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Could A-Levels change your life?
Sarah Edwards, 29, who lives with her husband Jim, in Andover, Hampshire, studied chemistry while she worked as an army captain.
When I started training at Sandhurst at 22, I thought I'd be in the army forever. Every day was different and I travelled all over the world, from Kenya to Antarctica. I even met my husband, Jim, now 29, during training. I also served in Belize and Iraq, and during this period, my feelings about my job changed as I watched the army doctors at work, I found it incredibly inspirational, and one doctor in particular, Paula, became a close friend and mentor.
I already know a little about the amazing work these doctors did, but I learned so much more from the long talks Paula and I had. She described the emotional highs and lows of the job, of being first on the scene after an incident, performing emergency treatment alone on the injured, and taking responsibility for decisions that could save lives or cost them. It can be traumatic but also very fulfilling work. Being able to help people who are sick or injured, and make a crucial difference to their lives appealed to me. I felt what I can only describe as a calling and decided to become a doctor.
I soon realised becoming a doctor is a long, drawn-out process and had my heart set on studying at Southampton University, so I could stay at our home near Andover. When I was told I'd need an A Level in Chemistry, I logged onto the Internet and found out about long-distance learning courses. I came across A School without Walls (ASW2, now known as Bright Futures), an online school that promised to be flexible. I needed to fit the course into my unconventional life, as I was still working full-time for the army.
After a long day practising manoeuvres, the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and learn about chemical reactions, but I had to be strict with myself. When I was on exercise, operating out of the back of a tank, I couldn't take my chemistry textbook along with me, so I had to work doubly hard at other times to make up for it.
I had to do work experience to prove my commitment to the university. In my holidays, I did placements with social workers, at a hospital and at my local GPs surgery. I also had to do lab work sessions in London, but I did everything else online. Luckily, I had a weeks leave before the exam I crammed in a lot of last-minute revision. Jim was really supportive, taking over the housework so I could study. When my results arrived, I was on duty in Canada and Jim wrote to let me know I'd got a B and I was chuffed to bits.
When I started studying medicine at Southampton last October, I knew I'd miss the camaraderie of the army and was nervous about the workload, but I was excited too. We still have a mortgage to pay, so I've launched a wedding photography business. I haven’t decided what I'll specialise in when I'm qualified, but in the meantime I just feel lucky to have the opportunity to learn again so long after I left school.”