To all the students who have done well in their A-levels in this strange year, congratulations.
For anyone who has not done well or even been marked down from the teacher’s assessment, don’t panic; I’ve been there.
I was desperate to get into medical school but failed my A-levels. I got one E and two Fs, complete failures.
My first emotion was to accept that I was just not very bright. I had aimed for a career I could never achieve. I also realised that one A-level was useless.
In those far off days the best bet was to either leave school at 16 with good O-levels or at 18 with at least two A-levels. And so I decided to retake A-levels and enrolled on a one-year A-level course at Plymouth College of Technology; now the university.
I also reapplied to medical school without much hope of ever succeeding.
When I finally passed my A-levels, I wrote to every medical school in the country and one wrote back, called me for interview and, amazingly, offered me a place.
Although I never failed an exam at medical school I always thought I had to prove myself. Was I really good enough?
Failing A-levels was tough at the time. Throughout my career I have always known that I am incredibly lucky to be a doctor.
The irony is that, if I had scraped two A-levels I would almost certainly have had enough qualifications for a different career.
It was only because I failed so badly that I re-sat them and ended up at medical school.
And there are plenty of people far more successful than me who failed A-levels or never went to university.
As we worry about the pandemic, it is worth remembering the woman who discovered the coronavirus.
June Almeida was born in 1930 and was brought up in a tenement building in Glasgow. Her father was a bus driver. It may have been her brother’s death at the age of six from diphtheria which triggered her interest in medicine but the family could not afford to pay for any further education.
She left school at 16 and worked as a laboratory technician at Glasgow Royal Infirmary before being recruited by St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, the same hospital who accepted me against the odds many years later.
She moved to Ontario where she became an expert at the electron microscope and was the first person to see the rubella or German measles virus.
By 1964, she had returned to London to work at St Thomas’ Hospital when she was asked to look at a sample called B814 from a sick child in Surrey. The scientists did not expect her to find anything but she managed to produce clear pictures of a new virus.
These appeared to be surrounded by a halo or crown and so it was named after the Latin name for crown, corona or coronavirus.
Even in retirement she kept active becoming a yoga teacher and restoring fine china. She then returned to St Thomas’s to produce the first high-quality pictures of the HIV/AIDS virus.
I know that doing badly at A-levels feels terrible at the time but I am not alone. The journalist Jon Snow did slightly better than me by passing one A-level with a C but failing the other two. Jeremy Clarkson did the same with a C and two Us.
Times have changed but it is often surprising to look at where people are 10 or 15 years after leaving school. Many of the ‘failures’ turn out to have become very successful.
And so if there are any students out there thinking their results means the end of any interesting career; don’t panic. It may not feel like it now but believe in yourself and it will work out, somehow.