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My Journey Towards a Surgical Career in the UK

11 May 2022

Aravindh Ramalingam performing in the IMU Cup at the IMU Bukit Jalil campus

I am Aravindh Ramalingam  and I am currently a Foundation Year 2 doctor in the UK. This is my journey to being offered a core surgical training spot in London.

Hailing from a conservative South Indian family in Chennai, I stumbled across IMU in one of the numerous education fairs I attended in pursuit of the ideal medical university. Having not previously heard of IMU, I took a leap of faith and it turned out to be one of the best and most important decisions of my life. I joined IMU in February 2015 (ME115) with the intention of transferring to a Partner Medical School (PMS) and graduating with a PMS degree.

Having arrived at IMU, a new university in a new country for me, I struggled initially to adapt to the education system and to an extent to the new culture as well. I slowly worked my way through, found my place and settled in quite well. The IMU pre-clinical curriculum in its medical programme was structured in every way to facilitate the PMS transfer and to aid a smooth transition into the clinical years. I truly enjoyed the combination of lectures, clinical skills sessions, problem based learning and self-directed learning.

Scientific poster presentation in the East Asian Medical Students’ Conference – Taiwan 2016

3rd place in the National Anatomy and Pathology Summit Quiz Competition

I was never the smartest student but I was persistent and worked towards short term and long term goals. My short-term goal was to transfer to a good Partner Medical School and my long-term goal was to pursue a career in surgery. There were many academic events and opportunities that I came across in IMU and I took up every chance I could to build a good portfolio often not knowing what I was working towards, but hoping it would all add up one day. Outside of medicine, I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in events such as the IMU Cup, IMU Chariofare and Diwali Week to name a few.

Having made some wonderful memories in Malaysia and having built some important core values to be a medical professional I successfully managed to transfer to the University of Nottingham (UoN), UK to complete my clinical years. The academic transition from IMU to UoN was fairly neat and I felt I was adequately prepared with my preclinical training. In Nottingham, there was a sense of IMU family/tradition where the IMU seniors helped us settle in and helped with academic needs and this is a tradition I enjoyed carrying out to new juniors as well. By supporting juniors with exams and OSCE preparations I got involved in carrying out teaching and nurturing my leadership skills, something that came in handy towards my surgical training application. Further, due to my interests in a surgical career, I took up the opportunity to become a committee member in the University’s Student Surgical Society where I had the privilege to organise and be a part of conferences, teachings, OSCEs and practical sessions. My clinical years soon came to an end and I graduated from the University of Nottingham in April 2020. We came to be known as the COVID graduates and I was one of the thousands of newly qualified doctors entering foundation training in the NHS in the midst of a daunting pandemic. The pandemic meant staff isolations, staff shortages, decreased training opportunities and long working hours. This also meant more obstacles towards my core surgical training (CST) application. The CST application looks at various aspects of a candidate’s portfolio including – assisting in surgeries, surgical courses, conferences, organising teachings at a local or regional or national level, leading audits, publications, etc. Thanks to my opportunistic mind set I had ticked some important boxes during my years in IMU and UoN but I still had a long way to go.

I set realistic goals and expectations and began working towards them to be able to have a competitive portfolio that would enable me to be shortlisted for a core surgical training interview. The process was extremely arduous as I had to tick these boxes outside of working as a full-time doctor. I would go into the hospital on my off days and sometimes stay back late after work to get theatre experiences and to collect data for audits. My efforts were soon recognised by consultants who helped me further with my training and surgical application.

Microsuturing Workshop at the International Neurosurgical Conference held in King’s College London

My portfolio in the end was strong enough to get me shortlisted through to the interview process. I was one of the 1220 doctors who attended the interview and I managed to rank in the top 100 for CST. I am awaiting to start my surgical training later this year and this journey has been exciting, tough and humbling. I look ahead and see what lies ahead as I have another 8 – 10 years of intense training with increased responsibilities but for now I can look back and be proud of how far I have come.

Contributed by Dr Aravindh Ramalingam 

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