7 steps of applying to medical school
What you need to do, when and how.
A Medlink article by Sarah English MSci, April 1st 2019
Becoming a doctor is an incredibly rewarding experience but it is also a lengthy and challenging process. From applying to university, to lots of hard studying, followed by training years as you begin your career, there are many steps on the road to achieving this goal.
The first step is also the most confusing; getting into medical school.
Here we’re going to give you a walk through of each part of this process!
1. Deciding that you want to be a doctor
Is medicine the right career for you?
Usually when doing a degree in medicine you will undertake 5 years of hard study at university, followed by 2 foundation training years and further specialist training after this (3 years for GP training and 5-8 years for others). Overall that means a huge amount of dedication and perseverance over a very long time so it’s incredibly important to make sure that a career in medicine is right for you.
Really take the time to think about whether this sounds like something you want to commit to.
If you are certain that you want to work in and around medicine but are unsure that being a doctor is right for you then you may want to look into other health care professions that don’t require a medical degree. For example, Dentistry, Nursing, Physiotherapy and Radiography to name but a few.
You can find more careers and information on the NHS website by clicking here!
2. Work Experience
Now that you’ve decided that you definitely want to become a doctor you are going to need work experience.
Every single person applying to medical school should be backing up their application with work experience. Not only does it further help you decide that medicine is the right choice for you (as it is the best way to see what being a doctor is all about), but it also firmly shows your commitment and dedication to your career.
There are various types of work experience and these can include hospital and GP placements, international placements and volunteering. Each type of work experience offers different opportunities to learn new information about a career in medicine, as well as chances to showcase why you would be an excellent applicant.
Regardless of which type of work experience you are doing it is important to make your time count. Ensure you spend time reflecting on, and evaluating, what you have done and what you have learnt. Where possible note down your experiences as they happen, including how you feel and then later how you feel upon reflection. Think about the events you witnessed, the qualities of the people involved and how they helped or even hindered a situation.
If you are able to get different types of work experience, then spend some time comparing and contrasting them. How did they differ? In what ways were they the same? Which did you prefer and why? Take some time to think about why there were the differences there were, showcasing your ability to evaluate a clinical setting.
You will be including all of this knowledge and reflection in your personal statements and during your interview process (both of which we will be talking about later in this article) so ensure that you really get the most out of whatever you do. Even if it doesn’t feel medically related, volunteering in a charity shop once a week for a year shows true commitment, teamwork, as well as a desire to give up your time to help others. All great qualities for a future doctor.
3. Choose your medical schools
You want to study medicine, but where?
So, you’ve decided that medicine is definitely for you and you’ve started doing some work experience. Now you need to start thinking about where it is you want to study.
With 33 medical schools in the UK and Ireland alone, along with many more overseas, narrowing that list down to 4 can be a nerve-wracking task. No two schools are the same and so you really need to take the time to figure out which ones are suited to you.
There are several factors to consider when selecting your medical school. Different applicants will put more emphasis on some factors than others, so determine which elements are most important to you.
- Course structure
- Do you learn better in a lecture-based environment or through practical, hands on training?
- Entrance exams
- Which schools need which exams, and do you feel confident in getting high marks in these exams?
- What grades (both GCSE and A Level) do each of the medical schools need and do they match up with your grades?
- You will be living in this place for up to 6 years so make sure you actually like it there!
- Foundation years and intercalated degrees
- Some universities offer a pre-clinical year and the opportunity to gain a bachelor’s degree during your course, is that something you’re interested in?
Take the time to look through all these elements and make an informed decision before applying.
Also, it’s important to note that you can apply to overseas medical schools without them taking up any of your UCAS slots! That means you can choose 4 UK medical schools as well as applying for hundreds abroad! It’s win win!
If you know where you want to apply it’s time to submit your application through UCAS.
To apply to any university course you need to submit a form through UCAS (The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). Your school, head of year and head of sixth form are all available to assist you with this process; walking you through it and keeping you aware of key dates, so if you have any problems don’t be afraid to ask them!
To fill out the form you’ll need your GCSE grades, A level grades (both current and predicted), a personal statement and a teacher reference.
The closing date for this application is earlier for medical schools than it is for other courses (usually the 15th of October) so ensure you check the UCAS website for exact deadlines.
The whole process all takes place online so you shouldn’t have to send anything off via post, however there will be an administration fee (usually around £24).
