All In or All Out?

It seems a lifetime ago since I withdrew my GEM application in October and the offers are already rolling out for September 2022. 

I haven’t been active and I’ve barely looked at my Instagram feed. At first it was resentment and shame; I was being left behind for another application cycle and on the outside looking in at the happy offer holders… Then life got busy. Like, super BUSY. Before I knew, I had not registered for the March GAMSAT, the sitting is over and did I miss it? No, I didn’t miss the torturous all-day testing, sat alongside peers, the competition, the months of waiting for results. I do miss being part of the community, everyone being in the same boat, sharing the weight, the comradery. 

So, do I want to sit on the bench and watch or do I want to be in the game too? Pretty sure I want to be in the game… My first application cycle was 2019/2020. I’ve missed the 2021/2022 cycle and the next cycle is 2022/2023. 3 years in-between! I’ve never really seen everything as being time sensitive but as I approach 30, still needing to get admission, then the intense 4-year course, 3 years of being a junior doctor, 3 years of training to become a GP – I could be pushing 40! Which is both a terrifying and heart-breaking realisation. 

Next steps:

UCAT, GAMSAT or both? Well, realistically, it’s going to have to be both. I would love to never, ever sit any aptitude/ medicine entry exams again and the lesser of two evils would be the UCAT. But of course! GAMSAT, my nemesis, we’re going to meet again. 

UCAT booking opens in June which gives a 3-month (+/-) testing window. Revision from today would give almost 6 months (if a September test date).

GAMSAT registration opens in mid-May. Revision from today, gives a 6month period.

Work Experience:
I’m extremely fortunate that my work experience – paid and voluntary, will mostly still be valid for 22/23 cycle, due to COVID. A little bit extra, wouldn’t hurt but my extensive employment as a HCA for the NHS and an agency HCA in the community are two solid, hands on care experiences that I’m forever thankful for. 

I know the hoops; I know I have to jump through them to meet interview selection. I’ve done it before… It just seems like SO much work to get back to that stage of an interview, just one! Feeling a bit like a one hit wonder. I need to be all in. 


Adding More Turns in The Road to Medicine

It’s all become a bit official so I can now fully share my plans for the next 6 months or so.

Firstly, I won’t be sitting the GAMSAT this year. Unfortunately my testing date has conflicted with some other life events which means that I can’t get to Liverpool, sit the exam and get back very easily. The additional cost of hotels and travel have just become more of a pain than a help. It’s money I’ve lost out on and I can’t get back (or defer) and that’s annoying but at this stage it’s not hugely important and to be honest, I don’t feel ready to sit it on the 9th September!

So, you’re probably thinking why on earth would I miss my GAMSAT exam and what could be SO important to take priority? Well.. I have been invited to work up in Shetland (most northernly islands in the UK) for the next 6 months due to their shortage of healthcare workers. The post will be working within Learning Disabilities and Autism (including challenging behaviour) but it based in rural community care and crisis management. The Shetland Islands do not have any Mental Health inpatient services and the closest are within the Grampian Trust (Aberdeen). The Mental Health/ Psychiatric services are extremely understaffed, similarly with their acute medicine services and community care teams.

As it has all been confirmed and starting to really take shape, I’m booked on the 19:00 sailing from Aberdeen on Friday the 10th September (hence GAMSAT). I’m relocating and so my life for the next 6 months will be packed into my car and we’ll be setting off on the 5hr car trip before the 12.5hr ferry (14hrs if it is a sailing that calls at Kirkwall, Orkney) to Lerwick.

I’m extremely fortunate that the team in Shetland seemed very keen to have me and that I had qualities and experience that they desired. I’m excited to learn in a more community setting (everyone in Shetland knows everyone)! I’m also very fortunate that for some, this opportunity would be a nightmare – the cold and often wild winters, the dark, the island life and being ‘cut-off’ from everyone and everything however, I was born in Shetland and grew up there for the early years of my life. I still have a very large group of family and friends in Shetland so it’s a sort of, homecoming, so to speak. The fact that it’s working through an agency and they’re paying me very, very well for the work, accommodation and travel is also a big plus!

