Of course he still has the hurdle of the UKCAT and/or the BMAT depending on uni choices. He should contact admissions tutors of any unis which catch his eye and they should give him all the encouragement he needs.

Where are his teachers in all this?

Yellowtip Tue 12-Mar-13 17:45:05

And tell him not to worry too much about the medical work experience. Universities understand the difficulties that some students face and they'll be able to ask him questions about the work he does at Tesco and his youth group work which will be every bit as good as shadowing a consultant, probably better. Don't let him be deterred from pursuing what sounds like an eminently realistic ambition! (as opposed to a dream).

Scrazy Tue 12-Mar-13 19:12:57

I've got a copy of the UKCAT 600 if anyone wants it. PM me and I can post it.

Bakingnovice Tue 12-Mar-13 20:03:34

Again thank you. I am humbled by these responses. He is on course for 3 A at a level and as we wasn't expected to get to uni he didn't apply for uni through ucas. He has decided to have a gap year and following advice from he has been down to his library and sent some email enquiries to a local uni and two local hospitals. I have rung the local council (who are aware of his work in the youth group) and asked if they would act as a referee on applications and they agreed. Can't believe how much progress has been made in one afternoon!

The teachers at his school were no help. But then he told me that they seem to have their hands full with very large and unruly classes and he felt they never had the time to properly teach and advise.

I cannot tell you how fabulous this group of young people are. They inspire me, and I am really proud of how they have turned their fortunes around. So often these days we hear of teenagers hanging around in gangs and involved in crime. We forget there are so many young adults who work hard with very little support.

alreadytaken Tue 12-Mar-13 20:03:44

not for the first time I'm going to disagree with yellowtip. Universities say they understand the difficulties but they don't. I've known a number of medical school applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds and they managed to get relevant work experience. Universities know this happens and therefore expect it to be possible even for the more seriously disadvantaged. Of course what those students had were good schools and/or good friends and a great deal of determination. One spent a long period volunteering in a hospice, some did Nuffield bursaries, some volunteered on holidays for the disabled.

This young man is delightful but is he also determined, hard-working and creative in his approach to problems? If he is he'll get a place.

He will also need smart clothes for interview (charity shops?) and money to get to interviews. I'm not sure if there is any charitable funding that might support that but he may be able to cut costs by getting a 16-25 railcard and/or looking for cheap fares on The cost of getting to interviews can be substantial as schools don't give a lot of notice.

Bakingnovice Tue 12-Mar-13 20:15:15

Already - he works PT so should have a few pennies. Luckily he told me that when researching he found there seem to be a lot of jobs at HA at the moment. Visiting people at home. He only has a bike so the geographical limits will apply. Hopefully he can get some relevant experience in his gap year.

Bakingnovice Tue 12-Mar-13 20:15:34

*As HA

VinegarDrinker Tue 12-Mar-13 20:25:52

Very good advice here. Not much more to add. I think Barts also do an access course but with his grades he should be fine to apply for a traditional 5 year course. Work experience can be anything caring, care home, working as a HCA (personally I think this should be compulsory for all medics), volunteering with younger people etc although anything actually medical would probably be more interesting for him. No reason he can't do both.

When it comes to writing his personal statement he shouldn't be shy about mentioning Tesco etc, and think about what skills he will have developed that can help him in medicine (time keeping, team work, reliability or whateve).

Good luck to him! Keep us updated smile

alreadytaken Tue 12-Mar-13 20:30:05

HA would be good experience but they may require NVQ so nursing auxiliary might be worth considering. I know you said he worked part-time but you also said he helped his mother. He needs to be able to apply to schools most likely to take him and they may involve expensive journeys. He may even need to stay overnight - the YHA is probably the cheapest place to stay. How were his A levels as some schools like a lot of A* grades?

alreadytaken Tue 12-Mar-13 20:36:25

sorry meant A* GCSE

renaldo Tue 12-Mar-13 20:44:04

What subjects are his a levels? Where is he? Nottingam has a good foundation course if hes anywhere near I'd be happy to show him round the UNi, and his own GP practice should let him shadow a GP for a day.

rotavirusrita Tue 12-Mar-13 20:52:04

I think actually getting your hands dirty in a hospital or as a carer/ befriender/ long term volunteer looks much better than a week "shadowing" a consultant somewhere.
And remind him that although medicine seems popular at the moment it isn't all it cracked up to be and if he's bright and ambitious there are plenty of other things he can do

VinegarDrinker Tue 12-Mar-13 20:58:26

It certainly isn't a quick or easy way to plenty of money and "respect". It's a vocation, and immensely rewarding. But for money or status, go elsewhere for more of both and less of the crap!

