Already published, medical student was no ordinary pupil
You are a senior pupil whose ambition is to be a doctor. A work placement in a hospital seems a natural choice; but how will you react when you meet your first terminally-ill patients?
"I had mixed emotions," says Aidan Pritchard, a fresher medical student at St Andrew's University, whose work placement at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee last December, when he was still a pupil at Arbroath High, put him exactly in this position. "The oncology ward was more emotionally challenging than I thought it would be, especially speaking to terminally- ill patients. But it reinforced in me the desire to pursue medicine, to act altruistically and to help people palliatively where you cannot cure them."
It may seem unusual for a pupil to be in an oncology ward, but Aidan was no ordinary pupil. In October last year, he had already presented a paper to the World Conference in Dosing of Anti-Infectives in Nurnberg, Germany, on the use of phyto-oestrogens to combat tumour growth. Written jointly with his teacher (and honorary research fellow) Margaret Ritchie, it has since been published.
Aidan was invited to the conference as a guest of honour to broaden his understanding and appreciation of the application of science in healthcare. He had already helped to set up and run a diet and health research group at Arbroath High and is the principal author on one resulting abstract and co-author of another three, which were presented at the 2009 Nutritional Society Conference at the Royal Society of Edinburgh in April.
In Nurnberg, he was introduced to Nobel Prize nominee Mansukh Wani, who discovered and pioneered the use of chemotherapy drug Taxol (and who asked to meet Aidan). "Professor Wani said he'd often been told to give up on his research, but he hadn't. It was a valuable lesson for me that in medicine you have to keep trying.
"Then, while at Ninewells, I witnessed the benefits of Taxol for patients and it was like I had a living connection with this, because I'd met Professor Wani," says Aidan.
It comes as no surprise that Aidan was a finalist for this year's 2009 SQA Star Award for School Candidate of the Year, although he lost out in the end to Ruth Sandison who achieved five As in her Highers, while battling against leukaemia and a stroke.
Aidan was chosen not simply for his academic achievements (a clutch of top grade Higher and Advanced Higher passes) but more importantly in recognition of his outstanding efforts in the application of science in healthcare, his support for other pupils and his contributions to school- based activities linking with the community.
From the age of eight, Aidan had wanted to be a vet, but some S3 work experience had taught him he "couldn't communicate with animals. You had no way of knowing their pain. You couldn't really tell what they were suffering and I didn't like that," he says.
Now, he loves the idea of being a doctor. "Medicine is a human science and I always want to be involved with people. I don't think I'm interested in pure research. I want to be a doctor, not a scientist.
"Psychiatry may be a possibility. I enjoyed psychology at school and I do now at university. The main thing is, I want to work with people."
According to Dr Ritchie, who worked closely with Aidan on all his projects, he has been an outstanding role model and ideal pupil. "He was always willing to try something which would not only benefit him, but allow him to contribute to the school and the community. His approach was always holistic and his legacy to the pupils at Arbroath High has been one of inspiration and achievement.
"He grasped every opportunity afforded him, even working on research topics with university students from across the UK while still at school. He has shown that pupils can work at the highest levels with the right attitude and confidence."
Headteacher Iain Orr agrees: "Aidan has set a standard others can follow. We have 15 pioneering senior pupils now doing the new baccalaureate in science, and that is not unrelated to the example Aidan set."