Ben Allin studied the International Baccalaureate before he left IVC in 2003. He believed it gave him a much broader base of knowledge, the opportunity to begin independent research, a chance to think critically, and to develop presentation skills. After starting university, Ben found that studying the IB had positioned him much better to cope with the pressures and demands of a university style education.
Ben was unsure about what he wanted to do after College, initially thinking about studying law, and briefly thinking about teaching. However, after spending a lot of time working on a play-scheme for children with special needs, and seeing the impact that medics could have on their life, Ben decided to investigate more closely what being a doctor involved. He discovered that medicine was an exceptionally varied career, with opportunities for all sorts of people, with all sorts of different talents. Each day can be different and there are constant challenges. This appealed to Ben, as well as getting the opportunity to do practical tasks and spending time critically thinking. This career could give him the opportunity to have a very profound effect on a person’s life.
The application process into medicine for Ben was different to now, as he only had to focus on the interview. Now, there are more stages to go through before getting to the interview, including exams such as the BMAT and the UKCAT. The interviews tend to consist of several main sections, one focussing on your reasons for applying for medicine and your commitment to the career, one looking at your understanding of what a career in medicine entails, one on your extra-curricular activities and what you can contribute to the university, and usually an ethical question.
Ben’s current job is as an academic paediatric surgeon. Essentially this means that for the majority of his time he is based in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, working as a surgeon on one of the teams that look after babies and children who require an operation. The job is incredibly varied, and they operate on anyone from babies who have been born prematurely, and weigh less than half a bag of sugar, all the way up to teenagers with appendicitis.
There are two main types of day that Ben can be involved in. These are:
- ‘On-call’ or emergency days – where Ben is responsible for seeing any child who comes into A&E who might need an operation. He can see the very sick children, those that have been in accidents, or who have conditions that might need an emergency operation, such as appendicitis, or something called gastroschisis, where the baby is born with their intestines outside of the body rather than inside.
- 'Elective operating’ days – where they carry out operations that have been planned a long time in advance. These are usually for long-term conditions that aren’t life threatening, but which need correcting, such as a hernia.
The part of the job that Ben enjoys the most is operating on the very young, very sick babies, because it is technically very skilful surgery, and he has the opportunity to make a massive difference to a child’s life. Ben is still a junior within the team, so at the moment, he usually only gets to assist the more senior surgeons with these operations. Over the next forty years of his career Ben will continue to train and shape out a path, so that one day he will become the senior surgeon.
The other half of Ben’s job is the academic component. For this part, he spends about 20% of his week running clinical trials, looking at ways that hospitals can improve the care of the children that they are looking after, trying to work out which operation is the best for any particular condition and other various research objectives.
All this dedication though means that Ben often works long and tiring hours. He spends 60 or 70 hours a week at work, and then often has to carry on working when he gets home – either studying for exams or writing up research. At least one weekend every month is spent at the hospital, as well as a ‘long-day’, where you start at 7:30am and finish at 9:30pm, and one week in every seven is a week of night-shifts, starting at 8pm and finishing at 10am.
However, with a bit of organisation, Ben still finds it possible to have a great social life. He acknowledges that Medicine is a very sociable career, as you work closely with a committed team of people, so for Ben, there are always people around to party with, or to play rugby with. It is also the most rewarding career he could possibly imagine and would not swap it for anything else.
A Piece of Advice
“Take a gap year. It’s very easy to become stuck on a conveyer belt, moving from one set of exams to another, not really taking any time for yourself. University is hard work, and after university, opportunities to take a break are much more limited. Having taken a gap year, I came into university feeling refreshed, and ready to start working again, whereas a lot of people who had come straight from school and had only just sat their exams found it much harder to get back into the swing of things. A gap year gave me the opportunity to do some of the things that I’d always wanted to do, but hadn’t had time to before. I played rugby seriously, travelled, and learned all sorts of new skills. It was an amazing break, and set me up, ready to start back at university, and make the most of everything that was on offer there.”