Scrazy Tue 12-Mar-13 21:51:20

If he doesn't meet the 3 A grades then he should definitely apply for medicine with a foundation year as he will meet the disadvantaged criteria.

I remember when we looked DD's GCSE results were too high, being mostly A* and A grades, for Nottingham and each school takes a different approach to who qualifies to apply so homework needs to be done on how he fits.

Yellowtip Tue 12-Mar-13 22:06:53

already I'm aware we have differing views as you made that clear under your former name, but I'm not sure how you can say categorically that universities claim to understand the difficulties of obtaining medical work experience but in reality don't. You're not a university admissions tutor I think? Nor a doctor? Clearly you're well informed on the standard admissions guff but I think you may lack a certain lightness of touch. This boy, as described, would most likely have the admissions guys purring.

I don't know why everyone keeps banging on about foundation courses since the boy is on track for AAA from an evidently rubbish school. And MN is at its patronizing best on giving advice to the 'poor'. This boy appears to have plenty of brain and oomph all of his own. I expect he therefore knows how to get from A to B by the cheapest possible method. The thing is he probably has far, far more potential (a good part of which appears to have been realized already) than the mollycoddled middle class private schoolers with their clutch of starry results and their research for med schools (UKCAT/ BMAT/ work experience etc) done years in advance by their overbearing and ambitious mothers.

Scrazy Tue 12-Mar-13 22:11:54

I mentioned foundation courses as an option in case he doesn't make 3A grades. Quite a few students I know on the foundation courses actually have 3A's but might have only applied for these courses or didn't get offers for the 5 year ones they applied to.

lastSplash Tue 12-Mar-13 22:45:14

What about getting some training and lots of experience by volunteering with St John's ambulance?

Copthallresident Wed 13-Mar-13 00:56:40

OP If he has not had good advice from school one thing that the mentoring scheme I am involved with have found is that it is very important to open up the minds of pupils to what opportunities are available to them. They tend to think that if they are scientists medicine is the be all and end all. They may find the reality of medicine is not what they think it is, hence the importance of getting into a healthcare setting if he can, though he probably is well equipped to handle the adversity (and poo). If not poo he has probably had to cope with lots of mess and difficult people in Tesco. However he may not be aware that Science offers other fascinating careers and that things are very exciting at the cutting edge of Science at the moment, several pupils helped by the scheme I am involved in who thought they wanted to be doctors have been inspired to follow other career tracks where they are doing very well, probably earning more with less stress and frustration, making a difference and are loving it.

Yellowtip Wed 13-Mar-13 07:50:15

Very good advice from Copthall. Admissions tutors will be able to point him in the direction of the most appropriate mentoring scheme - an important first port of call.

LondonMother Wed 13-Mar-13 12:40:38

I mentioned the KCL extended medical programme because the OP was asking for general info that might be relevant to several of her youth group members as well as specific info for this one extremely bright young man. I wonder also if a young person whose school/FE college grounding has been patchy might benefit from having that longer time to get a more thorough grounding in the basics. It's possible of course for a very bright and self-motivated student to get A grades at A level in spite of poor teaching, but those who have had the luck to have really good teaching, whether in a private school, grammar school or top notch comprehensive school/FE college will be getting so much more from their sixth form studies, and that's one of the things that takes a bit of getting used to at university.

Bakingnovice Wed 13-Mar-13 14:10:00

Copthall what other careers would you suggest? I agree that there are alternatives to medicine but other than something like dentistry I can't think of many. It would be good to be able to inform the youngsters about other courses.

