Dr. Sidd Muzumdar is a London-based Radiology Registrar and founder of ‘Doctalk’, an online admissions consulting platform that connects medical applicants directly with doctors.
With nine years of experience in medical education, admissions counselling and interview panels, ‘Doctalk’ helps candidates develop effective strategies to build a powerful application!
Q1. Do you have any top tips for current students applying to medical school?
Given the current COVID-19 crisis and the increased competition we are anticipating this year, here would be my top 3 tips:
1) Get involved with virtual work experience-
Virtual work experience (VWE) has slowly been on the rise in the past few years, and from the research we’ve done at Doctalk, we’ve seen a big jump this year due to the cancellation of almost all clinical experiences. We’d advise all candidates who have not obtained clinical experience to start building up a portfolio of virtual work experience to demonstrate insight into a career in medicine. This is especially important because candidates who have clinical experience are also supplementing their application with VWE to showcase a wide breadth of experiences and make their application more competitive.
2) Be strategic in applying to Universities-
If there is one single factor that can double or even triple your chances of getting into medical school, it is this one. Applying strategically means first evaluating your own application to identify its strengths and weaknesses, and then applying to the Universities that place emphasis on these strengths.
Some Universities place a heavy weighting on GCSEs, whilst others put a heavy focus on UCATs. Similarly, some Universities will shortlist candidates for interviews largely based on their work experience and passion for medicine. Every year, many candidates will apply to Universities that are just not matched to their application. With only four options, each wrong choice decreases your chances by 25% so this is definitely something that we advise putting time and thought into.
3) Be authentic in your personal statement-
When evaluating your personal statement, it is the global impression formed that counts. This impression is best formed when a candidate is true to themselves and writes down the genuine story of how they came to apply to medicine.
Examiners have read hundreds of statements and so they aren’t expecting every single personal statement to stand out, and every candidate to have a novel reason for studying medicine. All they simply want is a candidate that has earnestly worked hard to learn about this career and demonstrated insight into what life as a medical student and a doctor entails.
Consequently, a personal statement that reads smoothly, flows well and seamlessly tells the genuine story of why a candidate wants to study medicine, will do the best.
Q2. What do you think is the biggest thing that aspiring medical students can do to make themselves stand out?
This is a really interesting question because the answer changes every few years. Years ago, work experience was what would set you apart but in today’s climate, its mandatory!
In the last few years, we have seen a trend of candidates setting themselves apart by publishing their high school research. This is something that we see in less than 5% of candidates and is a fantastic achievement at this age. These candidates have converted their EPQs into a formal manuscript and published them into academic journals focused on high school research. Achieving this feat takes months of planning and dedication, and is usually something most academics achieve only in their undergraduate years or early on as a doctor. Consequently, it really sets these rare candidates apart.
Q3. If you could go back in time, is there anything you would tell your younger self?
If there was one thing I could tell my younger self, it would be to ask myself “why do I really want this?”. Many candidates end up applying to medical school for the wrong reasons: their parents may want them to apply, they enjoy the respect that comes with being a doctor, they have the correct A-level subjects… It can be difficult to break free of these moulds but its important to do so now to ensure you are happy in University and happy in your future. Medical school is not easy and being a doctor is even harder. I would urge candidates to really sit down and think to themselves, is medical school for me?
Q4. What made you decide to study medicine?
I always considered studying medicine from a young age. However, making the decision to study medicine was actually an incredibly difficult for me. I spent weeks reading every thread on the studentroom and months searching to see whether this was actually what was best for me.
Ultimately, I decided to study medicine because it allowed me to combine my passion for the sciences and my love for technology, all whilst helping people. The thought of understanding human anatomy to such an intricate level, that you could perform surgery to cure illnesses seemed magical to be. Understanding the workings of a human body to such incredible detail, that you can use medications to treat long term conditions was intellectually stimulating to me. Being in a career where you can use the knowledge that you’ve gained, to directly affect the lives of people, was the career for me.
I think I phrased it slightly differently for my personal statement but this was what drove me towards a career in medicine.
Q5. What made you decide on a career in Clinical and Interventional Radiology?
I never really considered radiology as a specialty until the fourth year of medical school. Most medical schools don’t have a dedicated radiology placement so a lot of medical students just don’t know enough about it to consider it as a career choice. However, now when I look back at my reasons for studying medicine, radiology seems to be the obvious choice.
