Jessica Fatoye (@jessicaooitf) was an A-level student with an important mission when she applied to university last summer. When she found herself publicly humiliated by her teachers for trying to apply to medical school, she strengthened her resolve to prove them wrong. Almost a year later, she successfully secured a place to study Medicine, proving that she was indeed capable all along. She is now a fresher at Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford.
This is her story.
1. Hi Jessica! Congratulations on starting medical school and thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. Can you tell us a bit about yourself – where you’re from, why you decided to study medicine, and how you’re enjoying university so far?
Hi! I’m from just outside of Southeast London, barely Greater London. I honestly couldn’t say I “decided” to study medicine. It’s always sort of been there; something that I wanted to do, but I probably didn’t become serious about it until Year 12. I think most medics have a personal attachment or reason why they want to study medicine – for me, a lot of people that I’m close to have medical issues and I think that probably drives me.
I’m loving university! It’s amazing because at first, it’s a huge sea of people you don’t know, but eventually, I think you start to find your people. Once you do find them, everything becomes a lot easier and more relaxed than the nervous tension of Freshers’ Week.
2. Gaining entry into the University of Oxford is obviously not an easy feat – how did you make your decision to apply to Oxford and what were your expectations at that point in time?
I’ve always been brought up to think that the best I could achieve was up to me – I could decide if I wanted to be a certain way or level or grade – it didn’t matter if it was academics or not. I thought Oxford would be a cool thing to push toward but I didn’t really understand what applying meant in terms of how much work it would take or how hard it was. I basically just wanted to apply because everyone raves about it, which is 100% not the reason to apply! That all changed when I visited Oxford and got to stay over on a school trip. I just fell in love with it, and I just knew that I had to take it seriously. When we started doing little practice sessions at school and workshops, I loved how academically challenged I felt, and I loved feeling like the science I had learned at school was useful. That was also when I fully grasped how much work it would take!
3. We understand that you were publicly humiliated in school – can you describe what happened? Did you experience other forms of discouragement?
"I was devastated to think that the only people who had a duty to support me – the people who were in charge of getting me to university – didn’t even have enough faith in me to think I could do it."
The teachers at my school – who are part of the team that supports Oxbridge applicants – make a spreadsheet every year to comment on how they think the pupils are doing and what they think these pupils could improve on. This was meant to be purely for teachers; however, one day a teacher accidentally leaked it to the whole school on the school network. The problem was that the teachers’ comments weren’t professional at all – mine comparatively wasn’t even that bad, one of my friends got called a “laughable prospect”. I was devastated to think that the only people who had a duty to support me – the people who were in charge of getting me to university – didn’t even have enough faith in me to think I could do it.
This also came at a time where I already had doubts and low self-esteem regarding my ability to get in. One of my mentors for my medical school application constantly told me that he didn’t believe Oxford was for “people like me”. I had to beg to be allowed on my school trip to Oxford on 3 separate occasions, even doing so in front of other teachers who weren’t even involved in the organisation of the trip.
In my school, students applying for certain subjects like Biology, Chemistry, Human Sciences, or Medicine had weekly meetings with a teacher. In these meetings, we would be grilled on specific questions and receive homework – this was super helpful. However, in these sessions, I was always picked on, singled out and compared to the other applicants, especially those applying for Medicine.
It got to the point where on the day the school sent off my UCAS application, my teacher was still telling me that he didn’t understand why I wanted to go to Oxford and that he thought I shouldn’t apply. Bit late!
4. Why do you think you received this opposition and what helped you to stand firm in your decision?
I tried so hard to understand why I received the opposition I did. Was I just not intelligent enough to apply? Did I offend that teacher? By the time I sent in my application, I was actually considering withdrawing it because I was so drained. The things that kept me going were my relationships with my family and friends. My friends knew every single thing that was going on as it happened and were always there when I need to rant or cry or just needed a laugh or pep talk. They provided the best reassurance: that I did belong at Oxford; and they reminded me of this every single day. My mom was exactly the same. They constantly told me that they were proud of me, and that no matter what, I deserved a place in their eyes.
5. A quarter of University of Oxford colleges did not admit a single black student in at least one year between 2015 and 2017. What are your thoughts on this?
"You are only as capable as you allow yourself to be; don’t limit yourself to your own (or others’) expectations of yourself."
It would be easy to say that Oxford is the only one to blame for the lack of black and other minority ethnic students – but that wouldn’t be fair or truthful. I think the problem is that so many students believe that it’s unachievable for them despite the fact that they are capable, so they don’t apply, but they also often don’t want to attend a university that lacks diversity so severely. I also think that the fact that there is a smaller proportion of ethnic minority students at schools with reputations of getting students into Oxford disadvantages those that do apply.
To my first point, I say: you are only as capable as you allow yourself to be; don’t limit yourself to your own (or others’) expectations of yourself. To my second; I say to my fellow black and minority ethnic students – it will only get better if we make it better. To make places like Oxford and Cambridge more accessible to black and minority ethnic students, we have to not be afraid to inhabit them. Oxford also has loads of societies to support students from different backgrounds who may feel out of place, like the African and Caribbean Society, the Pakistani Society and so many more. Lastly, I’d like to say that there are several ways to even the odds, even if you don’t go to a school that’s higher in the league tables – never be afraid to ask for help as there are so many organisations and individuals who want to!
6. If someone in a similar position were reading this right now, what advice would you have for him/her?
I guess a mixture of all of the above! The main thing I want to drive home is: if you really want to go to Oxford or Cambridge or any other university, you can – the one thing that my experience has taught me is that self-belief is the most important thing.
Thank you for doing this interview with us, Jessica! We wish you all the best in medical school – we are certain that you will become a fantastic doctor in the future.
By Cheh Juan Tai, Justina