This month I spoke with Rebecca Bradford, who, at the age of 37, is currently in her first year of medical school. Rebecca grew up in Coventry and had a tough start to life. Despite all odds she managed to achieve her goal of getting into medical school which she perceives as her greatest achievement.
Rebecca’s story is extremely inspiring and one which demonstrates that with hard work and determination anything is possible.
Hi Rebecca, thanks for agreeing to share your story with our readers. Let’s start from the beginning, what was your early childhood like?
I grew up in Coventry, but our family moved to France when I was 9 years old. It was my father’s dream to open a guest house over there. Sadly, he had a severe accident when I was 12 which left him paralysed. My mother was an alcoholic and very abusive. I was taken away by the French social services at the age of 14 and subsequently lived in various children’s homes until I reached 18.
You certainly didn’t have the easiest start to life. How did this affect your schooling and education?
Before my dad’s accident, I loved school! I played the cello and the recorder. I always asked my teachers for extra homework and books to read. This all changed when my dad became ill. I lost interest in everything. I didn’t see the point in going to school as I’d lost my best friend. I left school when I was 14 and then enrolled to do an apprenticeship in hospitality which involved learning how to be a waitress basically. I wanted to make a little bit of money and I was making a plan to escape at the age of 18! In France, the GCSE system is very different. You either pass or fail. I failed.
Essentially, until I decided to study medicine, I didn’t have any academic qualifications. After school I went straight into work as a sales assistant, cabin crew for emirates, personal trainer, and group exercise instructor.
You’ve done your fair share of jobs, what made you decide that you wanted to become a doctor?
It’s difficult to put into words. I have always tried to trust my gut and intuition. Sometimes things in life don’t make any logical sense. When I was deciding what to study, rather than thinking ‘I want to be a doctor’ I worked backwards. I thought, what do I enjoy? What challenges me? What experiences have I had that have made an impact on me? What kind of people do I want to work with? If ANYTHING was possible, what would I do? What are my strengths? Who do I want to protect/help?
The bottom line is I suffered a great deal growing up, I suffered abuse and neglect. Medical professionals had always played a huge role in my life; they had saved my dad’s life, they had helped social services take me away from my abusive mother, they had always been so supportive and kind to me. Another doctor had operated on me and helped me walk again. They’d had a huge impact on the trajectory of my life. To me they were heroes.
I wanted to have the same impact on people’s lives. I have always believed that if you have enough love in your heart, passion and determination you can accomplish anything. Material things like qualifications and money will follow, you always find a way! My heart goes out to vulnerable children, I would certainly like to have a role in community paediatrics one day.
You clearly have always had an underlying passion for medicine, what gave you that final push to just go for it and start the application process?
I decided to start the process of application in Dec 2016 after being in and out of hospital with 3 slipped discs in my back and having to undergo 3 major operations. My long stay in hospital served as a massive catalyst to my decision as I knew couldn’t carry on teaching 10 classes per week or being a personal trainer in the long term because of my neck and back. This really pushed me to question a lot of things and ask myself some deep questions.
I know the application process for medical school is extremely tough, could you explain to the readers what it entailed?
At the start, I worked backwards. I looked at the university requirements and started from scratch. GCSE English, then maths, then the sciences. I then went on to study an Access to Medicine in Manchester from Jan 2018 – Dec 2018. I applied and was offered a place at Bristol.
I had to Self-study my GCSE’s at the age of 34 and so I came back to the UK in Dec 2016 after living in Dubai for 7 years. With the help of my 50p second hand CGP revision books, I taught myself, English, maths, physics, chemistry and biology. It was amazing to get the results back from the first GCSE I sat which was English. I got A*! 96/100.
The UKCAT was my biggest struggle! I practised for 3 months prior to the exam and got an average score. My highest score was abstract reasoning which was quite surprising!
The next step was choosing a University. I chose the universities who accepted the access course. I also really wanted to make sure that I would be able to start seeing patients within the first year.
That’s an extremely long process! What kept you motivated to apply?
People telling me that I was crazy and the chances of me getting into medical school were very slim!
Also, I knew that I was on the right path. Again, when I’ve worked jobs in the past, I always felt as if something was ‘off’. I was broke, on a path where everyone thought I was crazy, but it felt right to me!
Now you’re in, what is a typical day for you like?
A typical day for me is:
9am – 11am lectures, 1pm-3pm Biomedical sciences lab, 3pm-5pm self-study, and 6pm-7pm Gym!
I find that balancing jobs and studying is extremely hard, and the workload is sometimes overwhelming! I also feel that it takes me a little longer than other students to understand some of the topics we cover. But the University is fantastic in helping those who need extra support, especially if you are a care leaver/mature student. I have also received additional financial and academic support from the University which I’m truly grateful for.
Have there been any standout experiences whilst you’ve been studying?
I love meeting patients in the community and whilst on placement. One patient stands out a lot in my mind. Judo was a huge part of this man’s life. One day, he received a pinch to the back of his head/neck which subsequently broke his neck. He never walked again; he was only 30. We met him and his mindset was so positive. He explained to us that he had two choices; either stay home and complain about his situation or make the most of what he had left. He learned how to operate a computer with his chin and went on to complete a degree and a masters at university. He also enjoyed a busy social life and even got married! It served as a reminder that its so important to have a positive mindset regardless of what life looks like sometimes. Just keep fighting!
Your story is certainly very inspiring and truly depicts that with hard work and determination anything is possible. Do you have any advice for our student readers who have a goal that they perceive as unobtainable?
Firstly, age doesn’t matter! I am now 37 years old and the one question most people ask is ‘how old are you if you don’t mind me asking?’. I always say 21 to confuse them. On a serious note, what does it matter? It’s just a number. You can be a fantastic doctor at any age!
Secondly, don’t listen to others unless they are supportive. Along the way, I have had comments such as ‘it’s very unlikely you will get into medicine, I have taught A* students and they didn’t even get in!’ and ‘what’s your plan B?, you need to have a think about this Bec so you’ve got something to fall back on when you get rejected’…Cut these people out! If you can’t, just listen to your heart and know that you will succeed!
Thirdly, ignore your past! Your past is the past. I always assumed that you had to have rich parents to be a medic. How could a kid that has grown up in care be a doctor? I’m telling you, you can! You will have so much empathy for patients and you will have so much determination to succeed. Don’t let your past dictate your future!
Finally, have fun whilst at uni! University can be very stressful. During my first term, I worked and studied, that’s it. Make sure you socialise, play sport and have fun!
It was so fascinating to hear how Rebecca fought against all odds to pursue her dream and was successful in her venture. We wish her all the best in her medical career, she is sure to make a wonderful doctor!
Look out for next month’s issue of ‘ordinary people with extraordinary stories’ where I will delve deep into another inspiring individual with an interesting story to tell.