I'm not sure why I like to quote lines from films on this blog. I mean, I really haven't seen enough of them to make myself out to be some sort of hotshot film geek. I'm hoping this is the last (probably inappropriate) quote I use for a while, so here goes... 'Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek.' Courtesy of Gus Portokalos, the funniest character in the My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Sometimes I feel like medics tend to do that, we have a habit of making absolutely any conversation about Medicine. It seems to give us a bit of a bad rep, but surely it's understandable? I mean, it's what we do. It's what we've 'always wanted to do' i.e. since leaving the womb*. It's what we're always going to do. Right?
Even so, it's surely human nature to relate everyday conversation to something you think that you know a lot about. Let's take a look at real-life example, cue the Blue Peter quip 'here's one I made earlier':
I know nothing about football. Well, I know a bit more than some and a lot less than your average football fan so I guess I know VERY little about football. I do, however, know a thing or two about Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. Why, you ask? Well, the Hillsborough Disaster in 1985 saw the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans during an FA cup semi-final. A pivotal case emerged from this disaster which affected medical decision-making at the end of life, that of Anthony Bland. Bland was left brain damaged and in a 'persistent vegetative state' (a disorder of consciousness) after the disaster. In 1993, he finally won his battle to have the treatment that was keeping him alive withdrawn. This was a landmark case in both medical ethics and law. Don't say you heard it hear first, look it up: it's relevant.
It would be dishonest to say, 'Give me a word, any word, and I'll show you that it's somehow linked to Medicine. But just ask me what I know about football, just once and I might just surprise you.
*After writing this entry, I realised that it might be unfair to presume that there isn't at least one person who knew that they wanted to be a doctor just seconds after taking their first gasp of air and crying their eyes out in the midwife's arms. My sincere apologies if this applies to you.
(To have a look at more of my entries, visit: http://contemplationsofamedic.blogspot.co.uk/)
There are so many sources for advice out there for potential medical students. So many books, so many forums, so many careers advice people, and so many confusing and scary myths, that I thought it might be useful to just put up some simple guidelines on what is required to become a medical student and a short book list to get your started.
I am now in my 5th year at university and my 4th year of actual medicine. Since getting into Medical School in 2009 I have gone back to my 6th form college in South Wales at least once a year to talk to the students who wanted to become medical or dental students, to offer some advice, answer any queries that I could.
This year, I tried to to do the same sort of thing for high achieving pupils at my old comprehensive, because if you don't get the right advice young enough then you won't be able to do everything that is required of you to get into Medical school straight after your A-levels. Unfortunately, due to some new rules I wasn't allowed to. So, since I couldn't give any advice in person I thought that a blog might be the easiest alternative way to give young comprehensive students a guide in the right direction. So here goes...
How to get into medical school:
You must show that you have the academic capacity to cope with the huge volume of information that will try to teach you and that you have the determination/tenacity to achieve what you need to. To show this you must get good grades:
a. >8A*s at GCSE + separate science modules if possible = you have to be able to do science.
b. >3A’s at A-Level = Chemistry + Biology + anything else you want, as long as you can get an A.
2. You must have an understanding of what Medicine really involves:
a. Work experience with a doctor – local GP, hospital work experience day, family connections, school connections – you should try to get as much as you can but don’t worry if you can’t because you can make up for it in other areas.
b. Work experience with any health care professional – ask to see what a nurse/ physio/ health care assistant/ phlebotomist/ ward secretary does. Any exposure to the clinical environment will give you an insight into what happens and gives you something to talk about during personal statements and interviews.
c. Caring experience – apply to help out in local care homes, in disabled people’s homes, at charities, look after younger pupils at school. All these sorts of things help to show that you are dedicated, motivated and that you want to help people.