Having a keen interest in anatomy, I wanted to train in a specialty where I could directly apply my anatomical knowledge, so naturally surgery and radiology came to mind. I also wanted to work in a field where I would be doing diagnostic and procedural work. With radiology, I am involved in placing central lines, chest drains and abdominal drains; we biopsy tumours, perform joint injections, and with the rise of interventional radiology, we are doing much much more. All this, combined with the ability to have a balanced life made radiology the natural choice.
Q6. How competitive is the application process for Clinical and Interventional Radiology?
Over the last few years, radiology has become increasingly competitive specialty with competition ratios now nearing 1:5 to obtain a national training number. The application process first involves sitting an exam called the MSRA, which is an aptitude test used by multiple specialties in their recruitment process. Applicants are then ranked by their MSRA score, with the top 600 candidates nationally being invited to the interview. The interview scores and MSRA scores are then tallied up to rank candidates nationally with the top 150-200 candidates granted training numbers.
Q7. What can medical students do during their time at medical school to boost their portfolio?
As a medical student, I would say there are three crucial things you need to have on your portfolio to produce a competitive application for your specialty of choice:
Firstly, I would have a first author publication in a specialty of interest. Producing and evaluating research is an important skill to hone early on in your career and looks really good on your CV when applying for a specialty. It shows dedication to the specialty and also sets you apart. It can take a few months to a few years to get a project published so I would get started early.
Secondly, I would have a completed audit cycle. Audits are how we measure our performance to pre-defined standards and is an important part of evaluating and improving patient outcomes. During medical school, I would find a registrar in a specialty you are interested in and do an audit with them.
Thirdly, I would get some teaching experience. Teaching is a major part of being a doctor and something you will be doing all your life. In your later years as a medical student, you will have the opportunity to teach younger years on placement and I would take these opportunities to set yourself apart.
Q8. What does the future of your speciality look like to you?
I think radiology has an incredibly exciting future. From a diagnostic perspective, the advent of new MRI sequences and the constantly improving efficiency of CT have meant that we have more and more powerful technologies to utilize each day. In our day-to-day work, we are already using 3D reconstruction techniques, and using fusion software to overlay images of different imaging modalities. The rise of artificial intelligence in the field is also an exciting prospect. Artificial intelligence will help us triage which scans to view first, protect us from narrow misses and from a global perspective, allow us to deliver imaging services to isolated communities.
Interventional radiology is currently a hot topic because being one of the newest specialties on the block, it is rapidly growing day by day. A lot of the procedures are still in their early trial/experimental phases and this means that patients are getting more and more treatment options each year. With interventional oncology, we can now deliver targeted chemotherapy and radiotherapy. With interventional neuroradiology, we can now treat strokes effectively. With vascular intervention, we offer patients who wouldn’t survive traditional surgery, a minimally invasive alternative. Whether its treating fractures with vertebroplasty, treating aneurysms with endovascular repair or treating cancer with targeted treatments, interventional radiology is rapidly growing!
Q9. Do you ever feel undervalued by other specialities?
I actually never feel undervalued as a radiologist and I think that’s because we work quite closely with all the different specialties in the hospital. Almost every patient that comes through the hospital gets scanned and so we are constantly communicating with clinicians across the board. We work closely with A&E to get patients the scans they need and help doctors in the department decide how best to treat patients. We work closely with ICU to help them with complex image guided procedures such as aspirations and abdominal drains. We are an integral part of the cancer service as we use our imaging to stage cancers, biopsy tumours and with interventional oncology, treat malignancies. I definitely feel valued by other specialties and part of the clinical team.
Q10. What is you opinion on the handling of the PPE crisis of current?
In all honesty, I am probably not in the best place to answer this simply because being in radiology, we have relatively less patient contact compared to other specialties. From the patient contact that I have had, I have been in a fortunate position of being given PPE that meets the WHO guidelines; perhaps we have been relatively lucky to not feel the shortage as much as other hospitals and I am thankful for that.
The truth is that most doctors know they will survive the COVID-19 illness. The real worry stems from the fear of giving it to elderly family members, vulnerable co-workers and members of the community. I understand that this crisis has been unprecedented and so there will always be a period of transition, where we fall short on essential equipment and our processes are not up to scratch. I like to think however that the people, the key workers and the government are all doing their best to keep us safe and provide solutions going forward.
I would like to thank Dr. Sidd Muzumdar immensely for taking the time to be interviewed – this short blog will have a lasting impact on so many budding medical students/doctors!!