Applying to medical school: Fatima Iqbal’s Journey

by Fatima Iqbal

I am a fourth-year medical student studying at Liaquat National Medical College, Pakistan. I will be sharing my experience in the following paragraphs about getting into a medical university.

In this country, education is uniform until 8th grade. Thereafter, you get to choose whether you’d like to be a part of the British system, i.e. go for O levels or the Pakistani system, i.e. 9th and matric. I chose the British system.

There are two years in the British system, O1 in which you are taught Islamiat, Pakistan Studies (history and geography) and Urdu, and O2 in which you take exams in English, Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry. Getting straight As is quite the achievement, but it takes hard work, dedication, and smart study to be able to accomplish it. Concept building is crucial, because it will help you in the long run. Moreover, whatever you study at your O levels doesn’t stay limited to that, but also helps you in your medical school. I have always felt that doing O levels was the best thing I did because it really broadened my horizons and built a strong base for my science subjects, something I still use today.

Having completed that I again had two options, either to go for A-levels or Intermediate. There is a preconceived notion here that medical students should go for Intermediate for them to be able to get into a good medical school. Based on that I chose Intermediate.

Intermediate again consists of two years. In the first year you take exams in English, Urdu, Islamic studies, Physics, Chemistry, Zoology and Botany. In the second year it’s English, Urdu, Pakistan studies, Physics, Chemistry, Zoology and Botany.

It was really difficult to adjust to a completely new system, but I did what needed to be done. You may wonder what made the British system different from the Pakistani one? The primary difference was the length of the answers required and the manner of learning. My concepts weren’t the only thing being examined; they wanted to see how fast I could write in an hour, or how many sheets of paper I could fill in a short period of time. There were typically two-line answers for O levels, which were completely contrary to the Pakistani system of answering questions. Also, it was mostly rote learning which was a completely new concept to me.

The lesson I want people to take from my experience is to stick to one system. It is not a good idea to jump from one system to another because it really wears you out. Consider intermediate if you feel you’re better at writing long paragraphs and are able to retain that much knowledge. If you prefer to learn based on concepts and keep things brief, go with the British system.

After that, I had to take the MCAT and wait for the merit lists to see if I met the requirements. In each university, there are a limited number of seats available and your merit number is determined by your O-level grades, intermediate grades, and MCAT score.

When you are passionate enough to become a doctor, it is definitely worth the long, hard road. Take your time because it isn’t an easy decision. I had to miss out on so many social events and family gatherings because there was also something I had to study for. It’s a huge decision that requires you to devote your youth to studying and helping people, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. Think carefully before you make your decision. There were days when I wanted to quit so badly, but I’m glad I didn’t. Listening to people tell me what brought them to the hospital and them thanking me for something as simple as taking their history is the highlight of most of my days.