In July 2013 Dr Laura Stephenson graduated from the University of Leeds with a medical degree. Whilst her parents had been highly supportive, neither of them had attended university. Her state sector education had taken place in schools with exam results below the national average. In addition, up to the age of 10, shed suffered significant health issues. These included undergoing surgery 7 times culminating in a major operation and six months in a wheelchair. She admits, Over the years I met lots of doctors and nurses. It was this experience that made me want to work in the health service.
During her A levels studies she took advantage of The NHS needs you! a pre-entry support programme provided by the Universities of Bradford and Leeds with funding from the Brightside Trust. It helped a lot with my application to medicine and gave me an insight into whats expected of a doctor.
In the autumn of 2007 she joined a cohort of 70 students admitted to the BSc in Clinical Sciences at the University of Bradford. The first year syllabus of that programme had been designed to mirror the learning outcomes of the first year of the medical programme at Leeds. This meant that, at the end of the year, some of the highest achievers would be ready to cope with the demands of the second year of the medicine programme at Leeds. Laura was one of 20 Bradford students who were selected to transfer to study medicine at Leeds. She said emphatically, Bradford was brilliant. It was hard work but the staff gave us loads of support.
Laura not only completed the five year medicine programme but also chose to spend a year at Leeds studying for an intercalated BSc degree in Psychology. Id done psychology at A level and it was great to have a chance to study it in more depth.
She financed her university studies with the help of university bursaries, student loans and paid employment. At school I got used to working 16 hours a week on top of my academic studies. When I started at university I just carried on. Laura acknowledged that shed cut down on the hours she worked during the 2 final, most clinically-intense, years of medical school. I was lucky. I found a fantastic job working for a GP practice. I did 4 hours a week as a medical notes summariser. This job involves transferring key information from a patients paper records to an electronic medical record. Laura went on: When I found something in a patients notes that I didnt know I looked it up. The job gave me a real feel for the conditions and medical tests that are common. I also realized that people are very different in the way they experience and present a health problem. The GP practice hadnt previously employed a medical student for the job. However, having seen the quality of Lauras work, the GPs decided that in future they would always aim to do so.
During the six years she was a university student Laura was a highly active volunteer. For example, she returned regularly to the comprehensive school shed attended and others in the locality to give one-to-one advice and support to students hoping to attend university. Within the medical school at Leeds she helped interview applicants, she supported widening participation events, and she was active in the Medical Students Representative Council (MSRC) a body run for students by students. One of her achievements was to significantly improve the MSRC medical student families scheme. This organised medical students from different year groups into informal families for social and pastoral support. Previously the MSRC has set up these groupings on a random basis. Laura introduced an on line questionnaire which enabled her to create families with shared interests. It took me ages to sort it all out, she confessed. But people liked it. The scheme became much more active and effective. - As told to Carreen Dew in July 2013