Getting Into…Neurosurgery

An important part of our mission here in the APH is to demystify the world of work and careers. We often take for granted how difficult it can be to access information about what is required to succeed in a particular discipline.  This is why we routinely interview aspiring professionals and share their personal stories of the steps they took to excel in their careers.  Recently, Amara had the opportunity to interview Dr Andrew Alalade, a neurosurgeon with a subspeciality interest in skull base tumours and discuss his #MyCareerStory of building a successful career in Medicine in the UK as an international medical graduate. 

APH: Please can you tell us about your educational and professional background? 

AA: My  school education started in the United Kingdom but I moved back to Nigeria and studied Medicine at the University of Ibadan. I returned to the UK to work on rotation as a Foundation Year 2 doctor.  My neurosurgical residency training was done in the London North Thames rotation and I had the privilege of training in some of the United Kingdom’s top neuroscience centres. I am a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, England (FRCS SN) and a Fellow of the European Board of Neurosurgical Societies (FEBNS). On completion of my training, I obtained my Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) in July 2016. The CCT confers the title of specialist Neurosurgeon at Consultant level, which gives permission to practise as one in the United Kingdom.

#CareerFocus – Neurosurgery

1. NeurosurgeryIn today’s #MyCareerStory, the APH had the opportunity to interview Dr Douglas Okor.  Douglas is a brain surgeon in the UK and Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (the oldest Surgical College in the World).. In this insightful interview Douglas offers his perspective about life as a neurosurgeon and demystifies this pathway for aspiring surgeons. Enjoy!

APH: Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

I am Douglas Emeka Okor, Nigerian born, in Benin City in Nigeria. I am a brain surgeon and a passionate Nigerian health sector advocate and an entrepreneur. I grew up in Nigeria and had my education in Nigeria. I saw there was a significant gap in the healthcare space in Nigeria hence my decision to become a brain surgeon.

APH: Can you tell us about the different stages of your educational career to date?

Douglas: I had my nursery, primary and secondary education in Nigeria. I went to a grammar school in Benin City and the University of Benin where I graduated in 2002. I worked for a couple of years in Nigeria then left for the UK where I spent 8-9 years training to become a brain surgeon. In the last year I started my sub-specialist training in two areas – skull based and vascular neurosurgery.

APH: When did you decide you wanted to become a medical doctor?

#UniChat – “From the Equator to the North Pole” – Studying Medicine in Ukraine

imagesEvery year, thousands of students leave their countries to progress their education in lands unknown. In recent years, increasing tuition costs in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the UK and US have increased the popularity of seeking education in other countries including non-English speaking countries. In today’s post, Emmanuel caught up with Dr Oge Ezeoke, an intern at a teaching hospital in Nigeria, who completed a medical degree in Ukraine. Oge discusses her experiences and challenges of being an international student in Ukraine and offers some words of advice for anyone considering studying medicine in Ukraine.

APH: Why did you choose to study in Ukraine?

OE: Most people ask me why I went all the way to Ukraine to study medicine. I think the best answer would be, I didn’t. After graduating from high school, I applied to different Nigerian universities without luck and I decided to look outside the country instead of staying at home waiting. I applied to one university in Ukraine and I got accepted.

APH: How were your early experiences and what challenges did you encounter?

OE: I arrived in Ukraine without knowing a single individual. I had no friends or relatives over there. It felt like landing on the moon. At first I was unhappy because I was so far away from home, but I was also afraid because I had never lived on my own. After settling down and completing my registration, I faced my first challenge, the language. My program was taught in English but once I left the classroom, I was on my own. I had to walk around with a translator, usually a foreign student like myself who could speak the language. So let’s say I was independently dependent, and that motivated me to learn the language.

Another challenge was the weather. That was quite a challenge going from the equator to the North Pole.

“Maybe if I had slept in a cold room for a month before going to Ukraine I would have been better prepared for it.”