Back to Medicine… I have pushed my UCAT back to the 31st August due to being on a nightshift prior to my UCAT date on the 26th. I will still apply with my UCAT score (if good enough) and aim for solely Warwick. I will aim to take the GAMSAT in both March and September next year and have the full force of testing behind me when I apply for 2023. It’s maybe a bit of a longer journey than I originally intended but there are some opportunities that you simply can’t miss. This is one of them!

Be prepared for posts on island life. How sad it is that I can’t get a McDonald’s or Costa Coffee anytime soon or food from JustEat! Let’s just pray for a smooth sailing to Lerwick on the 10th!


Rebrand/ New Logo

I’ve now branched out onto just about all social media. It’s spurred me on to have a bit more of a professional image/ logo so, here it is!


A Day in the Life of a Mental Health HCA

Recently I completed a story update which covered a day in the life of a mental health HCA/ my day at work. It wasn’t particularly eventful as our days go but it was nice to show what we do and how we handle situations and how much work we actually cover.

If you missed it or wanted a more detailed run down, here it is!

My working day starts at 7:30am for clinical handover. I’m usually at the hospital/ ward earlier so that I can get changed into my uniform and collect my keys and blick (personal alarm device).

Handover will usually be rather quick. It’s a rundown of how the patients have been recently and any significant information that the nursing team need to know. As we’ve had our patients for a while, we know a lot of the information already e.g. Legal Status, Section, Observation levels and immediate health concerns.
We would be told if anyone’s obs levels have changed e.g. from 1:1 to general observations or if they’ve been increased and why.

On a day shift, we usually hear how the patients have been over night and the days before. If you’re on a night shift, you hear how they have been during the day and the previous nights.

Handover usually takes 5-15 minutes, afterwards, the team are allocated to their observations so that the staff team who are currently on obs can swap and go home.
On a day shift, this would usually mean that the patients are all still in bed. We have patients who enjoy a lie in, it doesn’t mean that they will be asleep when you come in but it’s usually the case.
On a nightshift, patients are all awake and you can swap to begin engaging with the patients.

Observations – If a patient is asleep, their observation levels may change e.g. 2:1 when awake but only 1:1 when asleep. You sit outside their room and note their breathing, any movement or use of the toilet. Basically anything of significance. On a nightshift when everyone is asleep, you swap around and spend most of the night doing this.

During the day, we usually spend 1hr observation periods with each patient. From the point of waking, we get patients organised and assist with personal care. All of our patients get up in the morning and either shower or take a bath. They’re very independant and don’t require a lot of help other that to wash their back or help with their hair washing. We have to ensure that patients do not remove or store their own toiletries and we also dispense shampoo/ shower gel for them. It’s not uncommon for our patients to ‘tip’ their toiletries or not use them at all.

Patients are given their medication and breakfast. HCAs are responsible for ensuring patients have adequate food and fluid throughout the day – this is also monitored and uploaded to their electronic records. We use plastic plates and cups and depending on the patient, they may not have access to metal cutlery e.g. they are risk assessed as being someone who may us a knife to harm staff.

In the hour we spend with the patient, we engage in activities they may enjoy. One patient enjoys colouring and so you can easily spend an hour colouring pictures together. Another patient has a stricter schedule for his day and certain activities are care planned for certain times e.g. walk at 10:30am. The day and activities are usually based on how the patient is presenting during the day and our staffing levels to complete these activities.

We used to eat with our patients at meal times as it’s a really successful and therapeutic activity, unfortunately COVID put a stop to this and we find it quite difficult to organise who gets breaks when and around the obs schedule.

Due to the nature of our patients we due often restrain. The ward has had a significant reduction in our restraints and I can’t remember the last time I was involved in full supine, PMVA holds. We are more likely (at the moment) to have to implement arm holds to escort a patient to a room for ‘time out’ or to secure them from attempting to harm staff.

