Medicine is a privilege and last week I had the privilege of spending a day interviewing bright young things seeking admission to study medicine at Glasgow University.
The interview was the final stage of application for those having performed well on the UKCAT and submitted excellent personal statements. So we had the best of the bunch to see and they did not disappoint. We were reminded we were choosing the doctors of tomorrow, who would look after us in our old age.
A diverse bunch: a smattering of boy band hair styles and the odd fashion no-no. A girl who struggled through the door with bulky shopping bags detailing morning visits to Primark and New Look and a boy who was well on his way in pursuit of his planned career in neonatology, specifically inborn errors of metabolism.
In the most part though, they were a group of highly motivated, well prepared individuals with exceedingly firm handshakes.
I was impressed by their articulation, their preparation both in the short term and longer term. Many had used a gap year to work in real, relevant jobs: one looked after disabled children and adults and another was an auxiliary nurse in an outpatient department.
Those experiences gave them lots of scope for answering many of the questions; how to manage conflict and how to work in a team. Many were all-rounders with musical achievements, Duke of Edinburgh awards, social leadership roles and deputy head girl and boy roles.
It was interesting to see those who attended Glasgow University’s Reach programme. This national project was set up to increase the awareness of professional degrees at five Scottish Universities, to those students who may not otherwise consider these opportunities.
The program prepares and supports individuals between S4-S6 who choose to pursue entry to study medicine, law, dentistry and veterinary medicine and surgery by giving advice on qualifications and aspects of degree study, campus visits, access to the medical school’s virtual learning environment (where they can ‘meet and chat with current undergraduate e-mentors).
There are visits to workshops and skills labs and a week of summer school for which a topic is researched in advance, and tutorials later assess students on their participation. There is coaching on UCAS, UKCAT and personal statement submission, help to find work experience placements and interview skills workshops.
Realising a good doctor is not purely a high academic achiever but needs additional skills to relate to different patients at different times is not new, but there is now positive action being taken to open up medicine to those from local state schools who have no parental example of what a career in medicine involves and who cannot simply phone their father’s mate to arrange a surgical placement.
This is not positive discrimination as some have cried. It merely opens the admissions process to give all, equal opportunity to apply.
The Reach students were different to their privately educated counterparts. They were less polished but in no bad way. They looked more like school children dressed in smart civvies rather than overly coiffed and styled wedding guests; their answers were good and delivered in a very matter of fact way. They appeared sensible, sincere and confident.
They appeared to really mean what they were saying rather than merely providing a planned and coached answer from memory. They spoke directly, addressing the crux of the matter without any political correctness or dressed up language.
One said he would not ‘have a bash’ at something he was not sure how to do. Another shrugged and said of course she would speak up to an intimidating boss because ‘everyone should be able to have an opinion’.
I got the feeling many such candidates would be lovely doctors. Yes they had the qualifications but they also had a manner similar to the local population and would quickly gain its trust. They would be easy for patients to relate to and would be considered ‘normal’ and straight talking.
I could see their future roles: the quietly sincere caring girl would be a great geriatrician, the frank talking chap from Paisley was decisive, direct and down to earth, well suited to many specialities or general practice.
They showed enthusiasm and a feeling of having a real chance to elevate themselves into a new world, far above any member of their family. They had no god given right to go to the same medical school as their parents. They were now so close and hungry for the chance.
The last question was ‘Why did they want to study in Glasgow?’. I suspect it was not the culture nor the old prestigious university but rather the simple fact that their parents could not afford to support them living anywhere other than home.
I left after an enjoyable day, optimistic and reassured that the doctors of tomorrow would all be very capable by the time I may need their care, regardless of their schooling.