5. Writing a Personal Statement
You need to write a personal statement, but what does that mean?
Regardless of what course you are applying to you will need to write a personal statement to accompany your UCAS application. A great personal statement can mean the difference between an interview and a rejection, so it’s really important to take your time over it.
So, what is a personal statement?
It is a small piece of writing (up to 4,000 characters, around 500 words) used to persuade the university that you are the perfect candidate to study medicine. Think of it as your resume for university. You will probably find that you need to do several drafts of your personal statement, tweaking it each time until you get the best final document you can, so don’t worry if it’s not perfect first time.
Everyone’s personal statement will be different and follow different structures, but in general you can cover 3 main points:
- Why do you want to study medicine?
- What is your motivation?
- Work experience
- What have you done to learn about being a doctor/studying medicine?
- Why would you be suitable?
- What can you offer as a medical student/doctor?
Get your teachers, family and friends to have a read through of it to give constructive criticism and feedback.
6. Sitting Entrance Exams
As if A levels weren’t enough you’re going to have to sit an entrance exam.
Nearly all universities will require you to take an entrance exam, either the UCAT or the BMAT. They are entirely different exams, taking place at different times and in different places so make sure you know which universities need which and when to take them.
Below we’re going to highlight the main bits of information for each but ensure that you check up on the websites themselves for the finer details.
- Made up of 5 sections: verbal reasoning (21 minutes), quantitative reasoning (24 minutes), abstract reasoning (13 minutes), decision making (32 minutes), situational judgement (26 minutes).
- The exam is entirely multiple choice
- It takes place on a computer (including an on-screen calculator) with access to a small white board to make notes
- Specific dates will vary year on year but generally fall at a similar time
- Registration will open around the beginning of May and close mid September
- The test itself is open from the beginning of July up until early October
- Costs to take the exam vary within the year itself with it being cheaper to take the exam sooner
- Generally, around the £65 mark until the end of August and then up to about £85
- You receive your score immediately after finishing your exam (which takes away a lot of the waiting anxiety!), getting results for each section as well as an overall score
- Made up of 3 sections: Aptitude and Skills (60 minutes), Scientific Knowledge (30 minutes), A writing task (30 minutes)
- The first 2 sections are multiple choice while the third is a choice of 4 essays to write
- There are 2 dates to sit the BMAT, one in August (before the UCAS deadline) and one in October (after the deadline)
- It’s important to note that not all universities accept the August exam
- Registration for the August exam opens at the end of June, closing in early August
- Registration for the October exam opens at the beginning of September and closes mid-October
- Like the UCAT, costs increase the later you register
- Registration occurs via your school so you will need to speak to your head of year/sixth form when you are looking to sign up for it
- You will receive your results online at the end of November (after the UCAS deadline so you won’t know your results when you submit your application).
The last hurdle in university applications.
Once you’ve completed all of your entrance exams and applied for your top 4 choices via UCAS you will be looking to receive offers for interview. There are different types of interview so make sure that you understand which type you are attending so that you can prepare for it properly.
Broadly speaking, the 3 types of interview are:
- Traditional Interviews
- Simple structure
- Usually just you and a panel of interviewers
- Approximately 30 minutes long
- Tried and tested topics
- Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs)
- Several small interviews (between 6 to 12)
- Approximately 2 minutes each
- Different interviewer in each section
- Overall about 2 hours long
- Oxbridge Interviews
- Similar in structure to a traditional interview (with yourself and a panel of interviewers)
- Tutorial style: problem solving experience which doesn’t necessarily have a correct answer
- Looking to see how you apply your own scientific knowledge and reasoning to a question
Each type of interview will require different preparation but there are some general tips we can suggest. It’s always good to show not tell, providing real-life examples of your qualities. Ensure you follow a good structure rather than a long ramble where it can be easy to go off topic. Make sure that you listen and respond, interviewers often give prompts along the way so pay attention to how they’re guiding you. Having a wider range of knowledge is useful so try and read up on what it’s like being a doctor. And finally dress for the part; this is a professional interview so dress how you would expect your doctor to dress.
It’s also important to note that medicine is an incredibly competitive field and getting an offer to interview is a massive achievement! Take a moment to celebrate how well you’ve done.
Hopefully this snapshot into the medical school application process is helpful to you!
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