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From Home School to Medical School

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

By Daniel Aszkenasy

Hello! My name is Daniel Aszkenasy, and I am a 3rd year medical student at Newcastle University. I would like to take this opportunity to write about my experience of applying to medical school, and I hope that it will be informative for others who are thinking about medical school and applying themselves:

I personally have a significantly different background to several others in my year, in that I spent the entirety of my school years in home education. My classrooms were my bedroom and the dining room downstairs; my school run involved a simple climb or descent of the thirteen steps of our staircase. I self-taught large parts of my GCSE subjects, as well as A level Chemistry, and had one-to-one tutors to help out with the rest. At the age of 16, choosing my A levels, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do when I reached university age - to go to medical school seemed like a golden, inaccessible dream. Application-to-offer ratio 10:1. UK Clinical Aptitude Test. Multiple Mini Interviews. Most medical schools needing you to get straight As at your A levels first time to be considered for entry at all. The odds really did seem to be well and truly stacked up against me being able to do what my parents did and become a doctor. I decided to focus on my A levels at hand and, if my results were good enough, put in an application during a gap year. No harm in giving it a try and seeing what happens…

A rollercoaster ride of two years of A levels, and then the application process, followed. Doing Biology and Chemistry A levels from home by means of a correspondence course with Pembrokeshire College meant that I had to travel to their facilities to carry out and pass the practical elements of the courses - which involved several all-day train journeys from Durham, near where I grew up, to Haverfordwest in south-west Wales. Getting those magic 3 As for medical school, with mountains of self-study, often feeling like you were fighting it out alone, certainly wasn’t easy. I’d heard medical students say that self-study skills are important for the course, so I saw it as a good chance to get those skills up to scratch, to help me settle in better if I actually got in… and so, on June 23rd, 2016, as the nation headed to the polling stations to vote in the EU referendum and thunderstorms raged over London and the south-east, I was writing out respiration and neurology six-markers on my very last A level paper of all, with my very red, sweaty and weary right-hand and UniBall black pen. Finally, I closed the paper gently and handed it to the invigilator. That was it. I’d done everything I could do to make my dream come true. Was it enough? Please, please let it be enough… please…

And it was! AAA in Biology, Chemistry (by two marks!) and German. Phew! One hurdle cleared, but I still felt such a long way from lectures, clinical skills, anatomy and physiology. My attention turned to the UKCAT, or UK Clinical Aptitude Test. This test is used by several medical schools to prioritise and select applicants for interview. It was an exam I’d been told was “the worst” by countless applicants and medical students, and it was a test which “could not be revised for” - or so it was said. I bought huge practice books and hammered through them until they looked like they were fifteen years old. We travelled by train to Germany to visit friends, and sitting in a typically French café in the Gare de l’Est in Paris whilst waiting for our connecting train to Stuttgart, I was for once less interested in the magnificent architecture of my favourite city of all around me. All that mattered was whether I could work out those sequences, read those paragraphs, and solve those calculations well enough to stand a chance of getting an interview at medical school. That was the goal, and nothing else mattered. I reached a point where I was able to blank out everything around me; to be fixated on that one ambition; to not fail. “Go for it, Daniel, you can do anything if you put your mind to it” - the words of my late grandma from Tyneside ringing in my head. I told myself to keep going; keep going; even as the searing heat of an early autumn French heatwave beat down on my neck and the lyrical French train announcements echoed and washed around the station concourse like the water in a Monet masterpiece in the Musée de l’Orangerie.

My UKCAT test day arrived. I got on the bus into Newcastle, and skim-read paragraphs of a Michael Palin book to prepare myself for what was coming my way. I got to the test centre. I emptied my pockets, locke