From being one of the first ever students on the Medical Pathway to being accepted to
study at one of the country’s top teaching hospitals, Betty Coupland is well on her way to
becoming Dr. Coupland thanks to the support and opportunities she found at CSMS.
We spoke to her about how CSMS set her up for success, and her ambition to inspire the
next generation of Camborne doctors.
Hi Betty! So, you were actually one of the first ever CSMS students. Tell us a bit about
Yes I was part of the first generation of CSMS students! I started studying at King’s College
London University in 2018, and I was at Camborne Science and International Academy
(CSIA) for years 7-11.
I think the most significant thing for me was that the CSMS programme really recognised
my commitment and passion for studying and learning. That was really important – they
recognised how much I wanted to go to university, specifically to study medicine. I didn’t
know anyone who studied medicine, or any doctors, or anyone who studied at university
really, so it allowed me to start to understand the process and meet people who had been
through that process. One of the most important parts of my experience was that it started
to break down those barriers that I otherwise would have experienced, and CSMS gave
me opportunities that otherwise would have been completely inaccessible to me.
It was also really nice to meet people who were likeminded, and also wanted to study
some of the more difficult subjects at London, Cambridge, Oxford and so on. Those
courses are always really competitive so meeting people who have similar aspirations to
you makes it feel more possible in a way, and less like you’re alone in the experience.
Why did you choose to study at CSMS? What made them stand out from other VI
There were so many opportunities that a lot of other schools simply didn’t offer; CSMS
allowed me to travel to Japan and Singapore, and contribute to research that I just would
never have had the opportunity to do. I am really grateful for that!
I got to do a research project in Singapore, where I watched a lot of presentations on
research and got to see lots of different equipment and explore different universities over
there. Then I went to Australia where I participated in the International Student Science
Fair (ISSF) in Melbourne, and I got to present my research on regenerative medicine in
front of top scientists which was really cool and a great opportunity, as well as see a lot of
research from all different fields in STEM. I also went to Geneva to the CERN project and
the World Meteorological Organisation.
When did you realise you wanted to go into medicine?
I think I realised fairly early on, although I originally wanted to get into computer science.
It’s always been a feature in my life that I’m a bit of a ‘geeky’ person, but I had an epiphany
that as much as I loved computer science, I was missing the human element and contact. I
feel like medicine is a hybrid between STEM, science and the academic side but also the
people side, getting to take care of people and changing their lives. It was the perfect
hybrid for me; getting to work with people but also being a complete nerd and getting to
read and study lots.
I came to that realisation when my mum was quite poorly. She was transferred to London
for surgery and I got to meet some of these world renowned cardiovascular surgeons.
They were amazing, doing some of the first surgery of its kind in London. That was totally
inspirational to me, and also to meet some of the women in STEM was really important; I
suddenly could see myself doing these surgeries and saving people’s lives. That’s
probably the moment I realised that medicine was for me.
How did CSMS help support your ambitions to study medicine?
I believe I was the one of the first students on the medical pathway at CSMS! There was no
shortage of both internal opportunities and external opportunities – for instance CSMS
helped to facilitate my application to the Nuffield Programme, which was quite selective!
Through the project, I was offered a four week placement at Treliske Hospital in the
oncology research centre. Even as a medical student now where I’ve been working with
top surgeons, I still look back and think that the Nuffield Programme was a really great
opportunity. I got to see all the new cancer research drugs, spend time in their research
centre, watch surgeries being performed by some of the top breast surgeons in the
country, plus I got to do a lot of independent study like learning about cancer and how it
works. That knowledge that I gained on my Nuffield placement still supports me at
medical school today!
The first important thing was that CSMS made me aware of the project, because I didn’t
even know it existed. The second thing was that they helped me reach the deadlines for
application; I had to write a personal statement for the first time which they supported me
with. They also gave us opportunities which we could then put on our personal statement
which meant I was more likely to gain that placement. Generally, I’d have to say that CSMS
gave us the independence, confidence and research skills to go and do something like
that – I was only about 16 or 17, but because of the support I received, I was walking into a
hospital and saying okay, I’m going to be here and be an intern. Plus, I learned a lot of
helpful research skills doing my EPQ which I was then able to use in my Nuffield
The school also supported my application to Realising Opportunities (RO), which gave me
the opportunity to go to university and spend some time at university accommodation –
and that gave me the sense that I belonged. It’s really easy to become intimidated,
thinking I’ve just come from Camborne, why would I fit in at Oxford or Cambridge? but the
school was really great at making us feel like we deserve to be in those spaces.