GrendelsMum Wed 13-Mar-13 15:12:32

There are some excellent case studies and interviews with people working in careers beyond medicine on the FutureMorph website

Copthallresident Wed 13-Mar-13 15:18:39

As I say I am not a Scientist but the pupils Science mentors have mentioned were persuaded after talking to Cambridge academics that it was the Science that fascinated them rather than the reality of working as a hospital doctor, and inspired to gain places on the Natural Sciences course at Cambridge because a lot of the most exciting cutting edge developments are happening between and at the edges of the traditional disciplines. I know of one now working in a biotech start up, and one in genetics. However they are a narrow example, there really are a huge range of careers opened up by a Science degree, and they are not the only ones the mentoring scheme has helped

This Guardian article is an overview but google Science careers and you will get rich pickings (Science communications and advocacy are another career option)

This is interesting too

DD is studying Science and she wants to get into research, she has internships lined up on research projects linked to molecular biology. She dismissed applying for medicine because whilst the Science was interesting, and actually she finds anything organic fascinating so the poo and gore wouldn't have been a problem, she didn't want to have to deal with patients.............. a stint waitressing in the hospitality industry taught her that!!

mumof3teens Wed 13-Mar-13 16:56:40

Baking novice - I could pm you contact details for my sons - DS1 is a junior Dr and DS2 a 4th yr Dentistry student - they may have some good suggestions? Particularly DS2 who is involved in open days/selection etc. PM me if you would like their details.

Scrazy Wed 13-Mar-13 17:21:33

My DD only looked into doing a science degree in case she didn't get onto medicine and had to go via the graduate route. She knew she wanted to work with patients and couldn't have imagined working in a lab.

alreadytaken Wed 13-Mar-13 18:54:15

Bakingnovice many young people have not decided on a career by the time they apply to university. They just chose a subject they think they can study for 3 years. At university they have access to a careers advice service and the opportunity to learn from other young people, often the best source of advice. Only about 30% of jobs require a specific degree, although it will be higher for science subjects. The guardian article was good and if any of these young people are doing well in mathematics that degree opens up a wide range of careers, many well paid. However there is a lot of difference between maths at school and university.

Some other opportunities available that might interest your young people

National Citizen service

If you are in London

the 16-19 bursary fund

and Nuffield Bursaries are for science subjects generally not for medicine in particular

Although I hope their schools would at least have told them about the bursary fund trying to help other disadvantaged young people has taught me never to make assumptions about what they know or don't know.

sashh Thu 14-Mar-13 05:21:49

they don't have gap year exploits on their cv

I think running a youth group is much more impressive than bungee jumping in NZ.

He needs relevant experience which is much easier if mum/dad/aunty is a HCP.


He is already running a group, could he add some care work to that? Maybe have a group of older or disabled people to visit the group once a week.

Or organise voluntary work through the group.

He sounds remarkable.

Re visits and overnight stays. He could look into couch surfing.

One last piece of advice.

You know when you go to uni all the students talk about this mysterious book with a list of charities that give out money but no one actually knows what it is?

I used it, I applied and I got a few £1000. Not all from one source.

Pm me if you want more details. It is quite a boring process but doable.

Yellowtip Thu 14-Mar-13 08:20:40

sashh at the moment someone in this boy's position would get all the financial help he would need from the university and SLC grants system combined, provided he aimed sufficiently high (as a general rule the better the uni, the better the bursary system: this last year has seen those in the lowest income bracket at top unis getting very, very, very generous financial support). No need for any student to do more than apply through SLC in the normal way and the rest simply follows - not a single extra form to fill in.

Copthallresident Thu 14-Mar-13 08:35:41

Please do not assume as Scrazy seems to be doing that any Science career other than medicine involves working in a lab, self evident from all the links posted below!

Bakingnovice Thu 14-Mar-13 09:23:31

Lots of really valuable info here. Thank you.

I just can't believe that some schools are totally oblivious to, and somewhat uninterested in, the process for helping clever kids onto good courses.

Yellowtip Thu 14-Mar-13 10:27:32

It's scandalous that all this boy's teachers are oblivious to his potential. Absolutely scandalous. You'd have thought that there would be one bright, interested teacher who cared. It's a serious indictment of the school and cases like this should be flagged up and the teacher directly responsible for Higher Ed/ careers shamed. The HT too.

Caitycat Thu 14-Mar-13 10:45:04

As others have mentioned university mentoring schemes can be excellent, Sheffield's SOAMS (not sure what it stands for) scheme offers a lot of preparation to students (y9 onwards but can be started at any stage) and guarantees students an interview for the degree at the end, we have had students then given very good offers (one got ABB) as they have seen what they can do. I know he is post A level but still perhaps worth contacting your nearest uni that offers medicine (I would do it yourself as you will be able to explain the background in detail and potentially"sell" him better than he might sell himself - you would essentially be providing him with a reference.

Scrazy Thu 14-Mar-13 11:29:01

The course my DD was looking at was mainly lab work. If someone wants to be a doctor it's usually more than just an interest in science. I'm sure there are other courses that involve much more.

