Planning your next steps after leaving school is a challenge for every young person. With so many different career paths and study routes, how do you decide what’s right for you? And once you’ve decided, how do you make your application stand out from the crowd?

Ayra Ahmad, a 17-year-old pupil from Dyce Academy, explains how a combination of project work, volunteering and networking formed an important part of her pursuit of a career in medicine.

Reaching out

“I approached Mark, my school’s Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) North East employer school coordinator, via my guidance teacher before the summer holidays. I was keen to get work experience that would help me tailor my analytical skills and allow me to explore the medical field further. When Mark suggested meeting with TauRx Pharmaceuticals to expand on my awareness of the industry, I was ecstatic. Honestly, how many other aspiring medical students could say that they liaised with a pharmaceutical company?

A real-life challenge

My contact at TauRx gave me a refined insight into clinical trials by guiding me to research concepts like the Biopsychosocial Model, clinical meaningfulness and to understand what the empowerment of patients truly looks like. They then prompted me to write my own review on the use of "Early Patient Engagement in the Stages of Clinical Trial Development" - which is a relatively heavy title for a 17-year-old!

Over the coming weeks, I researched topics that interlinked with "Patient Engagement." As someone who had dived into the topic headfirst, I endeavoured to relay information in a concise way so that others in my position - fellow students - could gain a clearer understanding of the human impact of the clinical trial process. One particular study proved very useful; It broke down "patient engagement" into the four main components of personalisation, access, commitment and therapeutic alliance, which I affectionately describe in my review as "the pillars of patient engagement."

With limited knowledge of medical journals, I found it challenging to sift through the abundance of information and relay the complex information clearly. Though it took some days, I managed to adapt and soon found myself enjoying the research process. During this time, Mark aided me in ensuring that I had contact with TauRx if I had questions or concerns.

Project reflections

The review took me around four weeks to compose, however, I cannot put a count on how beneficial it has been in terms of my university applications. The knowledge I acquired within this time has helped me speak more confidently about the subject and industry, which will undoubtedly be helpful in the interview stage of my application. The strengthening of my analytical and communication skills aided me in my BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) and University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT), where I was expected to sift through information and analyse conclusions. My newfound knowledge on clinical trials even helped me answer my essay questions during the BMAT exam!

Looking forward

My experience with TauRx will help me speak about the pharmaceutical industry with confidence and has helped me tailor my personal statement to better reflect my skill set. I'd like to thank them for taking the time to support young people and would encourage other companies to do the same.

During the remainder of my sixth year, I will continue to seek out other opportunities relating to medicine.

Advice to others

Have the confidence to ask people for work experience or new opportunities – this is what has helped me the most. My entire summer was filled with networking! I volunteered at the Aberdeen Science Centre, helped various charities, shadowed doctors in a clinic and expanded my academic knowledge by reading books which aligned with my chosen course - having taken recommendations from those I'd networked with. Connecting with DYW was beneficial as they aided me in every stage of exploring and networking.”

An employer’s perspective

So how does project-led work experience look from an employer’s perspective? Rebecca Andersen, market access and communications manager, TauRx Pharmaceuticals, shares her thoughts: “With the Covid-19 pandemic putting a stop to many formal work experience programs in 2021, working closely with DYW and Ayra on this project was a great opportunity to help.

“It required a proactive approach to self-study, and Ayra showed great initiative producing an excellent and insightful report. The importance of patient engagement in clinical studies is gaining momentum as medicine develops more patient-centric and individual approaches, and we felt it was a topic of value to Ayra’s ambition to study medicine and her future medical practice. We wish her all the best and thank DYW for approaching us!”