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Lockdown: Wider Reading for Aspiring Medics

As I am sure most would agree, we seem to have a little more time to get things those “things we normally don’t have time for” done in lockdown.

Whether it’s the lack of a commute, to school, or university, or work, or the reduction in the distractions that typically come hand-in-hand with being surrounded by people all the time; now is an excellent opportunity to be working on your medicine application, directly or indirectly.

The Importance of Wider Reading

Explore Your Interests

The best reason for wider reading, in my opinion, is to explore your own interests.

The first time I really considered medicine as a potential career was after I read Do No Harm by Henry Marsh.  I attended a talk where he read excerpts from the newly published book and afterward, I bought the book and got it signed. I went home and read the entire book in one night leaving myself sleep-deprived for school the next day – not something I would necessarily advise.

Even though that initial consideration of a career in medicine was fleeting, my passion for science has led to the growth of a collection of books relating to the various aspects of science and medicine that I find interesting.

Add to that the collection of life sciences textbooks from my first degree, and looking at my bookshelves, you might think I was somewhat obsessed, but it just reflects my interests and what I enjoy reading.

You don’t have to collect a small library.  In fact, you could find some good free resources online. I have read most of the books I own several times. Sometimes it is good to have the physical books when it comes to writing personal statements and preparing for interviews. 

If you are not sure what you are interested in, I will suggest a few books I love as starting points, but your best bet is to look at your schoolwork or the things you have seen on work experience that you would like to know about in more depth.

These are your starting points, and just so you know, your wider reading doesn’t have to be books. Having a subscription to New Scientist, the student BMJ or a newspaper with a good science editor would provide excellent reading material, and if you feel comfortable doing so, you could ask your teachers to recommend some easier to understand scientific literature reviews and research papers on the topics you are interested in.

Book recommendations:

Magazines:

You could also consider reading blogs written by medical students and doctors to get an insight into life as a medic however I have only found one (Life of a Medic) so far that is both current, and relevant the UK medical system. 

Develop Your Understanding of a Career in Medicine

Not only is reading an excellent way to explore your interests but through reading around the science and medicine you are interested in, you may find that you are able to build up quite an accurate representation of what it is like to be a doctor.

Obviously, reading is never going to be able to fully substitute the experience of shadowing a doctor, or as I did, living with a medical student for two years whilst studying for my undergrad, but at the moment, reading is our best option for gaining a strong perception of what a career in medicine entails, and it will help you to demonstrate to the admissions tutors that you know what you are getting into and that you still want to pursue it.

Stay Up-To-Date on Current Hot Topics

You don’t have to read and memorise all of the COVID-19 statistics we are seeing in the news at the moment.

However, having a good understanding of what is going on in the world (e.g. research and testing for vaccines and treatments), and being able to explain the rationale behind some of the government responses (such as social distancing and lockdown) will put you in good stead for medical interviews in the next cycle where this is almost guaranteed to come up.

You may find it interesting to read around the mental and physical health implications of a lockdown, or the research methods used to find a vaccine, or even read a blog written by a medical professional that gives their personal account and perception of COVID-19 on the frontline. It is important that you choose reliable news outlets though, and this will be touched on later.

How Wider Reading Adds to Your Application

Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily count reading the General Medical Council (GMC) guidelines for Future Doctors as wider reading in the usual sense, I’m going to add it here. I think these guidelines are something that every aspiring medic should read; almost like compulsory reading that isn’t actually compulsory. This is because knowing what the key qualities and attributes of a doctor are will allow you to develop the necessary skills and work on any weaknesses you may have ahead of submitting your application. 

In terms of how your typical wider reading – such as the books, magazines, and journal articles – adds to your medical school application, its more about demonstrating your commitment and drive to study medicine.

If you can demonstrate you understand the expectations and requirements of being a doctor, and that you already possess some of the key skills (e.g. communication, teamwork, empathy), you are one step closer to making a convincing and compelling argument in your personal statement or interview regarding your suitability to be a doctor.

Finding Your Sources and a Note on Reliability

I have already mentioned the titles of a few books and magazines above, but these lists are short and are not meant to be prescriptive or exhaustive.

As I stated previously, the best part of wider reading is exploring your own interests, and that might necessitate finding your own sources. If you struggle to find your own sources, you could ask your teachers, or start a reading ideas swap with other aspiring medics you know via email or a text.

In general, books do tend to be quite good sources as a starting point, however, it would be remiss of me not to point out that publication date counts for a lot when it comes to science. Science changes fast and reading something published even just five-years ago could lead to you developing an understanding of scientific concepts that are out of date.

Obviously, this depends on the topic of the book, but in general, the newer the publication, the more likely the information is to still be current. This rule stands for most things you will read, and this is also the reason that there are often so many editions of the core textbooks (Fun Fact: there are 41 editions of Gray’s Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice).

Another important note on reliability is knowing the credentials of the author. If the book is a personal memoir of a doctor’s experiences in medicine (as Do No Harm and When Breath Becomes Air both are), they could be considered to be reliable accounts of these individuals’ perceptions of the field and these perceptions could help you to form your own understanding alongside actual work experience.

However, if your source is a news article, make sure you find out who is writing it and where they are getting their information. When it comes to the news, try to stick to reputable and non-biased newspapers such as The Independent, or the BBC. Always fact-check, and read with a critical appreciation of the material. The more critical and reflective you are, the more you are going to get out of it.

Words by: Nea Sneddon-Jenkins

Other COVID-19 articles to check out:

10 Ways to Look After Your Mental Health in Isolation

COVID-19 NHS Hot Topic – PPE

How to Use Your Time Effectively in Lockdown

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