Applying to medicine
Medical students often have loads of tips for young students applying to medical school. This page will bring them all together, and demystify elements of the medical school application process. It's also interactive, questions can be asked via the Discussion tab above.
- 1 Early preparation
- 2 Personal Statement
- 3 UKCAT
- 4 BMAT
- 5 Interview
- 6 Jobs
- 7 Charity work
- 8 Other questions
Insights into the course
Sometimes medical school can appear as a black box- in go fresh-faced teenagers, out come (hopefully) mature confident doctors. UK medical schools are transparent in their course structure, so check out the websites, go to open days, and if you're still confused, email someone! Expect questions about your knowledge of the course in the interview.
There is no 'perfect' personal statement - but following these tips can help you stand out no matter which university you apply for:
Try to cover:
- Not just what you’ve done, but what you learned from it and why that makes you a strong candidate (you could have spent your gap year working in a supermarket, but if you explain what it taught you it could be a far more valuable experience than a gap year project building an orphanage in the developing world)
- Showing a caring side and a passion for people
- The non-academic side is just as important!
- Justify every statement you make
- What not to do – clichés, money, open yourself up to difficult questions, don’t lie!
Personal qualities and skills
- Ability to communicate confidently (but not cocky or arrogant) and effectively
- Ability to cope with pressure and challenging situations
- Empathy - if possible, show them that you can see both sides of an argument
Use these buzz words and be able to back them up with examples as evidence!
Breadth and level of non-academic achievements and interests
- social involvement
- school responsibilities
- organisational abilities
- cultural, sporting, vocational and voluntary achievements
Who are you?
- Interest in music/books
- Sports - you can demonstrate lots of good personal qualities through demonstrating a commitment to a sport (but think about what it has taught you - anyone can claim to play football occasionally)
Put yourself across as a normal, stable person. This will also help you stand out from the thousands of other students who have applied.
You may have talked to some people about how they are preparing for the UKCAT, and you might have come across someone who replied with "I'm not revising, you can't really revise for it". Don't listen to that person. You can revise for it, and the same sources are used by most people. This is generally:
The 600Q book - I've met very few people who haven't used this book in preparation. As well as containing a load of questions to practice, it also contains a lot of tips and tricks on how to approach the questions in the real thing. A warning before you start though, the questions in here are seen as harder than the real thing, so if you do end up getting something like 400 in the mock exam in the back, don't panic too much, it's due to harder questions and a more basic marking system. (The actually scale for working out marks is far beyond the reach of mere mortals, and you don't need to worry about it anyway)
The Bryon "How to pass the UKCAT" book - best avoided. Many errors in the example questions and the maths section is aimed, apparently intentionally, at completely the wrong level hence making it useless for preparation. Level of difficulty is not your enemy in UKCAT maths, time is. Learn to make simple calculations and analyse data tables quickly!
Medify - If I had to recommend a website, this would probably be it. Fairly priced (compared to others that is), and has a huge bank of questions as well as a potential bursary if you can't afford it and you're eligible. Even if you don't want to the pay, the free resources are still worthy of mention, contains some useful tips and free practice questions.
You don't need the BMAT for Newcastle, and lets be honest, why would you want to apply anywhere else? On a more serious note, if you are wanting to apply to a university that wants the BMAT, only apply to a maximum of two. The BMAT is done (normally) near the start of November, after you've sent off your application when it's too late to change it. With your UKCAT, you could at least apply to the places that looked at it (or didn't) based on how well you did. If something goes wrong on the day, and the BMAT goes to pot, that's two universities straight out the window, so be careful.
The BMAT is split into 3 sections, Aptitude and Skills, Scientific Knowledge and a Writing Task.
On the website, it says for the Scientific Knowledge section that the level of knowledge is up to and including KS4 Maths and Science (GCSE standard). This doesn't mean it is easy. You're working at a speed of about a mark a minute, but unlike GCSE multiple choice for science, it isn't just a straight regurgitation of knowledge, it involves application of what you've learned to a problem which makes it all the more tricky.
Past papers are available from the BMAT website, under test preparation.
