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Opinion7th August 2019

Ark student stories: “I’m loving medical school, but I’m excited for what’s next”

Isa Mahamud is currently studying medicine at the University of Southampton. He is an alumnus of Ark Walworth Academy, in South London. Recently he spoke at an event for Ark’s Project Healthcare programme, talking about his experiences and hoping to inspire the next generation of students to pursue a career in medicine.

I wasn’t born here, I was born in Somalia. I came to the UK when I was around 10 years old. I didn’t really know much English, so I was lucky that my school, Ark Walworth Academy, gave me so much assistance.

I was quite passionate about science and maths but English was impossible for me at first! When I reached year 10, I realised that I really wanted to study medicine at university. I met with my head of year, to ask him what steps I should take. At the time, not many people applied to med school from Ark Walworth, so there weren’t really any other students I could speak to about it. My teacher put me in contact with a doctor at The Royal London Hospital, who became my mentor and sorted some work experience for me.

The application process was tough – when I got to sixth form, I didn’t really know what tests I had to take to get onto a medical degree at university. I’d never heard of the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) or the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT). I was emailing my mentor back and forth; she was really helpful in guiding me through.

I was really fortunate to have a second mentor – my Head of Year at Ark Walworth, Mr Higgins. He did a lot for me in terms of putting me into contact with extremely useful people. I was one of two applicants at Ark Walworth applying to medicine at the time, so he got us onto a UCAT preparation weekend. We spent about ten hours working with professionals. He also organised a residential trip for me at the University of Southampton – and that’s when I realised I wanted to go to that university. We spent four days there, talking to medical students, doctors and people in the admissions team – getting answers to all my questions. It was absolutely amazing to see people who had actually made it through the course. It’s always nice talking to professionals and doctors – if they were once in the same position as you, it’s easier to see how you might also make it!

I’m so grateful to the teachers at my school. They really focused on us, proof-reading our personal statements and giving us interview practice. I know people who went to other schools that didn’t get anywhere near the amount of support that I got.

I really want to give back and inspire others to do medicine. When I was at Ark Walworth’s sixth form, I volunteered to run GCSE revision workshops. At Southampton, I help out on the widening access programme. I do e-mentoring, where a potential student is paired up with a current medical student, like me. My advice to them is to try and get as much life experience as possible. Look for opportunities where you can work on your teamwork and communication skills.

My time at medical school has been amazing so far – although it’s getting a bit tougher now because of the placements. I’m loving it, but excited for what’s next, too. Just two more years to go.