But my toughest challenge of studying in Ukraine was the racism. At first, I didn’t have a problem with the way people stared at me or my friends, probably because we stared back. But as I began to understand the language, I started to hear the side remarks and the insults. Luckily I was never physically attacked because ladies were told to always walk in pairs and not to stay out late. It was difficult but in a way I appreciated it and after some time it got easier and I learnt how to accommodate it.

APH: Were there any good points?

OE: There were a lot of interesting and new things I enjoyed while I was there. I learnt a new language. I also leant how to cook Indian and East African cuisine. I got to travel and visit new places within the country.

I enjoyed the organization and how orderly things were. I’m not saying things in my country are not organized, it was just nice to have a different feel altogether. A couple of my friends enjoyed the way things were done over there and decided to stay back and further their studies. I thought about it, in fact I almost considered it. But I needed a lot more practical experience and I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied staying back in Ukraine.

My school was good for the theoretical knowledge but not for the practical one. I wanted to believe that was because there were so many foreign students and most of the local patients we interacted with in the hospitals sometimes got “overwhelmed” by our presence in the sense that they weren’t too comfortable with the idea of being examined or touched by a foreigner. I believe this was a general thing in most of the universities in Ukraine. And it affected how much practical skills we got to learn or apply and the effect of that was seen when I got back home for my internship. But I was still grateful for the whole learning process.

APH: What can you say about the occasional negative impression about medical studies in Ukraine?

OE: While I was in Ukraine, I heard a lot of things that were said about people who went to study in Ukraine. There was this general idea that only “spoilt children” were sent Ukraine and all we did was go clubbing and become musicians. Now, that isn’t entirely true. Everyone is free to do what he or she wants to do. If someone decides to go to school and study till they drop, their choice.

Medical students back in Nigeria also felt it was a waste of time studying abroad because the “medicine” was different. This is completely wrong! Practicing back in Nigeria has shown me that medicine is basically the same everywhere. The only difference would be that we tend to pay attention to the diseases or conditions which are most common or have the highest incidence in our own environments.

“…medicine is basically the same everywhere. The only difference would be that we tend to pay attention to the diseases or conditions which are most common or have the highest incidence in our own environments.”

APH: What would you say about other students taking the same route you did?

OE: I know right now most parents wouldn’t want to send their children to Ukraine considering the ongoing tensions and the political crisis in the eastern part of the country. This however did not affect the western part of Ukraine.

APH: Any last words about your experience?

OE; Studying in Ukraine was a wonderful and life changing experience for me. I learnt so many things and I also believe it made me a bit more focused. So if anyone is interested in studying Medicine in Ukraine, I would advise the person to go ahead. It’s not as expensive as other medical schools in Western Europe or Europe as a whole.

If you don’t have a problem with the weather or racism, then it’s ok to study in Ukraine. Plus, if you would like to simply get a degree in Medicine and further your career in a different geographical location then it isn’t a bad idea. The reason is the postgraduate programs in Ukraine, in my opinion presently doesn’t benefit foreigners because of the struggle to acquire practical skills. All in all, it is still a wonderful place to study medicine.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and subscribe to our network! To find out more information about studying abroad or choosing a course to study at University, do get in touch with us. If you have an article you would like to share with our readers, please contact us – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com

Uncertain what to do next? – Career Options for Life Science Graduates

Science and education iconsWondered what to do after completing a degree in the Life Sciences? Have you considered the variety of opportunities available for you after you graduate? Over the next weeks, we will showcase a range of career options open to graduates of different disciplines with guest posts from professionals in some of the sectors. However, as scientists, we will start with some of common and not-so-common career options available to life sciences graduates and in some cases to non–graduates interested in working in the life sciences.

Teaching – Teaching remains one of the oldest and long standing professions. Be it primary or secondary school teaching, we have come across many people who have commented on how exciting and rewarding teaching can be although like any other career, it comes with its challenges. To work as a teacher in either primary level or high school, you will need patience. If you do not like children, perhaps teaching may not be the best fit for you. There is always a need for teachers with a science background and with the declining number of people taking mathematics, there is a big gap to fill in the STEM subjects. To qualify for a job as a teacher, beyond your degree (2.2 or above), you will need to enrol on a teacher training program. Check out Routes into teaching (UK) for more information. If you would like to teach abroad, do some research on what teaching qualifications you will need.

