You are your biggest competition

When I was in school there was a big emphasis on going to university as this leads to a higher paid job. This is the case in most situations but there are the exceptions, for example Alan Sugar, Richard Branson, the Kardashians (I’m not judging who you look up to) etc. I’ve always wanted to go to university, since I was a little kid, but not because university graduates get paid more but because of the experience of university that I’d hear about from people who had been themselves. In my opinion the emphasis should have been put more on the unique experience that you get by going to university. Of course in these modern days it’s difficult to even get a job without having a degree.

I went to a state secondary school which was a poor achieving school that had lots of student from disadvantaged backgrounds. I managed to achieve some decent GCSEs and got into a grammar school. The difference in the quality of teaching was minimal (maybe a slightly better), so what makes the grammar school better than the state school? The fact that all the students are all at a similar level, they’re all high achieving students who want to do well. This makes a massive difference in the learning environment and it means that teachers can focus their teaching towards the higher levels. Having lots of students at such a similar level also introduces a component of competition. The access to resources was incredible at the grammar school. Class sizes were better, not a single one of my classes had more than 20 students. The teachers made more time to give to the students and really pushed you to achieve your best. In comparison there were only a few teachers in my state school that went out their way to give me extra time and I will always be grateful towards them for supporting me and pushing me. My form tutor at sixth form was amazing, he really helped me to achieve my full potential, he believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and he’ll be someone who I always hold in great respect.

During sixth form I found it extremely difficult to organise work experience, something that you have to do to apply for medicine. Many students who apply to medical school find it difficult to organise work experience. Health and safety and information governance being way it is today you can understand why people find it difficult to get work experience. However, there was a select group of students who had doctors as members of their family. This meant that they were able to organise work experience a lot easier. Unfortunately, often they were not forthcoming with helping others find work experience. I hate the mindset of people who don’t help other people because they consider it a competition. Not helping someone does not put that person at a disadvantage if they are determined to achieve their goals.

When I got to university there were lots of medical students who had doctors in the family and that didn’t really surprise me. It seems like lots of medical students have doctors in the family. There are lots of articles and studies out there on the internet and they all say the same thing. There is a disproportionate number of medical students from affluent backgrounds – ‘80% of medical students come from households containing professionals in higher managerial roles, and more than a quarter from private schools’, that’s from the guardian website (an interesting article) and this seems to be the case internationally as a Canadian study shows. The British Medical Association has also made a very comprehensive document about equality and diversity in UK medical schools which also acknowledges this issue.

Medical school is extremely competitive and they only take the most academically gifted students. So it makes sense that students from affluent backgrounds are more likely to get into medicine. The fact that they have parents who have high status jobs will inspire them to achieve higher. Also they are more likely to get into higher achieving schools such as private schools or grammar schools. Their parents are more likely to have connections to people in other high status jobs so its easier for them to find help from experienced people in different fields. By just going to university, regardless of the course you study, you put yourself in a more advantageous position. How is that? When you go to university you make friends with a wide variety of people. I’m friends with lots of students on different courses; medics, dentists, engineers, law students, aspiring politicians the list goes on. When I graduate I hope to retain these friends. My point is that just by going to university you expand your pool of friends in high status positions.

Luckily the government and universities are aware that they need to make higher education more accessible to people from disadvantaged backgrounds and the steps being taken to tackle this issue are definitely steps in the right direction. Funding for access to higher education has gone up in the last few years. If you feel that you’re someone that is from a disadvantaged background, then your local university will have programmes that you can engage in. Some of these programmes help students as young as 13/14 years old and most target students 16-18 year olds in years 11, 12 and 13. These programmes are called outreach or widening access and every university has them. I work within the outreach programme at Sheffield medical school and they often lower the offers for students who meet their criteria for disadvantaged backgrounds.

Getting into medical school is so competitive but once you get there that feeling of competitiveness may not disappear. I have friends in other medical schools who have told me that the feeling of competition is so intense that people will not share resources or help each other. Thankfully this is not the case in Sheffield medical school. We have such a great sense of community here at Sheffield medical school. Medicine is an academic profession where it’s all about sharing knowledge and as student doctors we should all be helping each other to improve.

I think competition is good and healthy. Competition helps me get better and improve. In reality it’s impossible to have a fair playing field so those of us who are at more of a disadvantage need to pull our socks up and work harder. I’m not demonising those who have an advantage, whether it’s fair or not, but instead I’m trying to inspire those who are in a more disadvantaged position.

Take home message of the blog:  Its hard getting into medical school but even harder if you’re from a disadvantaged background. However, being from a disadvantaged background does not make it impossible to achieve your goals, whether that is to get into medicine or something else. Perseverance and determination will help you to realise your goals. Life is not a competition. People who think that it is, need to wake up and see the bigger picture! The only person you should be competing with is yourself so that you become the best person you can be.

“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off. ”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

Here are the links to the sources of information I used:



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