This month marks the launch of a new campaign by Universities UK, Opportunity for Everyone, created to promote the positive impact that going to university can have. Here’s Imogen Burwood’s story on being the only student to get into medical school from her sixth form, juggling family health issues and dealing with dyslexia.

Imogen Burwood

calendar-icon 30 May 2018

Imogen Burwood, a first-year Medicine student at St George’s, University of London, grew up wanting to be a marine biologist until the age of 10 when her mum was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

She said: “My mum ended up in a neurological intensive care nearly 100 miles from where I live after suffering a brain haemorrhage. It was witnessing the incredible work that these doctors did to save my mum’s life that inspired me to want to study medicine.

“Further episodes of both physical and mental ill health within my family were constant reminders that becoming a doctor was the only career path for me.”

The process of getting into medical school was very long and mentally challenging for Imogen as she battled with family health issues at the same time.

It took Imogen two and a half years to get into medical school and no one in her family had applied to university before.

She said: “My parents went straight into employment and my older brother really didn’t get on well at school. So it was a big shock when I told them I wanted to study such an intense course. They have been very supportive and it was entertaining showing them what a university lecture theatre looked like.”

Imogen initially applied in 2015 but was rejected by all four of her chosen universities.

She said: “When I got my results in the August 2016 I had dropped a grade due to mitigating circumstances during my exams so I only achieved AAB.

“I subsequently rang every university across the country and found out that about six would accept me if I could gain an A in Biology after a second attempt.”

Imogen applied again in October 2016 with her predicted A resit and a very strong UKCAT score, but she was once again rejected by two of the universities. Although she gained two interviews, she was still unsuccessful in her attempts.

“I was so heartbroken that I decided to give up on my dreams of ever being a doctor and decided to apply to study pharmacy instead, and I gained a place at Cardiff.”

Imogen’s plans changed on A-Level results day when, after securing her A grade, her mum told her there were medicine spaces available through Clearing and Adjustment, and encouraged her to give universities a ring.

She said: “After opening my results I rang St George’s immediately and was offered an interview the following day.

“Just over 24 hours later I was offered to study the course of my dreams. I was at work when I found out and I just fell to the ground in a pile of tears because everything I had ever wanted had come true.”

Imogen hails from a very rural town in West Dorset where she discovered there wasn’t a lot of information or knowledge when it came to applying to medical school.

She said: “Where I’m from, everyone goes to school until they are 16 and then they go to work on their family farm, or in their family business. People are born in Beaminster and die in Beaminster. Not many people ever leave.”

Imogen was only one of three students from her primary school to end up at university. From sixth form, she was the only person in several years to get into medical school.

She said: “Since arriving at medical school I have realised that I am very different to the vast majority of people here; my parents aren’t doctors, I didn’t go to private or even grammar school and I don’t live within the M25.

“I also realised that my school was very different to the others, where you are given mock intervals and coaching on how to get into medical school and prepare for the entrance exams. Instead, I had to guide myself through the process.”

Imogen struggled with English at school, which she eventually found out was due to dyslexia.

She said: “When I arrived at St George’s, I went to speak to the disabled students’ coordinator who arranged a formal diagnostic test for me. She couldn’t have been more helpful. Finally someone believed that I wasn’t just lazy, but I actually had a learning difficulty.

“Just over a month later I was diagnosed with dyslexia. Since then I have received so much extra support from both the government and St George’s, which I couldn’t be more thankful for.”

“At first I was apprehensive about coming to St George’s with it being such a small university, but I am so thankful that I’m not at a conventional university. St George’s has such an incredible family atmosphere.”

Imogen’s top tip for anyone applying to medical school or any other course is to fight.

“If you don’t want it enough to fight for it, you have to ask yourself if it’s really the thing you want to do.

“I’d also say don’t go to university straightaway. Take a year or two out especially if you are going to study a five-year course like medicine. I worked at my local district hospital as a porter and it really helped. You will be thankful of the time off.”