Copthallresident Thu 14-Mar-13 12:52:16

scrazy And so your DD is doing medicine for the right reasons and my DD rejected it for the right reasons. However a lot of young people do consider it because of the status and the reputation of it being the goal of the most academic (and parental ambition sad). Even with all the support of the excellent careers service and specialist support for medics applicants at DDs school DD despaired that some pupils were still intent on applying for medicine because they wanted to be "doctors" rather than care for patients, though she knew that they couldn't stand dirt and mess. The med schools seem to be good at spotting this so in spite of clean sweeps of A*s they have all ended up on other Science courses with the perception that is second best and they have failed. In fact on some courses at DDs uni they almost all turn up each year to sit the transfer tests, and fail. Sad when Science is so exciting these days, DD is genuinely inspired.

Do any Science courses these days involve just working in the lab? DDs course is around 50% lab work but along with around another 30/40% theoretical science, they have to study the philosophy and ethics of Science and it's place in society, and entrepreneurial and business skills. This is because they recognise that any future career is going to involve questioning the values that surround scientific methodology, considering the ethics (especially welcome given DDs career plan to make millions selling designer babies wink) and communicating with wider society. It is also preparing students who may well end up in careers that are directly concerned with those issues, rather than what happens in labs. And increasingly what happens in labs or is developed in terms of theory turns into a business proposition. DD moaned and winged at first, especially at the essays but soon shut up as she came to appreciate the importance and relevance, and interest.

funnyperson Tue 19-Mar-13 07:58:49

Interesting thread.
If a student is bright enough to cope with learning and remembering all the facts and interested and curious enough to want to be a lifelong learner, that is important. Being caring and sociable is important. Being able to cope with stress too. Your young people might have all of those qualities and it is a question of getting them down in the personal statement.
Work experience is important. If relevant experience is not on the personal statement, the application may well get rejected. Tesco doesnt cut it. There is no point applying for medicine without any real idea of what it might mean to be a doctor.
But caring for an ill relative does more than qualify- shows compassion and empathy. Working in a youth group will demonstrate leadership an communication skills.
Medical schools do have outreach admissions services, and may well come and give the whole group a talk.
Not all teachers at busy schools know or can advise on medical school entry.
I think lots of bright people ont get in because of lack of proper advice on the application process.
The students may have to register and prepare for the UKCAT and/or BMAT exams.
Here is a useful link

funnyperson Tue 19-Mar-13 08:03:15

Incidentally the British Medical Association this year moved a motion to dissuade students from applying to medical school. The student debt will easily top £100,000 and job security is no longer guaranteed. Members voted against the motion on the grounds that the job is enjoyable and rewarding in other ways.

primroseyellow Tue 19-Mar-13 23:13:00

Well done for supporting this young person.
Please encourage him to do research on possible medical schools online and go to their open days. He should do this and also do any approaches to medical schools - it will not be looked on favourably if you do it for him. Open days are important as he will find out what different medical schools are looking for. GCSE grades are very important for many as well as A levels - he needs to check what each requres. He will need to book in advance online to get a place in the medicine talk at open days at most of them because it is so popular. I think it very unlikely that any medical school would even consider him without a reference from school if he is doing A levels - but he could ask at the open days or phone or email the admissions tutors. Some medical schools last year were talking about offers including A*s so he will need to check requirements of those he applies to, if he has As. A high UKCAT score is critical for some medical schools and most of those that use it expect 650+ (and much higher for some eg Sheffield, Newcastle) but occasionally some allowance is made for those from poor schools eg Manchester - there should be information on the websites.

But you need to be aware that a high proportion of those who get to medical school are from private schools. Despite all the talk about outreach etc the reality is that there is a huge pool of very well qualified applicants for medicine. Sadly it is very difficult for those without someone in the know guiding them to get in. There are useful courses eg ISC interview courses which can help students prepare but they are not cheap when there is travel on top. Interviews are often critical. The ISC book is useful.
It can be difficult to get relevant work experience and some medical schools are more flexible about this eg youth work may be considered relevant, or work in a residential care home. It is often difficult to get direct health care setting experience but he should try.
If he applies he will have to use one UCAS option for an alternative course, eg biomedical science. This is because so many who apply do not get in to medicine. Student room has lots of useful background info including eg ratios of interviews to offers. (But don't waste much time on the forums!)
I wish him luck!

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