Understanding your motivation to study Medicine is an essential part of your Personal Statement and interview prep, and it’s what will help you to answer the all-important question: ‘why do you want to be a Doctor?’.
Dr Andy McKeown BSc MBChB MEd MRCGP FHEA is the University of Buckingham‘s Deputy Director of Medical Education – Crewe Campus and is regularly involved in the admissions process. In this blog, he shares his advice for aspiring Medics can update their motivation for a post-COVID world.
In previous years as I have sat in MMIs listening to applicants for Medical School tell me why they want to be a Doctor – and I’ve often been surprised by the predictability of the majority of answers. After a day of interviews, I often reflect on the answers I’ve heard and think back to my own thoughts as a budding student. Now, more importantly, I reflect on whether the COVID-19 pandemic would have changed my own answer.
During what has been a very difficult year, the global population has looked to its leaders for inspiration, guidance and veracity. At times, the ebb and flow of the pandemic has led to a distrust of some types of leaders, especially those in the political and healthcare sphere.
However, the population’s belief in the leadership shown by healthcare professionals has been unfailing. As a clinician myself, I feel privileged to enjoy such belief from the general public. It has been a humbling experience to be ‘one of the workforce’ and to see the various ways members of the community have thanked the Medical profession, from weekly claps and rainbow walls to marches and rallies.
In some ways, the last year has been the epitome of the phrase many (including myself, over twenty years ago) used in my interviews for undergraduate medicine: I have had the opportunity to ‘make a difference’.
But what will making a difference look like as we come out of the pandemic? And how might you discuss these at interview?
When we search for the most suitable candidates to go through Medical School, those who easily embrace change have always been well equipped to do well. Currently, technological changes to how we practice Medicine have taken a seismic leap forward during the pandemic. There is no going back.
The rise of telemedicine and the skills required to consult with patients remotely will remain of paramount importance. Patients enjoy the flexibility and convenience it brings. Working online for most countries across the world has allowed easier collaboration amongst health service.
We will need Doctors who are comfortable working without face-to-face contact, in a multinational environment, both clinically and for research. We will need Doctors who are passionate about innovation and can solve the issues that remote practice brings, through virtual and augmented reality and with robotics and artificial intelligence.
However, we will also need Doctors who recognise when humanity and physical presence trumps all of these things. Planning for a future that happens to have arrived five years earlier than anticipated due to COVID is a prospect equally as exciting as it is daunting. Are you someone who enjoys the technical aspects of a job and can see where technology would help patients, rather than hinder?
Prior to the pandemic, many new Medical Students have had a rather fixed idea of what being a Doctor is like. Some are extremely privileged to have never been in contact with a health professional outside of routine check-ups. Some have never felt the hardship of losing a loved one or experienced socio-economic deprivation. Their experience of Medicine is seen through the lens of the media, television and film.
Most students perceived Medicine as being a purely hospital-based profession, with options to be a physician or a surgeon. For many applicants, this experience has changed. There are very few members of the public that have not been personally affected by the pandemic.
Initially, as the pandemic took its hold, we were bombarded with television reports of hospital Doctors working to the limits of their capacity. As time has gone on, however, we have seen that it is not just those in hospital-based specialities that have made significant contributions to the cause. Specialities that in many Medical School curricula have been difficult to spot have begun to play a crucial role in the longer-term battle against COVID.
Within weeks, virologists and immunologists had helped to fully sequence the novel coronavirus. Public Health clinicians have been integral to analysing the spread of the virus, determining measures to prevent and treating it. Vaccine specialists have developed a myriad of extremely effective vaccinations, having been administered in the UK by primary care professionals in a variety of settings. Mental health professionals have been tackling the issues triggered by isolation in a significant proportion of the public.
Medicine has never been a broader church, requiring well-trained students and trainees with broad interests and generalist skills. More than ever, it requires ordinary people to perform extraordinarily. It requires passion and genuine curiosity, with a tolerance of ambiguity. When you are interviewed, think deeply about how the pandemic has affected you and those around you. How could the skills and interests you already have help the population, once you qualify?
The political shift away from the importance of expertise across the globe is another factor to consider in the post-COVID world. Currently, in some countries, we are failing to convince the public of the need for vaccination to free us from the grip of the pandemic. “The public has had enough of experts”, as a politician once said.
If this is the case, it has never been more important for Medics to be a shining beacon of authenticity and truth. The only way this can happen is by newly qualified Doctors having an excellent command of evidence-based Medicine.
Being able to understand, weigh up and communicate evidence to the public and colleagues are skills required by Doctors of all specialities. Understanding how to interpret an original piece of research is now of paramount importance and can no longer be left to the few who have research interests.
Thanks to the advent of the internet, Medicine is less about the knowledge you retain, but about the skills and attributes required to interpret facts and make high-end decisions. For some, who have excelled in remembering huge numbers of facts for exams, this may come as a surprise.
Of course, it’s important to remember common details of conditions and treatments to have at your fingertips, however, Medicine is more nuanced than this. Often patients are more expert in the facts of a condition they live with than their Doctor, but they require guidance through emerging evidence and its validity. Learning about evidence-based Medicine is more than just a phrase to throw in at interview; it’s a way of life for the newly qualified clinician.
Currently, we have no way of knowing what the long-term effects of the pandemic are. ‘Long covid’ may have lasting consequences to the public at large, from intermittent rashes to tinnitus, lasting organ damage and chronic fatigue. It’s likely the Doctors of the future will need to be pioneers in treating these complications. Inventiveness will be key to our success, as will looking to the past pioneers of pandemic management.
Medicine has always been a mix of the historic and the innovative, the acute and chronic. Those students that understand and are interested in this balance are likely to be successful in the new world. What have we learned from previous pandemics that will help us to solve the complications of this one?
I suspect the pandemic has changed my answer to why I wanted to be a doctor? It has given me the chance to practice Medicine in an arena of true uncertainty. It has tested my knowledge and skills to the limit. It has reminded me of the need not just to be an excellent communicator, but to have the compassion to develop meaningful relationships with my patients. It couldn’t be further from the glamorous television lifestyle of a Doctor, but it has been much more meaningful.
The University of Buckingham Medical School has a curriculum and Faculty that is well placed to help hone these skills and attributes. The question is, do your reasons for wanting to be a Doctor fit the likely course that COVID has set us on?
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