‘Persevere, even when things seem impossible’: one volunteer’s journey into medicine

‘Persevere, even when things seem impossible’: one volunteer’s journey into medicine

I am Emmanuel, a medical student in my third year at Cardiff University. I have been a volunteer for StreetDoctors for the past two years and I am Team Liaison Officer. I work closely with delivery partners and people in the community to ensure Cardiff’s volunteers teach lifesaving skills to as many young people as possible.

Often when I am teaching StreetDoctors sessions I get asked questions about my medical degree and how to persue a career in healthcare. To answer some of these questions, here is my own journey into medicine…

One of the main things that inspired me to pursue medicine was doing work experience in a hospital and a GP surgery. In the GP surgery I saw how vital healthcare professionals were to the community; it was clear their role was much more than simply looking after the physical health of their patients. Serving the community is one of the reasons I applied to do medicine, it is also why I joined StreetDoctors. I wanted to help and give back to those around me, making communities healthier and safer.

Doing work experience is one of the best ways to figure out if a career in healthcare is for you, as you can gain a realistic insight into different roles and skills. To get my placement in a hospital I sent an email to 33 consultants (hospital doctors). Only 8 out of the 33 replied to the email, and 7 out of those who replied said no… This demonstrates that although getting work experience can be tough, persistence can pay off. (See my advice on getting work experience below.)

When applying for medical school I managed to get an interview for one university. I put everything into preparing for it and felt as though I had done my best, so when I was rejected after the interview I was devastated.

Despite those feelings, I was firm in my motivation to study medicine and I did not want to allow myself to lose focus. My new aim was to do the best I could in my A levels and reapply for the year after. Thankfully, on results day I managed to achieve the grades I was aiming for. Then something I could not have anticipated happened: I was offered a place for medicine at Cardiff University where I had originally been rejected! My hard work was rewarded, just not in the way I had expected.

I am so grateful that I did not give up at the first hurdle and these experiences continually remind me to persevere, even when things seem impossible.

Emmanuel Onyango

StreetDoctors volunteer and third year medical student at Cardiff University

Advice if you are thinking about getting work experience:

  • In the current COVID pandemic, some institutions have been offering free, virtual work experience to get a taster of the many different healthcare roles. Check out Brighton and Sussex medical school and the Royal College of GPs.
  • Volunteering in residential homes or care homes can be another good way of getting practical experience of working and communicating with people in a healthcare setting.
  • When emailing consultants about getting work experience in hospitals, keep the email brief, as consultants are very busy people. Summarise who you are, what you are asking for and show some interest in their speciality within three sentences and attach a CV. (This is advice I wish I had known before as it is far more likely to get positive responses than the generic email I sent!)

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