If you are here, it’s because you’re at least considering a career in medicine. Studying medicine typically entails 5 years of study at university, and in addition this is accompanied by several training years once you kickstart your career. Making sure medicine is right for you is of utmost importance and lucky for you we are here to support you along your journey! This page will offer up some valuable advice and information, which will help you stand your best chance of achieving your medical goals.
- Medical Work Experience
- Choosing Your Medical Schools
- UCAS & Personal Statements
- A Guide For Parents
This information was correct at time of writing, however dates and procedures may have changed with the outbreak of COVID-19. Please check with your teachers (Heads of Year/Department), the UCAS, UCAT, BMAT and individual University websites to get get the most accurate and up to date information.
1. Medical Work Experience
Medicine is a vocation, who not everyone is cut out for, being academically gifted is not the only criteria to look for in a competent doctor. Work experience can greatly help you decide if medicine really is for you and additionally begin flourishing your bedside manner, as you expose yourself to both harrowing and rewarding experiences. This will develop you compassionate nature and is a great indication to Universities about your commitment to the cause.
Below we have compressed (so you don’t have to sift through masses of information out there), what we believe to be the some of the best placements you can immerse yourself in, in order to expand your core values and attributes and impress the Universities you apply to. Click here to find out our Top 11 Qualities of a Good Doctor.
Essentially there are four main categories of work placements.
- General Practice
General Practice (GP)
General practitioners are at the forefront of healthcare, a placement at a GP surgery offers a great way to learn about continuity and the importance of building a doctor-patient relationship. Due to the nature of its unique environment, you will be able to come across an abundance of key skills required to practice in a timely yet effective manner, these include:
- Teamwork – it is essential in a medical setting, as the practice needs to function incredibly hard together as a unit, with no sense of hierarchy.
- GPs tackling chronic conditions such as arthritis, and more importantly their educative role towards their patients as they fight to manage the condition as best as possible.
- Learning how to identify possible serious symptoms and when to escalate them appropriately to the most suitable secondary healthcare setting.
- Reflection – it takes a considerable amount of time to do, however it is paramount to look at particularly unclear incident from a different perspective, to think about what could have been done differently in the future.
Overall volunteering is considered a fundamental feature for a strong medical school application. It really portrays just how committed you are to the cause and also makes for some incredibly rewarding and worthwhile experiences, as it generally takes place over a prolonged period of time, allowing you to develop meaningful relationships with people. Medical schools are really drawn to this and is great discussion point at interview.
Although medical volunteering programs seem like the go to choice, some medical schools place equal significance on non-medical work experience, they consider the values and skills gained during any work experience to be invaluable. Having said this, make sure to thoroughly research the medical schools you apply to as not all see it this way and only consider medical placements to be relevant.
Fundamentally, whatever volunteering placement you decide to engage with, we believe it will be a huge asset to your medical application. We do suggest however, to aim for a placement working in care with elderly or disabled patients as this is the best way to develop rewarding relationships as well as your empathetic nature. Ideally you should look to make your weekly visits last anywhere between six and eighteen months (a guideline from some of the most successful applicants).
A placement at a hospital provides an ample opportunity to experience what life is like as a doctor. It’s dynamic nature, due to the large volume of healthcare workers practicing together in unity as part of multi-disciplinary teams, is a fantastic way to get a sense of how interactive this field is and also a great way to learn as much as possible. Make sure you show interest and lots of eagerness for wanting to get involved, as you will find healthcare professionals more keen to teach you.
How to secure a placement:
- Get in touch with the education department at your local NHS trust
- If you know someone who works in a hospital, get them to give you a lending hand!
- Consult with your school
Making the most of your placements is essential, to do this make sure to keep a personal diary, this will allow you to keep a record of your experiences and more importantly reflect upon them. The diary entries will be crucial for both your personal statement and your interview as you must look back at specific examples and discuss what they taught you (link your experiences to key skills highlighted by the General Medical Council in a document they produced called “Tomorrow’s Doctors”)
While not completely essential to your medical application, international placements make for some truly unique experiences. Often (depending on where you go) you get a sense of how limited healthcare services can be, as well as coming across diseases not often seen in western society. This will develop your comprehension of medicine in a global context.
