Tuesday, 28 August 2012

You say goodbye...

Wow, who'd have thought I'd get writer's block over the final entry on this blog? I certainly didn't, I thought it would be the easiest thing in the world to write, but believe it or not I've been putting this post off for weeks now, and now that I'm actually writing it, it's only after four or five drafts and abandoned attempts!

Throughout my time writing on here I always imagined what writing the final entry would be like, when exactly it would be, whether anyone would still be reading my ramblings, etc (answers: surprisingly sentimental, a year later than originally planned and apparently yes!). One thing I definitely did know however was that I'd only stop updating this blog once I got into medical school...I knew that if and when this happened, I'd no longer be a biomedical sciences student (obviously) and that I'd no longer be grumpy. Well, no longer grumpy about my course anyway. So in a way, this entry is all that I've been aiming for and looking forward to for many years now. And as I now look back, I think this blog has been extremely helpful in allowing me to destress over the past few years. All throughout the bad times (end of second year), good times (third year) and unexpected times (leaving my masters), it's been a space where I can let it all out, both the positive and the negative and it has definitely helped me to unwind, which has been really great and just what I needed at times. I've also received some really sound advice and kind words over the years which is also something else I'm very grateful for!

I moved to Warwickshire 10 days ago and about a week ago I went back down to London for the day to visit some friends from undergrad. We were due to meet in the evening, but I arrived a few hours earlier because I needed to do something I'd been avoiding for a while: I needed to go round each of the campuses I'd lived and studied in over the past four years and have a final reminisce and look around. QMUL and Barts and The London, like most universities in London, have several campuses (in Mile End, Whitechapel and West Smithfield), but what makes QMUL/BL unique is that all of the facilities for each campus are hosted on-site. That means the library, halls, classes etc on each campus are all self-contained and not spread throughout the city. This was definitely one of the things I liked most about QMUL/BL...it was very easy to feel at home on each campus. And since I lived in halls throughout my time at both institutes, it really did feel like home and each campus and locality holds a lot of memories for me. It felt really good to wander around one last time and relive those memories before heading off to somewhere totally different. Warwick will be where I spend the next four years of my life, doing my dream course, which is something I'm very excited about but I'll always remember the good times I had at QMUL/BL too.

So if you're interested in following my journey through med school, please follow me HERE (and if I'm on your blogroll I'd be very grateful if you updated it to include this new page as this blog won't be updated any longer).

Grumpy Biomed (over and out!)

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Grumpy Biomed's inspiration: a long overdue thank you

Currently listening to: The Universal - Blur

So, why did I get into blogging a few years back? There are plenty of other ways of stress relief: talking with friends, listening to good music, going out, walking scenic routes in London, etc. And yes, I've done and continue to do all all of these things, but none of them have been as effective as blogging. It is extremely therapeutic and cathartic to come on here, release my thoughts as a stream of consciousness and a few days, months or even years later to look back and see where I was, what I was going through and where I am now. It helps give me a real sense of perspective and clarity.

But that doesn't really explain why I blog. I could just as easily have kept a diary. But I chose to put this stuff on the internet. This was for two reasons, the first was because I really appreciate the help and advice given to me over the years by readers who leave comments. And I've said thank you for that at several points over the years, but you can never say it enough, so cheers again! But there is one other reason too.

When I was a first year (i.e. a year before I started writing here), I stumbled across a blog written by "MS", a third year biomedical sciences student at UEL and prospective medical student, and at the time applicant. "MS" was quite a different category of student to me: his grades were consistently excellent, he showed up to his classes, and generally seemed very together and organised. But he was not content with being a biomed, he wanted to do medicine. As a first year biomed faced with the seemingly infinite biomedical sciences degree in front of me, I found this anonymous third year's blog to be simultaneously comforting and inspirational in its own way...reading his old posts from the beginning of his course, leading onto his volunteering experiences, UKCAT scores, and finally the submission of his UCAS form provided me with something of a light at the end of the tunnel, a sign that in a few years time I too might end up doing what I truly wanted to do like he had.

As it happened, "MS" got a first and ended up studying medicine at Barts and The London where he is now (presumably) about to go into fourth year...but unfortunately he deleted all his old posts (which were here), however I do remember just how helpful they were to me. So even though he's not likely to ever read this: thank you. You really helped me to maintain some focus and persevere through first year. I hope medicine's just as fulfilling and enjoyable as you hoped it would be.

So, in the middle of second year when I ended up making a blog myself, I deliberately chose to put it in the public domain...so that in case there are any other annoyed and stressed out biomed students out there, they can see that the story can indeed have a happy ending. To that end, I do hope this blog has been as useful to someone else as MS' blog was to me.

(Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, I'm moving blog sometime next week - just needed to say this final thank you before I ditch the Grumpy Biomed alias!).

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Acceptance Afternoon

Currently listening to: Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five - Paul McCartney & Wings

Wow okay, so, during the past few weeks I've been going through some minor administrative and financial crises. Firstly, there's the student finance issue which I detailed a few days ago, which means I will be penniless come September unless SFE sort themselves out, and also the fact that I still haven't found a flat to live in. Bear in mind I'm supposed to be moving in about 5 weeks. This is not due to lack of effort, indeed, a few weeks back I decided to go for a flat, only to be told that the agent had given it to someone else during a period when their office was supposedly closed. Lovely. Anyway, la lutte continue.

So in the spate of all of these incidents, it's been quite easy for me to forget I'm actually about to embark on what has been a dream since childhood for me, namely going to medical school and training to become a doctor. Fortunately, today I was allowed to forget about my lack of money and lack of housing for a while as I went off for the course acceptance afternoon: the first official event I've been to as a soon-to-be medical student at Warwick.

I must say, there is nothing quite as nerve-wracking as walking into a room filled with a hundred strangers who are all chatting...and you're alone and looking flustered as your bus turned up later than you expected. Very nerve-wracking indeed...my initial thought was, "how do they all know eachother?!". Then I realised that if I'd turned up 20 minutes earlier, I'd have been able to get chatting in a less intense environment before the room became packed. I wasn't late by the way, I arrived at 11:20 and the day was kicking off at 11:30. But I was sufficiently late to walk in and look awkward. Anyway, I managed to talk to some people (not people - classmates now!) for a few minutes, before we all went to the lecture theatre. Anyway, the most amazing feeling ever when I went to register and there was my name. Me! As a medical student! On the list! Finally!

The first talk was an introduction to Phase I of our course (roughly: the mostly pre-clinical phase). All seems very interesting and a wide range of different modules, none of which include labs! Yay! The lecturers went through the timetable for our first three terms, which is 9-5, Monday to Friday. Feels less like university, and more like a job! Then again, I'm going to be doing a 5 year degree in 4 years, so I wasn't altogether surprised at the intensity of the timetable really. The molecules professor was very lively and animated indeed, and I think, succeeded in successfully scaring most of the class into actually committing to read the biochemistry reading list over the Summer. I'll be looking through my old notes for sure. I've covered all the topics on the syllabus during undergrad and postgrad, though I could do with some revision.

Lunch followed, more chatting with random people for five minutes at a time (felt like the interview day all over again), and then more talks. This time on less academic things and more practical affairs such as accommodation, student finance, the disability service, occupational health etc. Then a final talk by the MedSoc reps and a few words from the Phase II (wholly clinical part of the course) director. Again, very interesting. Can't believe in 18 months I'll be a clinical med student (you know, if I pass exams and all).

The next time I go back will be in the first week of September when I officially start the course. All I can say is bring it on, I really can't wait! Even the long talk on occupational health was more interesting than every biomed lab I've ever had simply because it's not irrelevant to who I am and what I want to do. To be honest with you, if I'm beginning to find occupational health talks interesting, then it's only a short period of time before I fully evolve into the Painfully Enthusiastic Medical Student:



Anyway, I'm sure I've said this a lot, and I will say it a lot more over the coming weeks and months, and you can call me a naive idealist all you like, but it feels truly amazing and fulfilling to be sat in a lecture theatre knowing that I'm happy and content exactly where I am and that the days of constantly yearning for something else are over. Very happy about that.

(PS: Given just how sickeningly positive and un-grumpy this post was, I'll also add that I'll be switching over to a new blog pretty soon-ish. As I'm no longer grumpy about my degree or a biomed student, it feels vaguely weird to be writing on here. It's a bit like wearing clothes from your childhood: they once served you well, but at a certain point you realise you've grown and you just have to get a new set of clothes, you know?)

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Student Finance, please do your job

Currently listening to: She's a Rainbow - The Rolling Stones

If you go on any medical student forum or graduate entry medicine Facebook group, there's one topic which is guaranteed to make every graduate medic roll their eyes in utter exasperation and annoyance. This being Student Finance England, which is, for those of you unfamiliar with the UK system, the branch of the government in charge of deciding who gets how much student loan and then paying this throughout the academic year.

Of course, the student loans people don't just annoy graduate medics, and indeed I've heard grumbles from students across the academic spectrum. However, as graduate medics we are already entitled to less funding than "ordinary" non-graduate students. We don't get any grants or university bursaries, just the maintenance loan and tuition fee loan. Not even the full tuition fee loan I might add. So bearing this in mind, you can understand why we're pissed off at constantly being screwed around by this particular government body which doesn't even deign to fund us well.