Lecturing – To work as a University or College Lecturer on the other hand, the minimum requirement is a master’s degree qualification. A lot of Further Education institutions (colleges) accept Masters Degrees and in some cases, you can work as an Associate Lecturer at a University. In the Life Sciences, it can be difficult to get into lecturing in Higher Education without a PhD degree due to the high number of PhD graduates and Post-doctoral researchers in this area. If you feel lecturing is what you would like to do, consider doing a PhD first as you will need it to progress through the ranks. You will also have the opportunity to develop your research profile – which you will find important when supervising students projects and dissertations. If you are currently studying for your PhD and have no interest in postdoctoral research but would like to teach, consider undertaking a postgraduate teaching qualification at your University – usually for free! This qualification is usually called the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Completion of the teaching qualification leads to the professional recognition as Associate Fellow or Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the UK.

Research – For graduates interested in innovation, development and the technical side of the life sciences, research is a very appealing option. Remember that research is not limited to working in a University laboratory where you can work as a research intern, research assistant or technician. As a Life science graduate, you have a wide variety of options and location where you can be employed to conduct research. This could be in a drug development company, national health research centre such as National Institute of Health Research, NIH (USA), product development companies such as Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Medical Device companies or even SMEs. In these organisations, you can be employed as a Research Scientist and expected to conduct research in different areas. An advantage of a career in the sciences are the specificity of the technical skills and the array of transferable skills you have developed, which means you can work in similar organisations worldwide. For a career in research, a good degree qualification and the ability to demonstrate your laboratory and technical skills are the minimum requirements at entry level.

Sales – Are you a science student or graduate involved in charity events, soliciting donations from other students and academics (a tough crowd to get money from!!), or do you work as a sales person in a clothing store and not sure what to do after your degree? Well you are already developing skills in sales! With a good degree to belt, your communication skills, passion for selling and ability to convince difficult customers, you can embark on a career which could involve selling modern and hi tech diagnostic or scientific technologies to other companies and academic institutions. A career in sales can be very rewarding financially with many added benefits such as bonuses, car allowances etc. Remember that a role in sales will most likely involve travelling, but what’s not to love about travelling eh?

Transition to Medicine –  A life science degree or a background in the life sciences can be a route for those who retain interest in practicing as medical doctors. As an International educational activities adviser, I am often confronted by parents and young students who are particularly interested in a career in medicine but find it difficult securing places on medical degree courses due to limited places and competition. Achieving a first class or 2.1 degree in the life sciences presents another opportunity into medicine either though the standard route (UCAS) or via the four year accelerated graduate entry programme (GEP). Some of the Universities and medical schools in Australia, the UK and Ireland require that you pass the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT) to be considered. Whilst GAMSAT is one of the main routes into GEPs in the UK, the MCAT test is the required test for entry into medicine in the USA. Keep in mind that graduate entry into medicine is not limited to the UK or the USA, although they are preferred options. If you are passionate about getting into Medicine, put your research skills to work and find out what option works best for you.

Business management and Entrepreneurship – Yes, you can! Don’t be alarmed! As a science graduate, one of your career options is definitely in the commercial sector. The analytical skills of science graduates appeals to both scientific and non-scientific organisations. Employers can provide training on aspects of business and business management which as a science graduate, you may not have. Do you have a great idea and want to start your own business? A number of Universities are now embedding entrepreneurial training in their science courses as well as providing support for students who want to transform their ideas into a business.

If this is an area you would like to develop whilst undertaking your degree or as a graduate, why not approach your careers department and ask for advice on what type of training programs or free workshops are available to help you develop business skills. You can also volunteer with business organisations, giving you an opportunity to see their operational challenges and how you can use skills you have developed from your science degree to solve them. To get into the business and commercial sector, you will still be expected to have a good degree (2.2 and above), good communication skills and be willing to take up the challenge of working under pressure in what is usually a fast paced environment!