3. Be a fully rounded human being:
a. Medical schools do not want robots! They want students who are smart but who are also able to engage with the common man. So hobbies and interests are a good way of showing that you are more than just a learner.
b. Playing on sports teams allows you to write about how you have developed as a person and helps you develop essential characteristics like team work, fair play, learning to follow commands, learning to think for yourself, hand-eye co-ordination etc. etc. All valuable for a career in medicine.
c. Playing an instrument again shows an ability to learn and the will power to sit and perfect a skill. It also provides you with useful skills that you can use to be sociable and make friends, such as joining student choirs, orchestras and bands or just playing some tunes at a party.
d. Do fun things! Medicine is hard work so you need to be able to do something that will help you relax and allow you to blow off some stress. All work and no play, makes a burnt out wreck!
4. Have a basic knowledge of:
a. The news, especially the health news – Daily Telegraph health section on a Monday, BBC news etc.
b. The career of a doctor – how does it work? How many years of training? What roles would you do? What exams do you need to pass? How many years at medical school?
c. The GMC – know about the “Tomorrow’s Doctor” Document – search google.
d. The BMA
e. The Department of Health and NHS structure – know the basics! GP commissioning bodies, strategic health authorities.
f. What the Medical School you are applying to specialises in, does it do lots of cancer research? Does it do dissection? Does it pride itself on the number of GPs it produces? Does it require extra entry exams or what is the interview process?
These 4 points are very basic and are just a very rough guide to consider for anyone applying to become a medical student. There are many more things you can do and loads of useful little tips that you will pick up along the way. If anyone has any great tips they would like to share then please do leave them as a comment below!
My final thought for this blog is;
READ, READ and READ some more.
I am sure that the reason I got into medical school was because I had read so many inspiring and thought provoking books, I had something to say in interviews and I had already had ideas planted in my head by the books that I could then bring up for discussion with the interview panel when asked about ethical dilemmas or where medicine is going.
Plus reading books about medicine can be so inspiring that they really can push your life in a whole new direction or just give you something to chat about with friends and family. Everyone loves to chat people – how they work, why they are ill, what shapes peoples' personalities etc and these are all a part of medicine that you can read into!
Final Final Thought:
Just go into your local book shop or library and go to the pop-science section and read the first thing that takes your interest! It will almost always give you something to talk about.
The registrar's face was taking on a testy look. So enduring was the silence our furtive glances had developed a nystagmic quality. “Galactosaemia” came her peremptory reply. Right on queue the disjointed chorus of ahs and head nods did little to hide our mental whiteboard of differentials being wiped clean. At the time conjugated bilirubinaemia in children only meant one thing: biliary atresia. A fair assumption; we were sitting in one of three specialist centres in the country equipped to treat these patients. Ironically the condition has become the unwieldy yardstick I now measure the incidence of paediatric disease.
Biliary atresia is the most common surgical cause of neonatal jaundice with a reported incidence of 1 in 14-16ooo live births in the West. It is described as a progressive inflammatory obliteration of the extrahapatic bile duct. And Dr Charles West, the founder of Great Ormond Street Hospital, offers an eloquent description of the presenting triad of prolonged jaundice, pale acholic stools and dark yellow urine:
‘Case 18...It was born at full term, though small, apparently healthy. At 3 days however, it began to get yellow and at the end of 3 weeks was very yellow. Her motions at no time after the second day appeared natural on examination, but were white, like cream, and her urine was very high coloured.’
1855 was the year of Dr West's hospital note. An almost universally fatal diagnosis and it would remain so for the next 100 years. The time's primordial classification of biliary atresia afforded children with the 'noncorrectable' type, a complete absence of patent extrahepatic bile duct, an unfortunate label; they were beyond saving. Having discovered the extent of disease at laparatomy, the surgeons would normally close the wound. The venerable Harvardian surgeon, Robert E. Gross saved an enigmatic observation: “In most instances death followed a downhill course…”
K-A-S-A-I read the ward’s board. It was scrawled under half the children's names. I dismissed it as just another devilishly hard acronym to forget. The thought of an eponymous procedure had escaped me and in biliary atresia circles, it's the name everyone should know: Dr Morio Kasai.
