I’m going to preface this piece with this warning, this is not a happy, rose-coloured glasses edited story where I tell you all the amazing things that I’ve experienced and learnt and give only a passing mention to the hard, troubling bits. This story is going to include the good and the incredible, but it is also going to give due mention to the bad, the ugly and the downright terrifying truth. This is not to say that I regret anything or that I am caught up in the horror, but I am going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in all its blunt glory.
Back to the start…
I cannot remember ever not knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life. When at the tender age of seven in primary school we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, I replied with gusto that I was going to be a doctor. While other children who had said they wanted to be the cliché firefighter, astronaut or policeman changed their minds as they grew up and discovered the other possibilities the world had to offer, I never did. I wanted to be a doctor then, and I still do now.
Through high school I worked my proverbial butt off to ensure that I did well enough to be able to work towards this dream, always knowing it would be a long hard road, but never doubting I would get there. When it came time to decide what to do after year 12, I decided to do nursing as my undergraduate (I wanted to do postgraduate medicine for a variety of reasons). I couldn’t face the idea of being stuck in a lab all the time if I did the usual science degree, and I thought the practical knowledge I would gain through nursing would be very useful during medicine. Not to mention the increased wage I could earn as a nurse as compared to a minimum wage retail job.
So here I was, 17 years old and starting university for the first time. I worked hard, did well, learnt a lot, juggled the job vs. uni time management and finished in 2.5 years, 6 months ahead of schedule. In second year I sat the dreaded GAMSAT for the first time, I passed by a whisker and realised that this exam was bloody hard and it might take more study than I thought to do well enough to get into medicine! Little did I know this would be the beginning of six long years of pain trying to get through this exam and do well enough to gain a medical school interview!
So I’ve finished nursing at uni and I’m now officially a registered nurse, not my ultimate dream but pretty good and I’m really excited to start working and early some dollars! Realising how hard my graduate year was going to be meant that I delayed sitting GAMSAT again until it was over, because I recognised I couldn’t handle the learning for both at the same time. My graduate year ended up turning into two years after I changed jobs six months into it. After two years working, I’m now a fully trained perioperative nurse capable of scrub/scout, anaesthetics and recovery. Fully trained however is a lie, it then took another four years before I actually felt like I was well-trained.
Then, I jumped straight back into studing…
This time I realised, I need help to get through this, clearly my self-study wasn’t enough. So I joined one of the many GAMSAT courses, the one that everyone I knew in medicine said was great and would really help. I studied harder than I ever had before, unfortunately my personal life was going completely to shit at the time which impacted me more than I would have liked. A week before the GAMSAT I had a huge falling out with my housemates and was then in the position where I was going to be moving house the day after GAMSAT (when usually I spent the day comatose with sheer exhaustion!). So I sat the dreaded GAMSAT again, for the third time now, and I got a slightly better score, one that I hoped would be enough to make my dream come true.
A few months later I got the dreaded ‘email of death’
You know the one, the one that says you didn’t get offered an interview, let alone a place in medical school. I burst into tears at work reading this email. I didn’t know what I was going to do… I hated where my life was at, I was having serious issues at work, I still hadn’t gotten over my ex-boyfriend even though it had been over for a year, I was having issues with new housemates… and my parents were getting divorced. I felt like I was drowning under all the pressure, and the thought of having to spend another year, just waiting, hoping I’d done enough to get in, sitting the GAMSAT again, and potentially in a years’ time being in exactly the same place as now was suffocating. Looking back now, I’m fairly sure this was the peak of my struggles with crippling anxiety and depression as an adult.
I hated life.
I dealt with this for a few months, had another serious housemate breakdown and still hated my job and the environment I was in. I didn’t recognise myself, where was the almost always happy cheerful and passionate nurse that I had been a few years earlier? What happened to the girl who was friendly to everyone and nothing really bothered? Who was this exhausted shell of a person that had taken her place? But the scariest part, the outside looked the same to everyone else, I was still that happy girl, the only one who knew that was a total lie was me, and it was all inside my head and my heart.
I made a few big life altering decisions…
I eventually got to the stage where I decided after much introspection that I would give this GAMSAT thing one more try, I would give it my absolute all and pay for the support that I really needed and give myself the absolute best shot of getting in. This is when I joined the PassGAMSAT Community. It was a big step for me, totally outside of my comfort zone, but I knew if this didn’t happen this year, I was done, I couldn’t keep living on this roller coaster of “when I get into medicine.”
Recognising that the rest of my life was a complete disaster for my ongoing mental health, I made a big and scary decision.
I resigned from my safe, full time job in the city, I packed up my house and I moved three hours away to a small country town on a three month contract. There were no guarantees I would like it, I had never in my life thought that I would be suited to living in the country. I had signed up to work in a small community where everyone knew everyone, I suddenly had to learn how to be an emergency department nurse as well, because there wasn’t enough demand for another full time theatre nurse and I had moved in to live with my sister for the first time since I left home. Mum thought we were going to kill each other living together, I wasn’t sure she wasn’t right… All I knew was I needed out of my life as it had been, making small changes hadn’t worked so maybe a big one would.
