A Hpat student on the hard slog for medicine

André McLeod is an 18-year-old repeat Leaving Cert student and one of about 2,600 to sit the HPat exam for undergraduate medical entry last Saturday. He shared the pressure in the lead up to the test

André McLeod - repeating the Leaving Cert and the Hpat to get into medicine. Photograph: Tony Grehan/Press 22

André McLeod - repeating the Leaving Cert and the Hpat to get into medicine. Photograph: Tony Grehan/Press 22

 

‘I was so close to getting medicine in NUI Galway last year but I missed out by four points. The requirement was 739 and I had 735. I was gutted. I couldn’t even talk about it. But you just get on with it. It’s over and you have to move on.

“So now I’m repeating the Leaving Cert which means I have to repeat the HPat [see panel] as well. The HPat actually went my way last year. I did really well in it, but the Leaving Cert – well, I had borderline pneumonia for a couple of the exams and that knocked me off my game a bit. I was hoping for another 15 points. I ended up with 540 CAO points which seems like a good total, but it wasn’t good enough. Another five CAO points and I would have had my place.

“The HPat is an aptitude test. I think the medical schools were afraid that lots of students, who were really good at exams but couldn’t relate to people, were getting into medicine so they decided to introduce this test that examines what you would do in certain situations as well as reading and interpreting how someone might be feeling in different scenarios. There was an idea that you wouldn’t need very high points if you did well in the HPat but that’s not exactly the case as I found out. Still, I think it’s probably a good thing to make sure people going into medicine have more to give than brilliant Leaving Cert results.

“I was really young when I first decided that I wanted to be a doctor. My Mum’s a nurse, my grandmother is a nurse and I like the idea of being able to help people. I like the hands-on nature of the job. I’d hate to be stuck behind a desk all day.

“So I’m very focused this year. Back in August, I was tempted not to repeat. I was offered biomedical science in UCC and I definitely considered it. I was thinking that if I did that, I could apply for a graduate place in medicine afterwards, but postgrad entry is incredibly competitive too and it costs a lot. I had come so close, I thought I would have a better chance of getting a place if I just bit the bullet and repeated.

“It’s not so bad, better than I expected. I’m from Tipperary so I’m in digs here in Limerick during the week. I think my Mum is having a harder time coping than I am. Limerick Tutorial College doesn’t feel like a traditional school. The teachers aren’t down your throat. They’re more like lecturers I guess, and your timetable is based around you and what you need to do subject-wise.

“There’s a HPat preparation class once a week. You can’t study for the HPat but you can practise for it. Of course practise is no use unless you have the basic ability. We go through techniques for the exam and timing and things like that.

“I feel better about it this year. I hardly slept the night before the HPat last year. It was so tense. Everyone was nervous signing in and that rubs off on you. I’m sure I’ll be nervous again this year but I feel more in control or something. I’ve done it before. I know what to expect.

“I’ll relax the night before, probably play a bit of hurling or something. I will make one major change which is that I’ll probably travel to Cork [where one of the HPat exam centres is] ahead of time. Last year I went down on the day and it was quite intense. I think it’d be better to be there and not have the worry about being late.

“The timing is awkward. The HPat comes in the middle of a lot of other things on the Leaving Cert timeline. It’s wedged in between the mock exams and the orals. I’m doing nine subjects. I know it seems a bit crazy but I have a lot more time to put in the hours of study I need to do. I’ve dropped down to ordinary-level French, English and Irish and I’ve taken up business and geography as new subjects. I also have chemistry, biology, physics and maths at higher level. I’m constantly in the study mindset.

“I think the HPat is a good thing. If you’re going to be a doctor it’s only fair that they test your people, and problem-solving, skills. I think there could be an issue for students who don’t have money for the preparatory courses you can do. You can get free sample material online but you could be at a disadvantage if you haven’t done the other stuff. The courses will be of no use if you don’t have the skills to begin with, but you can hone those skills with advice and practice.

“You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to college. I hope I get a place this year. I am aiming for 570 or 580 points in the Leaving Cert and a good 195 or 200 in the HPat. That should see me getting in. If I get the CAO points and the HPat doesn’t go well, I plan to repeat the HPat next year and carry my points with me.

“I think before you actually repeat, you expect it to be like the Leaving Cert was the first time around. You forget that because you’ve done it before, a good portion of it is easier the second time around. I feel calm, and hopefully this time next year, I’ll be on my way to getting that medical degree.”
In conversation with Grá inne Faller

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