With thousands of students applying to medical school, not everyone will get an interview. Medical schools differ in their interview proportions- some guarantee an interview if you meet the entry requirements, others select heavily for interview by the personal statement, and most who get an interview will receive an offer. Research this, and decide whether the interview is your strong suit- consider having a selection. Expect to be asked some of the following questions:
- Why do you want to be a doctor?
- Why not a nurse? A researcher?
- Why our university?
- Why you?
You may be given an ethical dilemma, for example "you are a doctor. A 13 year old girl comes into your surgery requesting the contraceptive pill. Will you give her it?". The law is established clearly for such situations (Gillick Competency), but the interviewers are seeking your opinion, and moreover, why you feel like this. Good reasons why
- "It's the right of a person to choose their own treatment, as long as they are able to make their own decisions".
- "She may not understand the side effects of such a treatment at her age, so I'd like her mum to know".
Bad reasons why
- "It's unnatural".
- "I wouldn't want to get into trouble"
Religious objections are acceptable to a degree, but one of the duties of a doctor is referring patients for treatments you object to.
Note that this doesn't have to be medical- with health and safety laws clamping down on under 18s in a hospital environment, its becoming harder and harder for undergraduates to get into medical experience. Even if you worked in a local hairdressers on weekends, if you demonstrate the communication skills and teamwork you learned from it, it'll appear better than a list of the hospitals you've been in, with nothing learned from them. However, one of the main reasons why getting healthcare-related work experience is so important is that it shows that you understand what you are getting into and understand the roles of a doctor and other healthcare professionals. Being able to demonstrate this at interview will let them know that you are committed enough to find out what being a doctor involves, and serious about becoming one.
What's the difference between prosection and dissection? With prosections, the specimens have been previously dissected by anatomists, then you are free to hold and examine the specimens yourself. In dissection, you are given a cadaver (or part of a cadaver), and you have to dissect and prepare it yourself, or more often, watch a demonstrator dissect a cadaver in front of you. The advantages of prosection are that important and small structures are preserved, whereas in dissection you might inadvertently damage these. Dissection is found useful by some students for the practical surgical experience and independence of finding structures. In reality, the tissues in a cadaver are tougher and drier than in a living body, limiting practical surgical experience.
What's best, a PBL course, a traditional course or an integrated course? That all depends on you and what you want from the course. The traditional course is usually 6 years (because they make you intercalate a year, meaning you come out with a second degree like a BA) and has a clear division between the non-clinical and clinical years. In the first 2 or 3 years, you spend all your time learning the biochemistry, physiology and other such parts of the human body in a 'lecture theatre environment' where you follow set learning outcomes and do not choose your own learning aims. You have very little or no clinical skills teaching in that time. Then, when it comes to last 3 years, you spend all of your time "working" on the wards and doing your elective, meaning that you get a more intense, focused experience of clinical medicine late in the course to help prepare you for life as a foundation doctor.
PBL courses are on the other side of the spectrum. Instead of spending numerous hours a week in lectures, a lot of the work is done by groups of students as part of self-directed learning, or in seminars led by "learning facilitators", who may not be a healthcare professional. The students then teach each other by various means. You have a lot of freedom to choose your own learning direction although you are guided about aspects of medicine you need to cover, and some students enjoy this because it allows them to get much more out of the course that is relevant to them (although you should all have the same basic competencies by the end of medical school) and early clinical experience is often a theme. However, this learning style may not suit some people as there is often much self-discipline and group work required, and some people perceive PBL courses to be less structured.
The integrated course lies somewhere between. There are still lectures, but some concepts are taught in seminars, there may be earlier clinical experience and teaching is often focussed around cases (have a look around this website for examples).
Do I need to know now what specialty I want to go into? No, not at all, no one expects you to know at this stage (in fact, that would be unusual and you would often have to justify it. Many people say paediatrics at this stage and it has become a bit cliched). I am currently in my first year and I have very little clue. Most people I know are clueless as well. And I know many people in higher years who are in a similar position, maybe even some of the F1 and F2s. An 18 year old saying that he wants to be a cardiothoracic surgeon does not mean he will succeed. As you go through medical school and pick up more experience, you'll have a better idea of what you want to do and what it's like.