I am a foundation doctor and remember the application process well. For two years prior to clicking send on my UCAS application I started volunteering at a local nursing home, arranged for some work experience in a hospital and volunteered at a social club for adults with learning disability. I felt like my bases were covered in terms of experience but what of hobbies? How could I show that I was the ‘rounded individual’ that medical schools are looking for?
In my spare time as a sixth former, I had a job at a cinema, went out with my friends, listened to music and spent some time reading. Unfortunately, none of those activities come with a certificate. Many of my friends applying to medicine had grade 8 on one or more instruments, they had won prizes for sports, appeared in Broadway plays or had their artwork displayed in a gallery. It was all wildly impressive and I felt that I paled in comparison.
I am not suggesting that having music grades or a sports prize make you a better doctor. However, in terms of your application it shows the school that you have been committed to something for a long time and that you have an outlet to vent your stress. These are both absolute essentials in this profession. On reflection, I decided that my life was lacking in this regard anyway and I needed to get a new hobby, but where to start?
In terms of your personal statement, hobbies generally come towards the end. The person reading it will assess first why you want to be a doctor, then what experience you have gained to inform this decision and finally they want to see what makes you unique as a person. In my opinion you need some quick-fire sentences that make the reader say ‘oh that’s interesting, I would like to talk to someone who has done that.’. You need to show flare and personality, this is the part of your application that will set you apart from the thousands of other candidates and should not be neglected.
Reflecting on my strengths and interests I opted to start some more serious hill walking and venture into rock climbing. My application stated ‘I have a keen interest in outdoor sports especially rambling, rock climbing and cannoning. Most recently I completed the three peaks challenge in support of my secondary school’. I have maintained this interest throughout medical school and into being a doctor. The fresh air and exercise does wonders for the soul.
Secondly, although admittedly I did already play the bass guitar I had not picked it up for a year or two. I practised regularly for a couple of months and got really into funk music. There was a local funk band I liked and the bass player agreed to give me some lessons. Eventually, I was able to jam with a group of musicians at a local funk night and played a couple of live gigs. The line on my application was something like: ‘I am an avid bass guitarist and jam with a group of musicians once a week at an improvised funk night as well as playing the occasional live gig.’ Unfortunately, after going to university I have not kept this up but am looking to get back into it at some point.
As a big believer in the power of threes I put in a third point. Living next to the studios where Harry Potter was filmed I applied to be an extra on the set. Somehow, they accepted my application and after a short medical I was fitted for my (Gryffindor) robes and wand. Obviously, this was a complete fluke and not the primary focus of this article but if you really want to do something, you might as well ask.
Hobbies are both an important part of your application and important part of life. Being a doctor is a large part of a person’s identity and can overshadow the more important aspects of life: family, friends and fun. I have seen colleagues who are obsessed with medicine burn out in the first few months of this job because they have no strategy to deal with stress. The most important thing you can do for yourself is to think about what is you would love to do in your spare time and make the plunge, it’s certainly worked for me.