The problem is basically this: the average graduate wishing to go back to university to study for a second non-medical undergraduate degree (BA, BSc, BEng, etc) is not allowed any further funding in way of student loans as they've already been through the university system once. However, it has long been understood that graduate entry medicine (MB ChB or equiv) and dentistry (BDS) are exceptions to this rule, so we receive the tuition fee loan, maintenance loan and the NHS bursary from years 2-4. All good so far. The NHS knows this, the Department of Health knows this, the direct.gov.uk people know this, even the hallowed BMJ did a piece on it for crying out loud. Except it appears that no one bothered to tell the Student Finance people about this rule. Since they're the ones who control the metaphorical piggy bank, it would have been good to include them when it comes to executing these kind of policies. Talk about a total lack of joined-up government.

So, prior to sending off my form (well before the deadline), I decided to pre-empt any chance of Student Finance idiocy by double-checking with them that they know what I'm entitled to as a graduate medic. A bit of confusion at first as the nice man on the phone didn't know what I was talking about, but he went off to talk to his manager and when he came back he assured me that I would be entitled to the tuition fee loan and maintenance loan. All good. A month later, I get a letter informing me that I am entitled to the princely sum of...£0.00. No tuition fee loan or maintenance loan. Obviously their system isn't aware of the exception made for graduate entry medicine and dentistry students.

To say that I was not a happy bunny would be understating it. Because now I have to write a letter and make more phone calls to correct what should really be something very easy for a massive organisation to do. The fact that forums and Facebook groups are FILLED with graduate medics writing about how they've repeatedly had to call Student Finance to ask them to correct this issue (and they usually do - they just need a lot of reminding), should suggest to Student Finance that perhaps it would be more efficient and effective if they were simply to fix their damn system so it doesn't implode when a graduate medic's finances need to be assessed.

It's really quite worrying that year on year a government department manages to screw up by assessing people incorrectly or paying them late and nothing is done about it. Why does this happen? Because students are a minority and graduate medics even more so. So no one cares. If the tax system or pensions system was to balls up in such a monumental way constantly, there would be an outcry. But as it's students, no one's really that bothered.

So, to get away from the rant, I am including some links below which may be of some use to graduate medics and dentsists in need of evidence of our entitlement to funding:

Official Dept of Health letter:

http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_127923.pdf

direct.gov.uk (scroll to the bottom):

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/UniversityAndHigherEducation/StudentFinance/Typesoffinance/DG_171537

Warwick Medical School:

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/academicoffice/funding/undergraduate/mbchb

NHS Careers:

http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/details/default.aspx?id=557

BMJ article:

http://careers.bmj.com/careers/advice/view-article.html?id=20003584

Know your rights, the law is definitely on our side. It's very irritating that so many students are having to waste their time educating a government body on what it should already know, but if the alternative is being left without funding, it's definitely worth taking the time to sort this out.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Just in case you're reading this

(This post will be meaningless to all but one person)

How are you? Happy birthday! I can't believe a whole year's passed since I last saw you. A lot's gone on which I wish I could have told you about. I especially wish I could have told you about getting into medicine, as I think you - more than anyone else - understood just how much that means to me. I have no idea if you ever looked at that scrap of paper upon which I scrawled this blog's address, or indeed, managed to decipher my rubbish handwriting, but if you did, and on the off chance you're reading this, I hope wherever you are and whatever you're doing, you're happy and well. You know I don't believe in fate, but I do hope some day our paths cross again by some fortunate coincidence or another.

Thank you and all the best!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Olive branch

Currently listening to: Sea of Heartbreak - Johnny Cash

I generally have a very good relationship with my parents. This wasn't always the case. Until the age of 18 I didn't really feel that close to them. Of course, I always loved them and they me but it wasn't a great relationship. This was mostly because I used to get in trouble a lot at school (why and whether or not it was justified is a whole other story) which didn't really impress them. But after moving schools at 16 (had a great time at my new school) and eventually moving out at 18 to QMUL, my parents and I gave eachother the necessary space for a proper grown--up relationship to develop. As such, our relationship nowadays is great and I can talk to them about nearly anything.

However, all through uni as our relationship was improving and maturing, there was one subject which was always guaranteed to cause an argument...and that was my desire to do medicine. I, of course, was set on medicine since childhood, had been denied it at 18 and embarked on my biomed degree with "med school" as my only plan for after graduation. My parents weren't happy with this. They considered it a waste for me to do one degree then chuck it all in and do something else. They were convinced that I'd be too old if I qualified as a doctor at 25 or more. That medicine was too stressful, demanding and emotionally draining for me anyway. That I wouldn't be able to afford it. That it was just too damn competitive and I would be one of the unlucky many not to get a place. Ignoring my constant reminders about how I hated the lab, they would repeatedly tell me about how I would do better at a career in biomedical research anyway.

