Heral wanted to study medicine but didn’t know who to ask about applying. She turned to YouTube for answers, found support through her family and was driven by her personal passion.

Heral VaghelaDuring A-levels, you’re asked this question: what career do you want to pursue? I wanted to become a doctor. However, I was stepping into the unknown. My parents didn’t go to university (my dad is a builder and while my mum worked, she was a cashier). No one in my family had studied medicine before.

I was the first person in my family to pursue medicine and part of the first generation in my family to go to university. Not knowing anyone who had studied medicine before, I had no idea where to start. Despite the challenges, I’m now a first-year medical student at Edge Hill medical school. Here’s how I made my dream a reality.

How it started

As I was growing up, I always had this desire to help people, I just didn’t know how I wanted to. During year 9 in school, I had to select options for GCSEs. I was drawn to the idea of health and social care, so I decided to choose this option and find out more about working in healthcare. I became fascinated with it. My passion to become a medical professional grew and I wanted be a part of the NHS.

As school came to an end, I was seriously thinking about pursuing medicine as a career. But I also had a fear of actually applying to study medicine. I knew medicine was a hard degree to get into and as someone who didn’t know many people with a medical background, it felt like I was at a disadvantage.

Just like me, there could be many people that are not sure where to find support.

To build my confidence, I volunteered at my local hospital in the maternity ward. This experience really made me appreciate the different roles that are essential in medicine. I hadn’t even come across some of the roles before. However, it was important to understand how, without these roles, a hospital could not function. I also had the opportunity to do some work experience at a general practice for two weeks. It helped me understand how much GPs do and the many roles they play within a practice. I was lucky to have had this experience – I know it can be a rare opportunity for many people who want to apply for medicine, especially those who don’t have doctors in their family.

Teaching myself with YouTube

Just like many medical students, after completing my first year of sixth form, I was preparing for the UCAT – one of the entrance exams to medical school. It was daunting. I didn’t know who to ask for help because I didn’t know many people who had done this admission test. So I searched the internet for help on what to do and found a wealth of information on YouTube.

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From the admission tests to the personal statement to interview styles, YouTube was my go-to place to find information when I had no one else to turn to. As someone who likes to know everything when getting into something, online resources really helped me as prospective medical student. While my family and my sixth form tutor were supportive, I had to find other ways to navigate the selection process into medical school.

However, without my support network, I would not have been able to get through the application process and through A-levels. It makes me realise how difficult it is for an individual to go through it on their own. Just like me, there could be many people that are not sure where to find support.

Widening participation in medicine

In 2011, according to the BMA, out of the 11,125 people that were accepted into medicine and dentistry, only 4.1% were from the most disadvantaged background. When you see fewer people that look like you, it makes you wonder: will I fit in and is medical school for someone like me? In 2017, five new medical schools were approved, to increase the number of doctors in shortage areas. Edge Hill Medical School was one of them, with a particular focus on widening participation.