Things to keep in mind:
- You will be leaving your comfort zone, although it can sometimes seem daunting, make sure you immerse yourself in the diverse cultures. It will be totally worth it and impress the admissions team.
- Make your experiences count! Be sure to reflect upon them and how they varied in comparison to experiences you have had in a healthcare setting back home.
- Become aware of the socioeconomic factors that affect healthcare in different countries, make sure to give it some thought and are able to discuss it, this will definitely make a great impression.
2. Choosing Your Medical Schools
After building up your work experience portfolio, you should start to think about what medical schools you want to apply to. This next bit is very important so take good note: no two medical schools are the same, they each have their own specific criteria for what makes a good application and although they might be similar in some aspects, in others they differ significantly placing more emphasis on different aspects of your application. Therefore it is of utmost importance that you research properly the schools you apply to and try to find the ones that are the best fit for you. If you are adamant you want to apply to a specific medical school make sure your mold your application to match their criteria. Things to look out for:
- Pre-medical aptitude testing: Different Universities use the BMAT and UCAT differently, more specifically some Universities place higher levels of importance on a particular section of the test. Warwick University for example highly regards the verbal reasoning section of the UCAT. So again, make sure to pay close attention to these details.
- Grades: GCSE and A-level grades are very obviously highly important and ultimately determine where you can apply to. Different Medical Schools look at grades differently, not just broadly at your average grades so research, research, research! Also mainly for A-levels some subjects are essential and the vast majority of universities require Chemistry or Biology or BOTH, so be sure to choose you’re a-levels wisely
- Location: It is a course that may require you to be away for up to 6 years, so location can be quite important when considering what medical schools to apply to, we suggest you try to find a balance between staying close to home and far away enough to have some independence, ultimately if you are spoilt for choice go with where you feel most comfortable!
- Mitigating circumstances: If for whatever reason there has been an event that hindered your ability to perform to the highest of your capabilities, make sure you don’t suppress this, speak to your referee, they will be able to include it into your reference and if worded correctly it will become a reason and not an excuse, so the admissions team will bare this in mind (it is seen as an excuse if included in your personal statement and therefore will be overlooked!)
Take home message: we can’t stress how important it is to look at every aspect of your application and tailor them to the medical schools you apply to. Think of your application as a substrate to an enzyme (medical schools), you generally speaking, won’t be a good fit for a lot of medical schools, but there will be some that you will be a perfect match for so it’s all about figuring out which of those enzymes you can fit into! It will be a waste of an application if you don’t match the criteria they are looking for, but don’t worry we are here to help you increase your chances of producing a successful application.
3. UCAS & Personal Statements
Nailing your UCAS application can be very difficult due to the competitive nature of medical applications, only about 9.5% of applications are successful and the information we are providing will help you make sure your application is within that winning percentage.
- You can apply to up to 4 medical schools and your fifth option can be used to apply to something else, we suggest considering applying to Biomedical sciences or Biochemistry, completing one of these courses can help you increase your chances significantly. Achieving first class honors in you Biomedical science degree at the University of Sussex, for example, grants you a fast track entry into their medical school this is definitely worth giving some thought to.
- It might seem daunting at first navigating through your UCAS form, but it will become trivial once you familiarise yourself with it. This will help you stay in the loop of what is happening as supposed to relying on help, as this may not be available if you have to re-apply in the future. The closing date for medical applications is usually on the 15th of October, which is significantly sooner than most other courses, so start getting organised as soon as possible.
- There is an application fee of £20 for a single choice or £25 for multiple courses and applications after the 30th of June.
- If you have a disability you are still able to apply to medicine as long, as you are fit to practice by the end of the course
Your personal statement is one of the most important aspects of your application as it is a way for medical schools to determine whether you will be a good candidate to study medicine or not. It is your initial chance to give them an insight into the skills and values you have picked up during your work experiences as well giving them a sense of what you are like as a person. It is capped at 47 lines, so make sure you write concisely. Tip: type it up on a word document instead of writing it directly onto your UCAS application. The system can be a bit temperamental at times, so this will ensure it is backed up from the get go and also it is easier to send for peer review. Edit and fine-tune once you have written your draft.
