Dr Rachael Czajka (pronounced Chai-ker) successfully completed the Medicine programme at Leeds in 2013. Seven years earlier she had taken part in a programme called The NHS needs you! This was a six-month programme of pre-entry support jointly provided by the Universities of Bradford and Leeds with funding from the Brightside Trust. It was designed to help students like Rachael gain access to competitive entry, health-related programmes such as Medicine. She recalled, Im sure it made a difference, especially having a medical student mentor. She was great. I exchanged long emails with her.
Whilst at medical school Rachael not only completed the 5 year Medicine programme but also a one year intercalated degree. She chose to study for an intercalated BSc in Primary Care. I liked the clinical content and the patient contact. I learned a lot in that year.
During her six years as a medical student she was an active volunteer. For example she served as an interviewer helping with the medical school admissions process. She also regularly helped demonstrate and teach at widening participation events. However, her most significant volunteering, sustained over 6 years, was with Leeds WAMS.
WAMS is an autonomous group of medical student volunteers dedicated to Widening Access to Medical School. Set up in 2002, WAMS has been a vigorous presence in the Medical School ever since. Rachael joined WAMS in 2007 and was later elected to WAMS leadership roles. Eventually she became the chair of the organisation sharing this position with a 4th year medical student friend. In that year the WAMS mentoring scheme involved over 80 medical student volunteers. The scheme partners medical students with local Year 12 students from groups under-represented in higher education for on-line and face-to-face conversations. WAMS also maintains an informative web site for potential applicants at http://www.wanttobeadoctor.co.uk/ . In addition it delivers aspiration-raising presentations in local state sector schools. Thanks to Rachael, WAMS has now extended its activities to engage each year with a local primary school in one of the poorest districts in Leeds.
It took Rachael several months to set up and launch the new scheme. The project involved groups of medical students visiting the school and culminated in an activity-filled afternoon at the university for an entire class of year 6 pupils. She mused: I was surprised how much work there was in building up links with the school. But it was worth it. The youngsters had never been to the university before. They got really excited!
When Rachael gained her medical school place she was automatically awarded a Leeds bursary to boost her student loans. She was well-used to paid employment and continued earning throughout her medical student years. The 3 years of employment she found most rewarding was working as a health care assistant in a nursing home near Bradford. She was allowed to vary her hours. In her holidays she mostly worked full time and during term time she did one or two shifts a week, except in the run up to exams. She explained, There were 30 residents. They were all very frail. Some were mentally alert. Some had dementia. I just loved spending time with them.
She added wryly, Im looking forward to starting work as a doctor. But its been terrible saying goodbye to everyone in the nursing home. We all cried. - As told to Carreen Dew in July 2013