Originating from Aomori prefecture, Honshu, Japan, Dr Kasai graduated from the National Tohoku University School of Medicine in 1947. His ascension was rapid, having joined the 2nd department of Surgery as a general surgeon, he would assume the role of Assistant Professor in 1953. The department, under the tenure of Professor Shigetsugu Katsura, shared a healthy interest in research.
1955 was the landmark year. Katsura and Kasai operated on their first case: a 72 day old infant. Due to bleeding at the incised porta hepatis, Katsura is said to have 'placed' the duodenum over the site in order to staunch the flow. She made a spectacular postoperative recovery, the jaundice had faded and there was bile pigment in her stool. During the second case, Katsura elected to join the unopened duodenum to the porta hepatis. Sadly the patient's jaundice did not recover, but the post-mortem conducted by Kasai confirmed the development of a spontaneous internal biliary fistula connecting the internal hepatic ducts to the duodenum. Histological inspection of removed extrahepatic duct showed the existence of microscopic biliary channels, hundreds of microns in diameter. Kasai made a pivotal assertion: the transection of the fibrous cord of the obliterated duct must contain these channels before anastomosis with the jejunal limb Roux-en-Y loop. This would ensure communication between the porta hepatis and the intrahepatic biliary system. The operation, entitled hepatic portoenterostomy, was first performed as a planned procedure for the third case at Tohoku. Bile flow was restored and Kasai published the details of the new technique in the Japanese journal Shujutsu in 1959. However, news of this development did not dawn on the West until 1968 in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery. The success of the operation and its refined iterations were eventually recognized and adopted in the 1970s. The operation was and is not without its dangers. Cholangitis, portal hypertension, malnutrition and hepatopulmonary syndrome are the cardinal complications. While diagnosing and operating early (<8 weeks) are essential to the outcome, antibiotic prophylaxis and nutritional support are invaluable prognostic factors.
Post operatively, the early clearance of jaundice (within 3 months) and absence of liver cirrhosis on biopsy, are promising signs. At UK centres the survival after a successful procedure is 80%. The concurrent development of liver transplantation boosts this percentage to 90%. Among children, biliary atresia is the commonest indication for transplantation; by five years post-Kasai, 45% will have undergone the procedure.
On the 6th December 2008, Dr Kasai passed away. He was 86 years old and had been battling the complications of a stroke he suffered in 1999. His contemporaries and disciples paint a humble and colourful character. A keen skier and mountaineer, Dr Kasai lead the Tohoku University mountain-climbing team to the top of the Nyainquntanglha Mountains, the highest peaks of the Tibetan highlands. It was the first successful expedition of its kind in the world. He carried through this pioneering spirit into his professional life. Paediatric surgery was not a recognized specialty in Japan. By founding and chairing multiple associations including the Japanese Society of Pediatric Surgeons, Dr Kasai gave his specialty and biliary atresia, the attention it deserved.
Despite numerous accolades of international acclaim for his contributions to paediatric surgery, Dr Kasai insisted his department refer to his operation as the hepatic portoenterostomy; the rest of the world paid its originator the respect of calling it the ‘Kasia’. Upon completion of their training, he would give each of his surgeons a hand-written form of the word ‘Soshin’ [simple mind], as he believed a modest surgeon was a good one.
At 5 foot 2, Kasai cut a more diminutive figure one might expect for an Emeritus Professor and Hospital Director of a university hospital. During the course of his lifetime he had developed the procedure and lived to see its fruition. The Kasia remains the gold standard treatment for biliary atresia; it has been the shinning light for what Willis J. Potts called the darkest chapter in paediatric surgery. It earned Dr Kasai an affectionate but apt name among his peers, the small giant.
Miyano T. Morio Kasai, MD, 1922–2008. Pediatr Surg Int. 2009;25(4):307–308.
Garcia A V, Cowles RA, Kato T, Hardy MA. Morio Kasai: a remarkable impact beyond the Kasai procedure. J Pediatr Surg. 2012;47(5):1023–1027.
Mowat AP. Biliary atresia into the 21st century: A historical perspective. Hepatology. 1996;23(6):1693–1695.