Your personal statement should follow a clear structure:
- Your motivation for wanting to become a doctor
- Work experience
- Your studies and any wider reading you have done that helped you explore further your vocation
- Hobbies/extracurricular activities, this is quite important as it shows you have depth
- Conclusion, here you should tie everything up and link with your motivation for studying medicine
Writing your personal statement can be hard to get right but it needs to be impregnable, spelling and grammar mistakes can have a detrimental effect on how successful your applications is. The admissions team have a lot of applications to get through and these small mistakes may give them a reason to start looking at your application in a negative light so avoid this at all costs. It is important to set the right tone, do this by using short, snappy sentences and keeping the language simple but don’t be too colloquial! Avoid using unnecessarily difficult language and make sure the language you do use depicts how proactive you are. Finally ensure you fine-tooth comb it after getting friends, family and healthcare professionals (if you can, try your hardest) to proof read it.
The University Clinical Aptitude Test is used by many Universities to asses how suitable an applicant is to study medicine. The test uses its five sections to asses the main skills required to make a competent doctor:
- VR (Verbal Reasoning) tests communication skills as well as your ability to extrapolate information quickly form a passage.
- DM (Decision Making) tests your ability to make rational decisions and judgments using intricate information.
- QR (Quantitative Reasoning) tests your ability to evaluate mathematical information.
- AR (Abstract Reasoning) tests your ability deduce relationships from information.
- SJ (Situational Judgment) assesses your ability to identify the most appropriate response to real world situations.
Before each section begins there is a 60 second instruction page, use this time to shake off any nerves and focus on the next section at hand.
Scoring: You are awarded anywhere between 300 and 900 points per section, therefore you can achieve a cumulative score between 1200 and 3600 points. For Situational judgment you are scored between band 1-band 4, band 1 being the best, matching most of your answers to the model answers. For the 2019 UCAT exam the average scores were:
- VR: 565
- DM: 618
- QR: 662
- AR: 638
- SJ: Band 2
Use these as a point of reference however, be aware that the average scoring changes each year along with the admissions cap.
As mentioned previously the test is used differently by all 30 universities that require you to take the UCAT exam, some may look closely at the score you achieved in a specific section, others consider your overall score, make sure you apply to the Universities that fit the scores your have achieved.
- Testing begins: 1st July 2020, testing ends: 6th October 2020
We will soon be uploading a question bank to help you practice for the real exam, so stay tuned!
The BMAT differs significantly from the UCAT and requires a different practice strategy. While the UCAT focuses on aptitude testing the BMAT assesses a broader range of skills in its 3 sections:
- Aptitude test
- Scientific knowledge
- Written communication skills
Unlike the UCAT the BMAT is a pen and paper test with a duration of 2 hours, it is considered by many students to be a tough exam due to the restriction on calculators and dictionaries. You can find all past papers available for download on the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing website, which is a great resource as it will give you a clear sense of what the real exam will be like. Top Tip: Save a couple of past papers and complete the rest of the papers in your own time, making sure you understand where you have gone wrong and understand fully the answers. Once you feel like you have had enough practice, complete the two papers you saved under the 2 hour time pressure.
When Do I Take The Test?
You can sit the BMAT in September or in November, remember you can only take the test once per academic year so make sure you are well prepared. Although taking the test in November will grant you more time to practice before the exam, taking the exam in September has its perks too as you receive your results before you send your application off, therefore you can apply more strategically with your score in hand.
- BMAT September: registration opens – 22nd June 2020, closes – 9th August 2020, test date – 5th September 2020
- BMAT November: registration opens – 1st September 2020, closes 1st October 2020, test date 4th November
NOTE: There is a late registration deadline for the BMAT in November (15th October 2020), however this will incur an additional £35 late registration fee.