We have a variety of jobs to do around the core job of patient care:
We complete temperature/ date and stock checks daily.
I try to attend the daily reviews – we have a daily meeting at 9am which discusses our patients with our team of clinicians. Any issues are raised and we get to discuss how we may move forward.
On Friday mornings, we have an MDT for one of our patients – this involves a full team, including clinicians and social care. We discuss possible care packages/ providers and their goal of discharge. Medication reviews are done and any alterations to their care e.g. obs level and S17 leave are discussed here.
We have a cleaning rota to complete (important due to COVID).
Laundry is completed – patients are encouraged to complete their own with the supervision of staff but staff have the overall responsibility.
We have to ensure that patients have sufficient funds/cash for the week and if needed, we withdraw this from the onsite bank facilities.

If a patient has S17 leave, this can either be for ground leave or area leave. We often take our patients out for walks around the site, to visit the hospital canteen or if care planned, they can be taken to a nearby supermarket or to visit nearby family. Each patient is unique in their leave plans. We have a ward car and this is utilised for patient transport. I’m usually driving!

We spend 12.5 hours a day with our patients and it’s long. We go to work in the dark and return in the dark. Dayshift is 7:30-20:00, nightshift is 19:30-8:00.

Whilst there are obvious challenges of the job – physical aggression and violence to staff, property and environmental damage, violence and aggression to peers, verbal abuse and the risk of absconding. I have been kicked, I’ve had a patient attempt to strangle me and grab at my throat, I’ve been hit and scratched but.. we also have some really enjoyable and rewarding work with our patients. As our longest patient has been with us for 2 years (nearly 3) we can build really good relationships with them. They know your name, what you’re like as a person, ask you if you’ve had your hair done and will remember when you’re next on shift. I can remember walking on to the ward and having a patient stood right at the doors to greet me, as I entered the patient cheered. They were cheering all the staff onto the ward!

We dance with our patients, we laugh, we feel their pain and frustrations, we are their family when theirs can’t be there.

I should be sad that I’m working all of Christmas but to be honest, I feel really lucky to spend it with those that need me. I truly love my job and the personalities of those I work with. It’s not for everyone but it’s definitely for me.


Back for round 2!

I’ve taken a good hiatus away from my BecomingDrBex accounts and blog. I have not applied for 2021 GEM and have therefore, stepped away from the applications and general buzz of medicine.

It’s been very therapeutic and I’ve enjoyed not having to worry about the deadlines, admissions exams, cut offs and impending interviews.

I’m currently in isolation from contact with COVID (despite a negative swab result) and have decided to give some time to the blog – mainly more detailed posts on the application process – admissions exams, interviews, choosing your universities to apply to and work experience. I had previously done a poll about expanding into video posts/ Youtube videos which was very successful. I’m hoping I can start getting this off the ground too.

As GAMSAT results have been released, it’s a gentle reminder that registrations have opened for March 2021 sitting. This time last year, I had never imagined that I would have to sit the GAMSAT again but know that if I want the best possible score, a March and September sitting would be wise. I’m going to also make up a revision plan for what I would like to achieve before the March exam, I’ll update my Instagram with all the information as I go.

I welcome any input into which topics you’d like to see covered – even if it’s in more detail from a previous post. I’m hoping some more dedicated blog/ medicine time will spark that passion again that I’ll need for next year’s application!


Apply Again or Gap Year?

After getting the closure I needed from Nottingham and the news that they would not be considering the waiting list any further, I’ve been considering my future applications.

Today I sat the UCAT with very minimal prep (I mean a matter of hours on Medify, not days or weeks) and scored exactly the same as last year. 2550 overall. I had an increase in VR (610) and AR (670).

Sadly, I doubt that this will make the cut off for Warwick this year (it didn’t last year and so far the interim results show an increase from last year) as I expect a higher cut off that their 2570.