Ohi R. A history of the Kasai operation: Hepatic portoenterostomy for biliary atresia. World J Surg. 1988;12(6):871–874.
Ohi R. Morio Kasai, MD 1922-2008. J Pediatr Surg. 2009;44(3):481–482.
Lewis N, Millar A. Biliary atresia. Surg. 2007;25(7):291–294.
This blog post is a reproduction of an article published in the Medical Student Newspaper, April 2014 issue.
Through different periods of the Egyptian history from Pharaonic, Greco-Roman, Coptic, Islamic and Modern Era; Egyptians tend to respect, appreciate and care for elderly. There is also a rich Eastern Christian tradition in respecting and taking care of old people that has continued since the first centuries of Christianity. Churches used to develop retirement homes served by monastic personnel and nurses. Egyptian culture traditionally linked some aspects of mental illnesses to sin, possession of evil, separation from the divine and it is usually associated with stigmatisation for all family members. However, forgetfulness with ageing was normalised. Until now, it seems that the difference between normal ageing and dementia is blurred for some people. Recently, the term 'Alzheimer' became popular, and some people use it as synonymous to forgetfulness. El-Islam, stated that some people erroneously pronounce it as 'Zeheimer' removing the 'Al' assuming it is the Arabic equivalent to the English 'the'. In 2010, a film was produced with the title 'Zeheimer' confirming the mispronunciation. Elderly face many health challenges which affect their quality of life. Dementia is one of these challenges as it is considered to be one of the disorders which attack elderly and affect their memory, mental abilities, independence, decision making and most cognitive functions. Therefore, the focus on dementia has increased around the world due to the rapid spread of the syndrome and the economical and psychosocial burden it cause for patients, families and communities. (Grossber and Kamat 2011, Alzheimer’s Association 2009, Woods et al. 2009).
In recent years, the proportion of older people is increasing due to the improvement in health care and scientific development. The demographic transition with ageing of the population is a global phenomenon which may demand international, national, regional and local action. In Egypt the ageing population at the age of 65 and older are less than 5% of the Egyptian population (The World FactBook, 2012), yet, the World Health Organization (WHO) asserts that a demographic shift is going to happen as most of the rapid ageing population will transfer to the low and middle income countries in the near future (WHO, 2012). Egyptian statistics assert this shift. The Information Decision Support Center published the first comprehensive study of the elderly in Egypt in 2008. According to the report, in 1986, 5 percent of Egyptians were age 60 and older. In 2015, they will make up to 11 percent of the population and in 2050; over a fifth. Caring of older persons constitutes an increasing segment of the Egyptian labor market. However, nation wide statistics about number of dementia sufferers in Egypt may be unavailable but the previous demographic transition is expected to be accompanied by an increase in dementia patients in Egypt and will affect priorities of health care needs as well.
The Egyptian society may need adequate preparation with regards to health insurance, accommodation and care homes for the upcoming ageing population (El-Katatney, 2009). Although the number of care home increased from 29 in 1986 to be around 140 home in 2009; it cannot serve more than 4000 elderly from a total of 5 million. Not every elderly will need a care home but the total numbers of homes around Egypt are serving less than 1% of the elderly population. These facts created a new situation of needs for care homes besides the older people who are requiring non-hospital health care facility for assisted living.
The Egyptian traditions used to be strongly associated with the culture of extended family and caring for elderly as a family responsibility. Yet, in recent years changes of the economic conditions and factors as internal and external immigration may have affected negatively on elderly care within family boundaries. There is still the stigma of sending elderly to care homes. Some perceive it as a sign of intolerance of siblings towards their elderly parents but it is generally more accepted nowadays. Therefore, the need for care homes become a demand at this time in Egypt as a replacement of the traditional extended family when many older people nowadays either do not have the choice or the facilities to continue living with their families (El-Katatney 2009). Many families among the Egyptian society seem to have turned from holding back from the idea of transferring to a care home to gradual acceptance since elderly care homes are becoming more accepted than the past and constitutes a new concept of elderly care. Currently, many are thinking to run away from a lonely empty home in search of human company or respite care but numbers of geriatric homes are extremely lower than required and much more are still needed (Abdennour, 2010). Thus, it seems that more care homes may be needed in Egypt.
