Rebecca Lane, a Biology teacher at HASG, shares her experience guiding aspiring medics.
Please can you tell us a bit about yourself and your teaching experience?
My name is Rebecca Lane and I have been teaching Biology at HASG (Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls) for 12 years. This is my second year as Teacher in charge of Healthcare Applicants, a role which was created to reflect the fact that increasing numbers of our students are interested in pursuing careers in Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine, Physiotherapy, Pharmacology and Neuroscience.
How long have you been helping students with their medical school applications?
Before the role of Teacher in charge of Healthcare Applicants was created, I supported the students with their preparation for the entrance tests, personal statements and interviews in a weekly Healthcare extension session, which we run for two terms of Year 12 and one term of Year 13. I have been helping with aspects of medical school applications for the last five years.
How much time do you recommend students allocate to writing their personal statement, and how?
I’ll start with the ‘how’! We created a reflective journal for our students which encouraged them to link their observations during work experience and voluntary placements to the attributes required for their chosen vocation, wider reading and extra training they may have undertaken. The Royal College of GPs have produced an outstanding 36-page reflective diary as part of their online ‘Observe GP’ work experience package and I encourage our students to look at this in Year 11; it can be tricky to know where to start with reflection!
We find that the confidence which students gain from reflecting in a logical way enables them to write their personal statements relatively quickly; often, a decent first draft can be written over the course of a weekend.
How many drafts do you find it usually takes for them to nail that star personal statement?
4 or 5.
What have you found is the best way to support students in writing their personal statement?
If a student is struggling to know where to start, I encourage them to pick the three or four (of six) NHS constitutional values which relate most closely to the experiences they have reflected on. Often, I find it useful to remind them to write about experiences from the patient’s point of view: not theirs as an observer or future medic. This goes hand in hand with NHS England’s commitment to patient-centred care. I also encourage them to avoid using pejorative language, especially when talking about the challenges encountered by healthcare professionals in their jobs.
How do you ensure that students write a personal statement that stands out?
Show Social and Cultural Awareness
This will give you an understanding of the issues in society, which are currently affecting the NHS.
You need to show you are culturally open and will treat everyone equally.
When writing about your extra-curricular activities, mention those which include people from different communities/walks of life. Dance and sport (especially if you teach any aspects of these to other people) can lend themselves very well to this.
Don’t ignore cultural/social differences you may have observed during your work experience.
If you have done any shadowing/volunteering in a healthcare setting abroad, you could highlight the difference between the healthcare system in the country you visited and that in the UK (understanding of the NHS required for this).
With your extra-curricular activities, you should not just be showing skills which will make you a better healthcare professional, but demonstrating that you enjoy the extra-curricular activity. This will show the University that you currently have a good work/life balance (and are therefore more likely to maintain it once you start your course).
Important things to remember when you start writing your PS for a healthcare course:
Avoid lists – eg. don’t just list your experiences/skills observed. You should be mentioning the insights you have gained from the experiences and showing how you demonstrate the skills you have seen.
Justify statements with evidence.
Relate experience to a career in healthcare – how will you be a better healthcare professional as a result?
Stay professional – formal language, tone and style should be used. No slang!
Stay personal – read each sentence – could another student have written this? If the answer is ‘no’, this statement is personal.
Show insight and maturity of thought.
Show motivation for your area of healthcare throughout.
When using medical terminology, it must be precise.
When talking about an individual patient, try not to refer to them as ‘the patient’
Do you have any other advice for teachers helping students through the medical school application process?
I am very lucky to work with a fantastic Head of Higher Education (Laura Mee), who sets very early deadlines and articulates every step of the application process incredibly clearly from Year 10 onwards; this means that the application process (of which there are many components and hoops to jump through for the medics) does not feel rushed at any stage: students, parents and staff are fully informed of all stages and aware of the common pitfalls. We operate an open-door policy, which means that students can come and ask us questions at any point during the school day: this helps stop issues from snowballing and from becoming bigger than they need to be.
Wondering how to advise students on finding medical work experience, revising for their BMAT or UCAT, or want to know how to write a good UCAS reference? Our Teachers' Guide covers all aspects of guiding students through the medical school application process.