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From Pharmacist to Medical Student

Saif Saeed

I remember it as if it happened yesterday. That rainy morning in August, logging onto my school’s online portal as a fresh-faced 18 year old as soon as the clock hit 8.00am, hoping that all the studying, stress and difficulty of the last few years would finally have come to fruition. But then I saw something which would change the trajectory of the next few years. A thing which no prospective medical student wants to see. A thing that can break both dreams and hearts. And that thing? The dreaded ‘B’ grade of course. And so with one letter, my dreams of medical school had ended.

Or so I thought.

At that age it’s easy to get emotional and think that your life is over. But the older you get, the more you realise that’s just how it was meant to be, and that things do eventually work out. And I wouldn’t have rather had it any other way.

So, following ‘results day’ I decided to re-evaluate my options. Eventually I settled on pharmacy. It ran in the family, and I thought the extra time to do pharmacy would put me in a better position in case medicine didn’t work out again. I was never truly satisfied in pharmacy. It was okay, and I did consider staying in it for a while, but the mostly theoretical nature of my course made me almost envious of the medical students being able to apply their knowledge into practice sooner. Following graduation, I went straight into my ‘pre-registration’ training year. This was a year of full time work in a pharmacy with an exam at the end of it in order to fully qualify. It was this year which confirmed for me that I wanted to try medicine again. Having to constantly refer back to the doctor to change a prescription when I had the knowledge to do it myself was an exercise in frustration. This is not to put down pharmacy by any means. Pharmacists are a valued member of the healthcare multi-disciplinary team, particularly in hospitals. I just felt that I wanted to take a bit of a detour and approach patient care from a different angle i.e. that of a doctor.

So, with a deep breath, I began the application process again. And the first thing? Sit the dreaded UKCAT again, which had since lost a ‘K’ and was now the UCAT. The familiarity brought back memories of my first time applying. The test was pretty much the same, the UCAS website was the same, the personal statement requirements were the same, even my ID number was the same. The only thing different was that I felt more confident in myself this time around. Each part of the process just felt that little bit easier compared to the first time.

Although I used all 4 options on the UCAS form, my first choice was Manchester. I wanted to stay at home, even if it meant doing the full 5 year undergraduate course instead of the 4 year graduate course. The thought of living in student halls again was not one I wanted to entertain for any longer than about 2 seconds.

Then came the interview. I felt nervous as anything. I’m sure everyone else on interview day felt the same, but perhaps some of them just did a better job of hiding it. Deep down I thought to myself “It’ll be fine, whatever happens, you’re still a pharmacist”. Ideally I wanted to do well, but I just felt a bit more confident knowing that, in case I did mess up, I had less to lose this time around. My first interview station was tricky, I struggled to get the words together, but decided not to think too much about it. As each station progressed, I felt myself getting more and more confident and feeling better about it. If you want to know how well you did in an interview, pay close attention to how you feel immediately after it. Your gut feeling has more power than you think. If your interview went well or badly, you will know there and then. Otherwise, in the days, weeks and months following the interview you will overthink and overanalyze every aspect of your performance until you find yourself cringing at the way you said ‘hello’ to the interviewer in station 4.

It’s not that deep, chances are you’ve done better than you think. I say this because I was one of those people. I had convinced myself I’d done badly, so by the time the offer came through I had to look at it a few times just to check they hadn’t made a mistake. It did sink in eventually I suppose.

So, 3 years into degree number 2 and here I am. Was it worth it? I think so. I do feel more satisfied in this position than I did before. And I’m grateful for the way things worked out the way they did. Pharmacy gave me a really good foundation which I’ve been carrying through medicine with me, and the experience I got from working for a year also greatly helped with my confidence when speaking to patients and people. I’m excited for the future to come, safe in the knowledge that, whatever is good for you, will always find its way to you.

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