Were you excited to go to school every day?
My honest answer is that the pressure of doing A-Levels plus doing everything else and
trying to get into medicine was an extremely stressful time, but I think that it reminded me
of where of I wanted to go, and why I was studying every day and working as hard as I
was. That’s a really important part – you have to see something to believe in it and I don’t
know if I would have kept going if CSMS hadn’t have given me all the opportunities to see
people like me going into medicine, and women succeeding in STEM. I had a reason to
go to school every day, and CSMS kept reminding me of why I was doing what I was
doing, which is maybe more important.
What’s your favourite memory from your time at CSMS?
My favourite moment was getting my offers to study medicine! There was some rhetoric
that getting into London would be impossible and, to add to that, the statistics say that
half of state schools don’t have a single applicant to medicine ever, let alone get an offer –
so I felt like the odds were against me. To get two offers to study medicine was incredibly
exciting, and probably the best moment of my life really! Just getting the offer itself was
one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and the school really supported me with my
application by giving me all the opportunities I needed to put on my CV – so to get two
offers was a massive weight off my shoulders.
So, you’re now in your fourth year at King’s College London studying medicine!
What are your personal ambitions for the future?
Yes, I am on a six year course, doing the Extended Medical Degree programme at King’s
College London. This year I am affiliated at King’s College Hospital and next year I’ll be
placed at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, which are considered some of the top teaching
hospitals in the country. All being well I will qualify to be a doctor in 2024 – so after two
more academic years I will hopefully become Dr. Coupland if it all goes to plan!
I’m studying general medicine at the moment and then you can go on to study a
foundation degree to become a Junior Doctor. I’ll be a Junior Doctor for two years which
covers the foundation of all medicine, and then I can specialise after that. I’m not 100%
sure what kind of doctor I’d like to be yet, and I still have four years to decide, so at the
moment I’m really open to all the different specialties. For me, the most important aspect
is that I’m really keen to come back to Cornwall and give back to my community – that was
a big reason why I went into medicine in the first place, especially with the health and
inequalities we have in Cornwall specifically, so I feel it’s really important to come back
and support my local community.
What would you say to someone who was considering studying at CSMS?
Generally, private school and affluent students are overrepresented in medical schools –
over half of state schools don’t ever have applicants to medicine – so I’m really concerned
about the inequalities in medical schools themselves, as well as the fact that students who
go to state schools don’t feel good enough to study medicine, which they 100% are.
Programmes like CSMS give students opportunities and the chance to apply, and then get
in and eventually become doctors – they show them that it’s possible. I don’t think we
show state school students that it’s possible enough.
Some of the opportunities that I got at CSMS far exceed the ones that private school
students have had. When I tell course mates that I went to Japan and the ISSF, they’re like
wow you got to do that, and you went to state school? They don’t believe me, and they just
didn’t get the opportunities that I did. I think it’s really important that schools like CSMS
exist so that all students have opportunities; we’re breaking the glass ceiling, we’re
evening the playing field. It’s important that doctors represent the communities they
serve, rather than it just being the top, most affluent people in medicine.
Generally, CSMS did a great job of showcasing women in STEM as well. They showed me
that just because I’m a woman and I love the colour pink, it doesn’t have anything to do
with my ability in STEM subjects at all, and I think that was a really important aspect in my
education. For example, Mrs Belshaw really inspired and still continues to inspire me
because she’s such a powerful woman. She’s just so clever and amazing, and she really
encouraged me to keep going, and to try and be that kind of woman in STEM. I hope I’ve
made her proud! I really appreciated her support.
CSMS really funded a lot of learning opportunities that just otherwise wouldn’t have been
available to me. The school’s doing an amazing job to inspire that generation, especially
when you consider that Camborne is one of the most deprived places in Western Europe.
To put something like CSMS in the middle is really special; I’m hoping that it continues to
inspire the next generation of students to realise that there doesn’t have to be limits and
barriers to what someone can achieve and where someone can go.