Dr. Sarah Nicholls is a Medical Doctor from the UK, who completed her graduate entry medical degree at the University of Nottingham following on from completion of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sheffield.
Q1. How did you know medicine was for you?
I had thought about applying to medical school in my teenage years, but when I realised my A levels weren’t going to be good enough I gave up on the idea and did a biomedical science degree instead, with the idea of going into research or teaching after uni. While I was doing that degree I did some volunteering in elderly care once a week, which made me realise how much I loved the feeling of helping people. It started me thinking about medicine again. It was then that I decided to get some more work experience in a hospital and once I started working there I knew I had to apply to medical school. I couldn’t shake the feeling that becoming a doctor was what I had to do with my life. I put my heart and soul into getting more work experience and passing the entry exams, writing a good personal statement and I never looked back!
Q2. Was there ever a point when you questioned going into medicine?
Oh my goodness, YES, absolutely. I questioned myself a lot in the beginning. I remember a particular time when I had just finished my final exams for biomedical science. I was completely burnt out from working two jobs, volunteering and studying, and I remember feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed at the thought of all the hurdles that lay ahead of me in terms of applying to medical school and all the work and studying if my application was successful. I just couldn’t muster any enthusiasm when I imagined four more years of hard work and living as a student again with no income. I took a year out after my degree to travel and work and I am so glad I did, because I had the time of my life and when I found out I had got into medical school I was fighting fit and ridiculously excited to start.
Q3. If you could speak to your medical-school-applying-self, what would you say?
Keep working hard, you are doing so well. All the sacrifices you are making now will be so worthwhile in the future and you will look back and be so proud of what you have achieved… But please get more sleep!
Q4. How does medicine differ for males and females (if at all)?
I think we are so fortunate to be living in the place and time in the world that we are. There is by no means a perfect equality between the sexes, but we have come so far. I’ve noticed that a lot of the males at medical school seemed to perfectly master the art of being outwardly confident, even when they weren’t sure of themselves, whereas many females would either keep quiet or say things like “I’m not sure, but..” or “I may be wrong, but..”. Unfortunately in practical exam scenarios it’s all about appearing confident and able, so this can lose marks. Something I think that’s important to ask as well as gender equality is whether people from LGBTQ+ and BAME feel accepted and have good experiences in medical school and at work. I think there is probably more work that can be done there.
Q5 What advice do you have for medical students entering clinical years?
Be enthusiastic, ask questions and throw yourself into the experience! As you rotate around specialities, try to think of it as a privilege. It may be the first and last time you truly experience that speciality, so even if it isn’t the area you would like to work in in the future, try to make it a memorable rotation for yourself. I have a video on this topic that people starting clinical placements might enjoy: https://youtu.be/uuxxPN1PirE
Q6. What advice do you have for medical students making themselves stand out during the process of applying for Foundation Years?
I’m probably not the person to ask for this as I think I was entirely average! But if there is a particular specialty or area you want to work in then it’s a good idea to start thinking about your application quite early on. Teaching lower years of medical school, applying to awards e.g. competition essays, doing extra research / literature reviews / audits, especially in the area you want to work in will all be beneficial.
Q7. What is the best thing about being a doctor?
Without a shadow of a doubt it’s the people I meet and work with. Patients, colleagues, family members of patients, volunteers – they all make the job so rich and enjoyable.
Q8. What is the worst thing about being a doctor?
There can be some dark times in medicine, which is obviously a struggle to deal with. However, I actually find on a day to day basis that the worst thing is all the paperwork and slow computers! Little annoyances like that in your day can build up to quite a stressful experience when you have an extremely long to-do list and you know you won’t be able to get home in time. Oh and that reminds me, the rota! Working long hours with very little room for manoeuvre can be exhausting.
Q9. How do you juggle medicine and life outside of medicine?
I’ve always been someone who has a million and one things going on outside of work. I thrive on being active, creative and sociable. I always plan ahead to make sure I have enough time to rest as well as to see my friends and family and to do my hobbies. Some weeks that’s just not possible, if, say you are working 6 days out of 7, but on weeks like that I just focus on making sure I’m well rested and nourished between shifts so that when I do get time off I can really enjoy it.
Q10. What is the biggest challenge, in you opinion, facing the NHS today (aside from Coronavirus)?
Three words: LACK OF FUNDING.
I would like to thank Dr. Sarah Nicholls immensely for taking the time to be interviewed – this short blog will have a lasting impact on so many budding medical students/doctors!!