Have you considered working as a Business Development Executive? in Project Management? as a Proposals Associate? These are opportunities open to science graduates and requires several skills such as excellent communication, initiative, attention to detail, flair for numbers and of course professionalism as well as the ability to work independently and in a team

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article and found it helpful. If so, please like, share and follow! In part II of this article, we will conclude on other career options and pathways for life science graduates, so be on look out. If you would need further advice on how to get into these sectors, do not hesitate to contact us via  email (info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com).

Watch this space for our career profiles, providing information on how to get into different career ‘spaces’ from people who have been successful at doing so. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us @AspProfHub.

#CareerFocus – Getting into Medicine

How did you decide on your current career? Did you nurture a dream from a young age and see it through? Did you decide in school when you realised that you had an aptitude for certain subjects? Did you choose a course at University, thoroughly hate it, graduate and decide to do something else? In our latest addition to The Hub, ‘Getting Into – ’ we share information regarding getting into specific careers from professionals in the discipline. In this article, Chidi Amadi, a medical student shares information about getting into Medicine in the UK.

APH: What is your current role?

CA: I am a final year medical Student at King’s College London (from August 2015).

When did you realise you wanted to be a doctor and what steps did you take to get there?

I realised I wanted to be a doctor when I was 16, after my GCSE results (10 A*s and 5 As). I was informed by my school that I was the only student to gain 3 A*s in Triple Science. I combined this outcome with parental guidance, my love for science and a desire to enter a prestigious challenging career … and the passion for medicine was born. The journey to getting into Medicine starts from your GCSE’s and not just A’ Levels.

The steps I took to get here were choosing my A levels appropriately. Chemistry is compulsory, Maths and Biology are desirable – I strongly recommend those three. Your fourth should preferably be a humanities (geography, history or economics) or a language. Getting into medical school is highly competitive, so realistically, you should achieve A’s and A*’s in your A’ Level subjects.

Secondly, I arranged work experience early (hospital, GP and care home). Thirdly, I made sure I was in close contact with those ahead of me i.e. medical undergraduates at the time, newly qualified doctors as I realised that they were best placed to advise me. This was particularly important in preparing for the interview.

How would you answer the question ‘Why would you like to study Medicine?’ Most prospective medical student’s response to that question relates to wanting to care for sick people but you could also do that as a nurse or pharmacist. This is where the advice of those in the profession can prove invaluable. More information on preparing for interviews can be found here.

In your opinion, what are the important skills and personal attributes to succeed in Medicine?

Medicine is a long course and an even longer career to embark upon so you must be ready for the challenge. It needs dedication, consistency and the ability to think laterally. Working as a doctor involves problem solving, often using an indirect and creative approach. Beyond subject knowledge, to succeed in the medical profession, you must also have excellent communication skills – especially listening. Further information about skills required can be found here.

Can you describe a typical working day?

9-12: Ward round (presenting patients’ cases to Consultants and seniors as they review them)

12-1: Lunch break

1-4: Clinics with consultants, teaching with seniors or self-directed ward activity

What do you like the most and least about your job?

Like the most – the diversity of what needs to be learnt.

Like the least – I can’t remember when I slept before 1am.

What do you wish someone else had told you before you embarked on your academic/professional journey?

That I should be prepared to be challenged beyond my preconceived limits.

What advice would you share with anyone interested in studying Medicine and how can one get in?

Motivation – If you want a title, money, or fame then please do not study Medicine. You will save yourself a lot of time, effort and save patients a lot of headache which come from unenthusiastic doctors. Assess your interest in studying Medicine and ensure it is genuine – a real interest with a primary focus. Medicine has to be something that you really want to do.

Preparation – I would advise also that you start your journey early! Prepare a strong personal statement, get some work experience and start your UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) and Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) revision even before the start of your AS level exams. ‘The early bird catches the worm.’

For more information on getting into Medicine in the UK, please visit the Medical Schools Council guide for students.

Chidi Amadi is a final year medical student at the GKT School of Medical Education, King’s College London.

We hope you have found this article useful. If you have any more questions or career pathways you would like to see profiled, please send us an email @ aspiringprofessionalshub@gmail.com.