Needless to say, I largely tried to avoid the subject of post-degree options with them throughout my BSc, especially since during years 1 and 2 when my grades didn't seem good enough for medicine anyway, as I didn't want to constantly be reminded about how I was indulging a pipe dream and how I could do great with a 2:2 and a masters followed by a PhD (I was given this particular piece of advice a lot). I'm fairly certain they would tell me this stuff out of a desire to not see me get upset about not getting into medicine and because they wanted me to feel more confident in my other abilities rather than get hung up on medicine. They're certainly not spiteful or discouraging, so because of the fact that they were doing it out of love, I didn't really feel angry at them, just slightly weary everytime the subject was brought up.

However, fortunately, this time last year I got a 2:1 for my degree, and then two months later did well in my UKCAT. Last summer, my parents realised that I was good enough to apply to medical school, and maybe even get a place. So they began taking an interest in my med school choices, giving me advice, and even better, listening to me and trusting me when I would tell them that I'd done my research and it doesn't matter if I qualify at 26, that there would be loans available, and that I would be able to handle the course. It was really great to see them taking an interest and not stubbornly continuing to tell me I should do a PhD.

So, credit where it's due, this past year they've been very helpful and supportive indeed and were really happy when I got my offer in March. They still do occasionally tell me that I must be mad for wanting to go into a career which can be very depressing/exhausting at times, but again, I think that's said out of concern rather than actually thinking that I'm not going to be good enough for it. And to top it all off, they got me a stethoscope as a "well done on getting in" present:


I had originally planned to buy my own stethoscope at the start of term (had heard discounts would be available)...but it was really nice of them to surprise me like that, and I suppose, it's an olive branch of sorts. Hopefully no more arguments, it's a bit too late now anyway because with less than three months before I begin my MB ChB, I'm super-excited and can't wait to get started!

Hope you're all doing great and everyone's exams/results have gone well!

Monday, 19 March 2012

To Warwick

Currently listening to: Touch Me - The Doors

Short version: I'm amazingly happy, it's slowly beginning to sink in that come September I'm going to be a medical student at Warwick!

Long version: It would be pretty fair to say that in the weeks between having my interviews and getting my Warwick offer, I felt progressively more and more disillusioned about the whole UCAS process. My bemusement continued when I (with justification) got rejected from the Barts and The London A100 course after that awful interview. I say with justification, but that didn't make the rejection any nicer to deal with, so for nearly three days I was in the most depressed, mopey, anxious mood I've ever been in, even worse than during the darkest days of my biomed degree. The irony of the matter is that I shouldn't have been depressed over this rejection at all. This is because a few days ago Barts and The London emailed me to say that whilst I haven't been successful for their GEP, as a consolation they'd like to make me an offer for...their A100 degree! My precise reaction to this..?

Because quite frankly, it meant that I put myself through three days of pure hell for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Admittedly, my anxiety isn't BL's "fault", but all the same I do wish they could have made up their mind properly instead of jerking me around for a week. Ah well. So with that, UCAS 2012 is over for me, and I finish with two offers: Warwick GEP and BL A100 and two rejections: Southampton GEP and BL GEP. A brilliant result, and what I'd been hoping for since October.

The decision as to where I'm headed next September is therefore very easy to make. Because of the fact that GEPs are shorter and come with tuition fee loans and A100 degrees don't, I'm off to Warwick.

I think a large part of me will be very sad to leave BL, QMUL and the East End. I came here when I was 18 and I lived in QMUL halls for all four years so I feel a pretty deep attachment to the university and the campus. I had a lot of unique life experiences, experiences I'll never forget here, made many good friends both amongst students and staff, and for that BL and QMUL will always retain a special place in my heart. Whilst I have got into BL and can choose to stay on here, the fact that fees are now £9K a year instead of £3K makes it a largely worthless offer, especially without a tuition fees loan, since I just don't have that kind of money lying around. So it's time to close the QMUL/BL chapter in my life and start the Warwick chapter.

And I'm very much looking forward to Warwick. At the moment it seems new and unfamiliar, a bit like when you leave a primary school you feel safe and warm in and go to a massive, mysterious secondary school. But very soon you settle into it and have a good time. I'm sure Warwick will be exactly the same. The interview was lovely, the staff and current students were incredibly friendly and the medical school looked really nice, and I did say last month that I could definitely see myself there. So whilst I feel sad that my time at QMUL came to an end last year and my time at BL will come to an end shortly, I feel very happy because where I'm headed next seems just as nice. Roll on September 3rd!