Dementia patients are usually over 65, this is one of the factors that put them at high risk of exposure to different physical conditions related to frailty, old age, and altered cognitive functions. Additionally, around 50% of people with dementia suffers from other comorbidities which affect their health and increases hospital admissions (National Audit Office 2007). Therefore, it is expected that the possibility of doctors and nurses needing to provide care for dementia patients in various care settings is increasing (RCN 2010).
Considering previous facts, we have an urgent need in Egypt to start awareness about normal and upnormal ageing and what is the meaning of dementia. Moreover, change of health policies and development of health services is required to be developed to match community needs. Another challenge is the very low number of psychiatric doctors and facilities since the current state of mental health can summarised as; one psychiatrist for every 67000 citizens and one psychiatric hospital bed for every 7000 citizens (Okasha, 2001). Finally the need to develop gerontologically informed assessment tools for dementia screening to be applied particularly in general hospitals (Armstrong and Mitchell 2008) would be very helpful for detecting dementia patients and develop better communication and planning of care for elderly.
El Katateny, E. 2009. Same old, same old: In 2050, a fifth of Egyptians will be age 60 and older. How will the country accommodate its aging population?. Online available at: http://etharelkatatney.wordpress.com/category/egypt-today/page/3/
Fakhr-El Islam, M. 2008. Arab culture and mental health care. Transcultural Psychiatry, vol. 45, pp. 671-682
Ageing and care of the elderly. Conference of European churches. 2007. [online] available at: http://csc.ceceurope.org/fileadmin/filer/csc/Ethics_Biotechnology/AgeingandCareElderly.pdf
World Health Organization. 2012 a. Ageing and life course: ageing Publications. [Online] available at :
World Health Organization. 2012 b. Ageing and life course: interesting facts about ageing. [Online] available at: http://www.who.int/ageing/about/facts/en/index.html
World Health Organization 2012 c. Dementia a public health priority. [online] available at:
World Health Organization. 2012 d. Why focus on ageing and health, now?.
Department of Health. 2009. Living well with dementia: a national dementia strategy. [Online] available at: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_094058
Andrawes, G., O’Brien, L. and Wilkes, L. 2007. Mental illness and Egyptian families. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, vol.16, pp. 178-187
National Audit Office. 2007. Improving service and support for people with dementia. London. [online[ Available at: http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/0607/support_for_people_with_dement.aspx
Armstrong, J and Mitchell, E. 2008. Comprehensive nursing assessment in the care of older people. Nursing Older People, vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 36-40.
Okasha, A. 2001. Egyptian contribution to the concept of mental health. Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal,Vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 377-380.
Woods, R., Bruce, E., Edwards, R., Hounsome, B., Keady, J., Moniz-Cook, E., Orrell, M. and Tussell, I. 2009. Reminiscence groups for people with dementia and their family carers: pragmatic eight-centre randomised trial of joint reminiscence and maintenance versus usual treatment: a protocol. Trials Journal: open access, Vol. 10, [online] available at: http://www.trialsjournal.com/content/10/1/64
Grossberg, G. and Kamat, S. 2011. Alzheimer’s: the latest assessment and treatment strategies. Jones and Bartlett, publisher: The United States of America.
Alzheimer’s Association. 2009. 2009 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, Volume 5, Issue 3. [online] Available at: http://www.alz.org/news_and_events_2009_facts_figures.asp
Royal College of Nursing. 2010. Improving quality of care for people with dementia in general hospitals. London.
National Audit Office. 2007. Improving service and support for people with dementia. London. [online[ Available at: http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/0607/support_for_people_with_dement.aspx
Miss Amira El Baqary, Nursing Clinical instructor, The British University in Egypt
Dr Emad Sidhom, MBBCh, ABPsych-Specialist in Old Age Psychiatry-Behman Hospital