A month after this massive move I sat the GAMSAT for the fourth and what I was determined would be the last time because I couldn’t keep going like this. I was now 25 years old and if I didn’t get in now, I decided it was probably time to re-evaluate my life path as maybe medicine wasn’t my destiny after all. So I sat it, felt ok about it and came back home to the bush. I was loving living here and I could feel myself healing from the inside out. Health issues that had plagued me for years suddenly improved dramatically, I believe from the immense stress reduction I was experiencing. My friends and family were noticing how much happier I seemed, even though they said they hadn’t really noticed I wasn’t before, but the change was so dramatic they realised I mustn’t have been. I was enjoying learning new aspects of nursing and life didn’t seem so hopeless anymore, I was beginning to think maybe this is where I’m meant to be, maybe I could be happy here forever.
GAMSAT scores came out
…and I got a 63, which was a significant improvement from any score I had gotten before, and with my GPA and background, it just might be enough to get in! Courageous after moving away from my life once already I finally felt brave enough to apply interstate and be okay with the possibility of moving again. This was my last ditch effort to get in and I wasn’t putting any obstacles in the way.
Then I got the email…
One day at work I checked my emails, I saw one from Acer… I was terrified to open it, thinking I just can’t read that email of death again for the fourth time, it will break me. Instead however, it was an interview offer for Deakin, my third preference university. I was ecstatic that I wasn’t out of the running! I might get into medicine! After a week of intense interview preparation and some much-needed self-reflection (thanks to a wonderful woman in the PassGAMSAT Team, Mare) I was ready for this interview. After a long day at work and then 7 hours travel, at 0200 on the day of my interview I arrived in Geelong and crashed into bed. My beautiful and ever supportive mother was with me too, which I didn’t know I needed, but God I did! At 1200 the next day I walked into the med student common room at Deakin, sat down in a room of other very nervous candidates and got ready for the hardest interview of my life to date.
An hour and a half later I came out, exhausted but thrilled because all the hard work preparing had paid off, I was sure of it.
I nailed that interview!
The next few months of waiting to find out if I would be offered a place was torture, but I knew if I didn’t get one, I had done everything possible and given my best effort. Offer week started and by Friday morning, I still hadn’t heard anything, I hadn’t got the rejection email which was good, but I hadn’t gotten an offer either! I was starting to think my rejection email had just gotten lost. Morning tea on Friday and the amazing surgeon I worked with sneakily suggested I should check my emails again. I replied that I had checked literally five minutes ago and nothing so I wasn’t going to sit glued to my phone all day, I was going insane! He pushed that I should really just check one more time, and I did…
MY OFFER LETTER WAS HERE!
How he knew for me to check again, I never knew for sure but I think he had sneaky squirrel sources. This day I had dreamed of for literally my whole life had finally arrived, I felt like I must surely be imagining it, I rang my mum and Mare to tell them the news, still not quite believing it!
The next few hours are a blur, I couldn’t focus at work, I’m sure I was useless for the rest of the day, my poor colleagues (they were all really happy for me though so they didn’t seem to mind). My best friends, who have been with me through the whole journey were equally thrilled for me, even though they were sad it meant I would be moving a long way away to Victoria.
Over the next few weeks reality hit, that oh my gosh; I have to move to another state, get a job, find housemates, find a house and I’m really going to uni! How am I going to afford this? But thanks to mum, I got there. My sister and I were really sad to be being separated, we really loved living together and got so close over the year, something I didn’t expect and we knew we would really miss each other. My strong and rarely emotional dad had tears in his eyes as I got in the car to leave Kingaroy for the final time, leaving for the long drive to Victoria with the dog and my birds in the backseat, my life packed up into the moving truck behind me.
I arrived in Victoria in the early evening, and stepped into the house I had only seen in pictures, hoping I hadn’t made a huge mistake. I hadn’t met my housemates yet and wouldn’t for another two weeks but here I was for better or for worse. My stuff arrived in the moving truck the next day and mum and I set about unpacking so that my new house might start feeling like a home. All too soon it was time for me to take Mum to the airport to go home, and I started to realise I was here all by myself, it wasn’t just a thought anymore, this was my new reality. I was so scared, and lonely, I didn’t know a soul, I was truly all by myself for the first time in my life.
The next month was a blur…
It consisted of catching up on much needed sleep, getting the house sorted and tidy, getting all the paperwork and then orientation at my new job organised, meeting my new housemates and finalising the last few things ready to start medicine on the first of February 2016. The first day, I was a bundle of nerves, it had been 7 years since I last studied at university, not working full-time or being a shiftworker anymore was so strange. I was with a whole bunch of other eager students, mostly a fair few years younger than me and they all were so intelligent! I questioned every single day whether it was a mistake and I wasn’t really meant to get offered a place, but they couldn’t fix it by the time they realised.
So here I was, finally in medicine! My whole life had literally been working towards this point, so what comes now?
Well, we’ll get to that.
(This was originally posted on https://passgamsat.com/)
About the Author:
Aleysha Clarke is currently studying at Deakin University completing her MBBS.
She works as a casual nurse at a local hospital and is an alumni of PassGAMSAT.