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Interview with Dibah Jiva
Co-author of The Medical School Application Guides (MSAG)
Why did you choose to study medicine?
This reminds me of my medical school interview. I am sure they asked me this but I don't remember what I said. It is a combination of 20 years of life that have created my aspirations and medical school just fitted perfectly as part of the journey to achieving those aspirations. I was not an applicant who always wanted to be a doctor or whose parents were doctors. In my family, the keyword was always "Business". My mom and dad are both successful entrepreneurs and they have, even from a very young age, asked our input on business topics and decisions. For most of my life, I hesitated between becoming a lawyer or going into business and despite that, I really think I have found the best career path for me in Medicine. I find the human body fascinating, the psychological aspect as much as the biology, and what better way to learn about both these areas than through a career in medicine. I am never bored studying medicine and actually read a lot of extra material that is not required, but that I find interesting. I think the training to become a doctor goes far beyond learning the biology and the purely medical knowledge. There is a great emphasis on communication skills, social and cultural tolerance, public health, managing budget for the healthcare provided and many other elements that I enjoy as much as I do the medical learning. I think it's an amazing training and doctors are trained to do a great variety of jobs from healing patients, to educating society about health, to even managing hospitals and implementing healthcare solutions in areas of need.
Have you found your career path?
Actually, No. I am not sure yet if I want to be a hospital physician, a GP, a surgeon or even maybe what I call a healthcare development entrepreneur. I have been lucky that my parents have taken me to many countries as I was growing up, and every time I went to a new developing country and saw the economy, health and issues they face, I thought one day, once I have completed my education and training, I will not forget those places and do something that will have an impact. I have no idea what this something is today, but I do think that being a doctor is a great training for many careers and as I develop other skills, hopefully there will be new opportunities that will arise. What I know is that whatever I end up doing, I want to practice medicine in some ways as I have found very few things that give the same personal satisfaction as caring for a patient.
Why did you choose to study at the University of Nottingham?
Let me start by why I came to the UK. After my French baccalaureate, I went to Canada to study Nutrition at McGill University. By the end of my first degree, I was clear about wanting to study medicine. Returning to France would have meant starting a 6 to 7 year degree from scratch as there is no Graduate Entry Medicine in France. Staying in North America would have meant that I then needed to do extra examinations to be able to practice in Europe if I ever wanted to come back to Europe. The UK could offer me a 4 year degree, that would be recognized in the whole of the European Union without additional examinations which was perfect for me. I had several uncertainties when choosing my medical school. Firstly, it was hard to find exactly how my grades at McGill would convert into a first or 2:1 or 2:2 equivalent from a UK university. Also, having never lived in the UK, I really did not know anything about the reputation of different medical schools, about the cities I was applying to, etc. The UCAS application only allows 4 choices and I strongly believe that students should carefully look at where they have the highest chances of getting in when choosing where to apply. I now help many applicants look at where they should apply to increase their chances of admissions. The truth is, when I applied, I did not know how to do that well so my choices were a bit random but I liked the idea of applying to medical schools that used the GAMSAT score as the main entry criteria as I felt it was in my hands to do well in it and thus it gave me control over my application. Nottingham was my first choice because I had heard of it and so I assumed it had a good reputation and I also wanted to study in a course where graduate students were in a separate class from undergraduates before the clinical years. I have really enjoyed my time at the Graduate Entry program of the University of Nottingham. The PBL system is great as it teaches you self learning, working in teams and clinical reasoning. I like the intimate campus and the staff are easily reachable and always available for a chat.
Whose idea was it to create the MSAGs?
Well, the MSAGs as they are published today look very different than they did 4 years ago. It all started in 2007 as a 15 pages booklet that Bijan Teja created. His idea at the time was to compile information and advice he had collected while preparing for medical school application. His objective I think was to help friends and prospective applicants within the community. He wanted to write it all up, ask some advisors and medical students to review, edit, add information and advice and then find a route to distribute it around for free.
At the time, I was just one of the friends he asked to review the booklet. He was so passionate about making it perfect that we spent a lot of time adding things, editing it and finding experienced advisors to review passages. He truly wanted to have a quality booklet to help prospective applicants. When I read through what he had done, I absolutely loved the idea. I had myself spent 100 hours on websites looking for information on applying to medical school and I thought "If I had had a booklet like this, it would saved me so much time." This is when I decided to really get involved more and help in making this booklet as comprehensive as possible.
As I helped Bijan work on the booklet he had prepared, I started to see that to make this booklet truly helpful to prospective applicants, we would need to add a lot more information than what was already there. Also, as we were thinking of how to distribute this booklet to as many students as possible for free, we came across the problems of how to reach medical school applicants, how to finance the printing, etc. From those thoughts and long conversations over japanese food, we realized that the idea of creating a booklet to help students was good but possibly not sustainable and penetrating enough. To make a real impact, we needed to create a guide that is user friendly, accurate and comprehensive while finding ways of making it available easily to applicants. The project also needed to be financially sustainable for us to be able to continue this yearly and ensure that we could update this booklet yearly. This is when we decided that a comprehensive guidebook with all the information any student would want when applying to medical school is what we would endeavour to create.
What one most important piece of advice would you give to a medical school applicant?
My advice is probably targeted to some applicants rather than all applicants. One of my main motivations behind writing the MSAGs is making information available to those applicants who do not always have the self confidence to go out of their way to ask advice to people. In the last few years working on this project, I have met many medical school applicants but also many students who think they should not apply as they will not get in. 100% of the time I met an applicant who thought they could not get in, they actually had a fair chance to get into a few medical schools but did not know it. Students who have not achieved the grades they wished are those who are the most shy about asking for help as they do not want to reveal poor grades, but they are also those who need advice the most for their application. My advice is: do not convince yourself that you do not want to do medicine because you think you cannot get in. If that's what you want to do and if you are committed (this second part is essential), talk to people, to friends, to doctors, to current students, to anyone you have access to and ask for advice and help. Being shy about sharing your grades will not get you into medical school. Similarly, I would like to tell students who have very strong grades that although it will undeniably help them get in, every year, many applicants with a first (or AAA at A level or 4.0 GPA) are rejected from medical school entrance. This illustrates well that there is more to it than good grades. Even with a strong application, seeking advice and strong commitment will go a long way.
Find out the unique content that sets the MSAG UK Graduate Entry Medicine 2012-2013 apart from other guidebooks on the market: Advantages of the MSAG Graduate Entry Medicine.
Find out the unique content that sets the MSAG UK for Undergraduate Applicants 2012-2013 apart from other guidebooks on the market: Advantages of the MSAG for Undergraduate applicants.
Find out why the MSAG Worldwide 2012-2013 is the most complete medical school application guidebook on the marlet: Advantages of the MSAG Worldwide Edition.
Find out about the philosophy and principles guiding the creation of the guidebooks on about the MSAGs
You can view and download the full table of contents of the guidebooks at :