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James Gilham

james1.jpgYear: Third (At time of interview: January 2017)

Hometown: Devon

Education: Degree in Biochemistry from the University of Birmingham

Why did you choose Warwick?

Warwick is very unique in that it is 100% graduate entry only. There's no feeding back into an undergraduate programme after the first or second year. That was probably the biggest factor for me and, in hindsight, I was right to place that so highly. In my year alone I'm surrounded by people who gave up fantastic, well-established careers in everything from the finance industry or clinical research to music and teaching because they wanted to study medicine.

The other big factor was Warwick's location, close to Birmingham and only an hour and a bit away from London on the train. There's certainly more to do here than compared to sleepy Devon!

What work experience had you gained before applying here?

I worked as a full-time healthcare assistant for three years at my local district general hospital! I worked mainly on the medical assessment unit but also worked many shifts on surgical, care of the elderly, cardiac, ITU wards as well as A&E. During that time I was able to meet professionals from all corners of the NHS and observe them in their various lines of work. It's easy to focus on work experience involving doctors, consultants and general practitioners, but a large amount of what I learnt about being a doctor came from the people who work with them day in and day out: nurses, therapists, radiologists, ward clerks, receptionists, the list is endless!

For my application I formally shadowed the medical team for a few days, spent some time in day surgery with a consultant surgeon and also shadowed a GP for a day.

How are you finding the MB ChB so far?

I'm in my third year now, which means I have tasted all three phases, progressing from the preclinical lecture-orientated phase to the clinical, more self-directed learning phase. The first year can be quite a barrage of information and there are certainly times where you wonder how anyone can be expected to retain such a wealth of topics, but you learn to adjust your learning style and your way of thinking. Anatomy in particular was a very difficult topic to keep on top of!

Progressing into the clinical environment was a bitter-sweet experience. By the time phase 1 ended, my friends and I were quite tired with lectures and were looking forward to practising what we had been taught in earnest. But this meant that we were exposed to being wrong, a lot! It's part and parcel of studying medicine - you learn something from a book or a lecture and then fail, initially, to apply it in a real-world setting. Missing an obvious clinical sign, performing a poor cardiac exam, not knowing the correct spectrum of tests for a particular disease. Every medical student experiences it!

Which leads nicely to phase 3, where things really start to come together (mostly!). It's at this point where I can really appreciate the amazing teaching I had in the first couple of years. I'm by no means close to being the finished article but I'm still really enjoying what I do.

What do you particularly like about the course?

I've personally really enjoyed the CBL (case-based learning) aspect of the course. I was fortunate to be placed in with a group of people that I've become really good friends with, whilst also being able to learn and complete the tasks and cases together.

Have you been involved in any extracurricular activities?

There are an unbelievable number of opportunities and societies to be involved with either with the medical school or the university itself. Despite what many people say, it is possible to study medicine and have a life outside of it. Most of what I do outside of medical school is non-medicine - I go to a Latin and ballroom class and try to get to the gym as often as I can.

As for medical extra-curricular based activities, I like to attend the Anaesthetic Society events and have also been a keen participant in the peer teaching here at WMS, teaching the cohort below when I was in second year and now again in third year.

Do you have an idea about what you'd like to specialise in in the future?

Because I've spent a lot of time on medical wards already through my previous job I've been indoctrinated to internal medicine as opposed to surgery, paediatrics, OBGYN, psychiatry etc. As I go through my rotations at the moment I try to keep an open mind waiting for something to grab me, but I'm always drawn back to medicine. In particular I'm really interested in critical care medicine and being an intensivist.

What advice would you offer people considering applying?

As someone who applied several times before being accepted I can say that there are two main things that make the difference:

1. Aptitude tests. Unfortunately a lot of medical schools get such a large volume of applicants that they often set a strict cut-off score for their respective aptitude test. It' best to check with the university to see how they use the score - is it a cut-off or is it used as a tiebreaker for applicants with similar CVs and personal statements?

2. Do you have a true appreciation of what it means to be a doctor? This can only be obtained through work experience really - by talking to doctors and other allied healthcare professionals. It doesn't need to be three years' worth, or even in the acute setting! Some people can get months' worth of understanding in one week at a nursing home.

Also, if you are lucky enough to secure an interview, be prepared for the obvious question: 'Why do you want to be a doctor?'