Your application was successful, congratulations! you’ve impressed the medical schools you applied to and now you have reached the interview stage. Medical interviews usually take the form of traditional panel interviews of Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs). Medical schools take this opportunity to evaluate your interpersonal skills as well as expanding on your experiences/UCAS form in order to substantiate your suitability to medicine.
Styles of Medical School Interviews
Traditional interviews – You will be asked questions about your application and your motivation behind wanting to become a doctor either by a panel or one person
MMIs – The most popular out of the three interview styles. It involves a series of stations, where a different quality is tested at each one. Typically you should expect to tackle problem-solving or ethical scenarios, they may even assess how you interact with patients.
Group Interviews – you will be given a topic which you must discuss in a group setting before heading over to the panel interview. It is similar to the traditional interview, however they want to see how you work and communicate within a team prior to the interview.
Important Prep Before Your Interview
Medical Questions – Practice answering the questions over and over until the answers are drilled into your memory. The questions the examiners ask cover a wide range of topics, you have to ensure you are prepared to elaborate on each one of these:
- Motivation to study medicine
- Breadth and depth of interest
- Medical school knowledge
- Medical empathy and ethics
- Work experience
- Imagination and creativity
NHS Hot Topics – It is very important you keep up to date on key headline healthcare stories, even outside of your medical application preparation. It is imperative to be aware of the current challenges the NHS faces, as well as their methodology for tackling the situation and novel therapies they might be working on. Here are some examples of topics likely to come up during your interview:
- Vaccinations against infection for children – should they be compulsory?
- Long term plans for the NHS
- Robotics in healthcare
- The use of NHS resources to combat ill mental health – how should they be implemented
- Bed shortage crisis – How can the NHS tackle this ever increasing issue especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic
Medical ethics – being aware of the four pillars of medical ethics is really important, more importantly however is how you apply these to real life scenarios, these should form the basis for your answers at the interview:
- Autonomy – The patient controls rights to their body and future
- Beneficence – Doctor seeks to do good/benefits the patient
- Non-maleficence – Avoid doing harm
- Justice – patients are treated equally/consider consequences widely across the community
Interview style – make sure you are aware which of the three interview styles you are coming up against and research any specific topics that may come up during the interview, these vary between different medical schools – Know what to expect – practice, practice, practice – work on your weakest areas!
Stay tuned as we will be posting an interview question bank soon!
7. A Guide For Parents
The medical application process can be incredibly tough, being able to provide your child with some support can really enhance their chances of being successful. Below we provide some useful tips/ways of encouraging/aiding your child.
Work experience is a key aspect to any medical application, however securing one can be a little difficult as they are usually in high demand. You can help your child make a list of any local surgeries care homes or hospitals (we highly recommend they prioritise volunteering at a care home). Motivate your child to keep a record of their placements and experiences/skills they’ve gained, this will be a great asset when writing their personal statement and preparing for the interview.
Helping Choose a Medical School
Choosing a University can be very daunting, it’s a very big step and requires a lot of premeditated thought. You can help your child by narrowing down THEIR favorite ones and being as supportive as possible. Accompany them to university open days so they can get a sense of what the place is like and help them ask often overlooked topics, such as accommodation in the long term and cost of living expenses, this will facilitate narrowing down the search.
The UCAT and the BMAT can be a very unforgiving exam. Your child only has one opportunity to take each one per application cycle, so nailing the exam and achieving a good score is incredibly important. Help them by encouraging them to go through past papers and testing their knowledge, practicing for the exam is probably the most important piece of advice we can offer and help them take the tests under timed conditions. Finally support them by encouraging them to relax, they need to approach the exam with a calm confident and collected attitude, they are two hours long and really drain your energy!
Medical School Interviews
The interview can be very nerve-racking. The best way to practice for an interview is to vocalise your answers, so become the interviewer and fire questions at your child. We have a section discussing some of the most important interview topics/questions, use these to test your child. the more they practice the more fluent they will be during the interview.
If you found this information useful please share it so that other future doctors can benefit from it too.
If you have any further questions please get in touch.