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We’ve all heard how difficult it is to get into medical school – the process can seem really long and daunting. Having made it through the other side, here are my top tips.
Make sure medicine is for you
Honestly, this career path isn’t for everyone. Check and double check that this is definitely what you want to do, otherwise it’s going to be a long road ahead if you’re not studying medicine because you love it.
Pick the right A-Levels
Most medical schools expect both Biology and Chemistry at A-Level, though some may only want Chemistry and others may even prefer three sciences (or maths). The grades expected vary from AAA to A*A*A but you should look closely at different universities’ requirements to make sure your subjects match up.
The best way to get a feel for what doctors do is to follow one around. Apply early for work experience, as some hospitals have long waiting lists and convoluted applications for shadowing.
Don’t overlook the value of nurses and other medical professionals that aren’t doctors – shadowing them can give a great insight into the multidisciplinary teamwork required in medicine and give you something interesting to talk about in your personal statement.
Bear in mind that hospitals aren’t the only option; GP practices or smaller medical centres may be more accommodating. Use some lateral thinking – there are many places where you can get some medical experience. Maybe even consider lab work if research is something you’re interested in.
More importantly, universities often value volunteering over hospital work experience. In particular, ‘caring’ experience is really helpful. This may be a weekly visit to a local care home, working with special needs children or even volunteering with St John’s Ambulance. It’s good to get a variety of work experience with different demographics but there are no hard and fast rules – it’s just vital that by the end you understand what it takes to occupy that caring role, show commitment and passion for the career and be able to talk about it at interview or in your personal statement. Try and keep a diary of your work experiences, so you can refer back to it.
It’s worth noting that a summer abroad in a foreign hospital looks like a lot of fun and is a great experience, but universities are often more interested in your work experience in the UK, so there’s no need to fork out the cash.
It’s a good idea to write your personal statement in the summer before you start Year 13 as it may take longer than you think! The most important thing is to address the criteria the university is asking for. When you mention your extracurricular activities, jobs, volunteering and work experience, emphasise what you’ve learnt during those experiences and back them up – there’s no point in just listing the places you’ve worked that summer!
It can give you a big boost to do well on the UKCAT. This is the aptitude test that most universities use, and you receive your results straight after the test. This means that you can use your score to decide if certain universities are more suitable for you – some medical schools have higher UKCAT requirements than others. Unless you’re looking to apply to all BMAT universities, make sure to book your UKCAT in advance to get your preferred test date.
A medical degree from any UK university will qualify you to become a doctor and it really doesn’t make a difference which medical school you graduate from.
However, after deciding which course structure and location of medical schools suit you, you should then consider playing to your strengths. Each medical school has a different selection process for interview. Your personal statement, GCSE grades and UKCAT or BMAT score may all be weighted differently according to various institutions – so look carefully at what each university looks for!
Only a few universities use this aptitude test. It’s very different to the UKCAT, and you won’t find out your score until after you send in your UCAS. For this reason, applying to BMAT medical schools can be a risk as you can’t guarantee a good score. Therefore, it’s generally a better strategy to apply for no more than 2 BMAT universities if you’re not sure your BMAT score will be up to scratch.
Start revising well ahead of time and make sure to let your school know you’d like to be entered for the BMAT.
First of all, check the university’s website for the style of the interview – is it Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI) or panel? Do they let you know what the stations are if it’s MMI? Finding this information out helps you to get an idea of what to expect.
Practice, practice, practice! There are many books available detailing the common questions asked during medical school interviews. It can be helpful to have an idea of what possible questions are and slightly prepare some original answers beforehand (though memorising isn’t necessarily a good idea!).
Wider reading and keeping up to date with the news is really important! It’s very likely they will ask you about topical subjects and even ask for an opinion – something much easier to form if you know what the interviewer’s talking about. It’s also a good idea to do some research into the university and course you’re interviewing for – they want to know you’re interested in them.
Get Your Grades
Preparing a medical school application and prepping for interviews may be hard but don’t neglect your studies! You still need to meet your offer.
Deadlines! Medicine applications have an earlier deadline on UCAS than other courses.
Some universities offer a pre-clinical year that leads onto a Medicine course to those who may have chosen the wrong subjects or not achieved the necessary grades. Other universities may offer widening participation summer schools which may allow you to be accepted with slightly lowered grades.
Some places offer a transfer onto their medicine course after one year of biomedicine or biochemistry. However, this can be highly competitive and is not available at every university.
You can do another degree first before you apply for medicine. Many graduate applicants find the life experience can really help!