My GAMSAT score is also from last year as I had not registered to sit it this year. I’ve had the same person comment on my ‘low’ GAMSAT score and that I’m ‘wasting’ a place by applying with it. I scored 55 Acer way and 57 equal weighting average. I’m not going to lie, it’s frustrated me as I’ve always been very transparent with my scorings and academics. An aptitude or admissions test WILL NOT determine if you will be successful in medicine. It’s merely a screening tool. More than likely, this year’s cut off will increase. Is it a risk? Very much so, every year. Unless you’re scoring 60+ and target universities with historically lower cut offs, it’s still a gamble.

Everything has been incredibly rushed. I was left with 4 days between Nottingham letting me know the outcome (a week later than they promised to let us know too) and my UCAT sitting today. I’ve then got 14 days to get my reference sorted, confirm my university choices and submit my UCAS application.

I’m currently second guessing my application for this year. I would never think of an application as a ‘waste’ but what if it is and it’s my second application with outright rejections? From one cycle to the next and still no further forward, if anything, backwards!

A year out wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I would be financially better off. I’d have a stronger application, having resat the admissions exams with time to practice and I’d have the time to breathe!

I know applying isn’t losing anything (other than the UCAS fee) but don’t know if I’m ready to do it all again so soon, especially with the prospect of outright rejections. Although they’d be sent pretty quickly so at least I would know by January!

I welcome any advice anyone has and whether you’ve been through it yourself or know someone who has. I know I have the ability to do this and the hurdles make the success so welcoming but Medicine (Graduate) is so damn tough!

gamsat The Application UCAT Uncategorized Work Experience

Becoming Dr Bex..

Thanks for stumbling upon my blog!

I’m documenting my journey through the application process of Graduate Entry Medicine, the admissions exams, the responses and outcomes of the application.

About me:
I currently work fulltime as a Mental Health HCA.
I volunteer as a Community First Responder, Adult Hospice Ward Volunteer, Rainbows/ Girguiding volunteer.
2019/2020 application and entry was my first attempt at GEM applications. I was interviewed and reached number 1 on the Nottingham waiting list. Sadly, I did not get a place.
I started a blog to log everything down, hopefully to help and as a good place to vent!

Back for 2022 entry – GAMSAT September 2021, UCAT summer 2021.

Follow my journey on social media:

(Not always this moody, I promise!)

Let’s Talk Mental Health

I’m a big advocate for mental health. I have been through my fair share of breakdowns, I’ve self-harmed and I’ve hit (what I thought was) absolute rock bottom.

Recently, I’ve felt as though my mental health was taking a bashing. I’ve been concentrating on work (I work with vulnerable people within the NHS’s mental health system and community services) and have recently taken on an additional full-time service to my current full-time service. Alongside this, we have had a patient in crisis and suffering from suicidal thoughts and attempts. I’m preparing for my UCAT (previously UKCAT) which is booked for the 27th July and have felt like if anything, I’m getting worse rather than better. I have felt tired all the time and spend very little of my social life with friends, having any aspect of a dating life, or any activities at all.

At that moment, I felt like I was worthy of nothing, that I had completed and achieved nothing. That I would never amount to anything. Why was I even bothering with Medicine when I would never get there?

What I did next:

As bizarre as it may be, I posted to Instagram about my spell of depression. I wanted my studygram to be as real as possible. It’s so easy to get caught up in the happiness and perfection on social media, especially in Medicine. The truth is; life is messy. Medicine comes with setbacks and rejections.

I was overwhelmed by the supportive comments and messages that I received. More importantly, I had messages from other pre-meds or med students who have been in the exact same position.

We are all human, we all suffer the downfalls and relish the rises. We swear to live by the life quotes. Want to meet our soulmates. Live for the moments. Reach the dreams.
We’re hit by heartbreak and disappointment. We fail. We’re rejected.
And this is okay.

My tips for mental health care:

Remember what’s important.
Remember that YOU are important.
Your goals are achievable.
Everyone has been in your shoes at some point.
AND they’ve overcome it just as you will.
Find your passion again.
Take time to be you.
Find silence and peace.
DON’T recluse.