Here for Good Scholarship: Free Interview Workshop for Medical School Applicants

by Michaela Rektorysova, 4th Year Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery, University of Auckland

Every year the University of Auckland Medical School receives approximately 1000 applications from people wishing to undergo a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery course, of which around 300 are accepted. There is an assumption that all the applicants are on a level playing field as they attend the same lectures and sit the same exams - sadly, this is incorrect.

When I received my first tutoring email, I stared at the price. I thought ‘How could anyone afford this? There is no way anyone is attending this’. Upon realising that most students applying for medical school received private tutoring, I faced a difficult decision: ask my parents for money they are unable to spare, or to take my chances without receiving tutoring. I took my chances - that year my application was unsuccessful.

Following my successful second attempt at applying, I wanted to do something for people like myself, who could not afford the expensive tutoring and workshops in their pre-medical year. On the day of my acceptance I decided to start a blog for the 700 people whose applications were unsuccessful, so that I could use my experience to support them and encourage those who wish to apply again.

As the year progressed, I wanted to do more and more for those who asked me questions through my blog. In 2017 I brought together a team of people who I knew cared about those unsuccessful candidates as much as I did. I told them I want to do more - and I wanted it to be free.

Over the next 6 months, my group of kind and dedicated volunteers worked hard to develop a framework for a free workshop, focusing on the medical interview which has the potential to make or break a student’s application. We faced many challenges, the tutoring companies did their best to stop us and we faced financial issues such as hiring a location for the workshop. All the while, the faculty and other students silently cheered us on. My team and I compiled all the practice questions we could get our hands on and made them into a booklet, including articles on the best way to answer interview questions and the medico-legal principles used. This booklet was to be freely available to everyone electronically, regardless of whether they were attending our workshop. Finally, we found sponsors and volunteers to support our cause. Eventually, we opened it up to 144 applicants - I still remember my heart racing when all spots filled up within 20 minutes. A waitlist was opened and there were 100 people on it within half an hour - interest was through the roof.

Our first workshop was held in November 2017 and it was a great success. My heart was so full of love and admiration for the amazing 72 volunteers who dedicated 5 hours of their life to help medical applicants practice for their interview. I cried when I received a card they all signed, thanking me for organizing the workshop and I decided then and there that I would do everything in my power to run the workshop every year. I wanted people to know that they did not have to pay hundreds of dollars for private tutoring, because every year a free option would be available.

For 2018 we worked even harder and expanded the workshop to 160 applicants. This meant more volunteers, and higher costs for printing booklets, and food for the volunteers. Many people on the team wanted to charge a small fee which would cover the cost of the expenses, but I insisted the workshop must remain free. That year we ran another successful workshop. Many of my volunteers that year were those who attended in 2017, it was heartwarming to see them giving back to the pre-medical community.

One of the most amazing moments was when I was walking through campus and somebody I had never seen before approached me and said “You don’t know me but I attended your interview workshop and I believe that the confidence and knowledge it gave me is what made the difference in me getting accepted”. Knowing that I made a difference even for just one person to achieve their dream made all of the hard work worth the struggle.

This volunteering activity benefits me in life by forming relationships, developing my leadership skills, whilst also helping support my future colleagues. While there may be no tangible benefit to myself, there is the emotional reward of knowing that I did my best to help someone in need. It is something I wish I had access to when I was in the position of applying for medical school. As a future doctor, it is my desire to help as many people as I can, not only by helping people recover from sickness but helping support my fellow future doctors.

Therefore, if I received this scholarship I would use the money to support the free interview workshop for 2019. I could not imagine a better way to spend this scholarship than by helping people achieve their dream.