I’ve been asked to talk to a group of people at my old college and my old high school about studying medicine and how to get in and things like that and what it is like when you get here.
So I thought I’d do a blog post about it, and in the hope that someone might actually read it.
I’m going to split it into two posts, how I think it’s best to get into medical school, and what to do if you don’t get in.
I should probably start by saying, I didn’t get into medical school the first time of trying. I got an offer, but I missed the grade (by 2 sodding marks). But I have tried 3 times to get in, and I’ve got an offer every time, so I think I can give some good advice.
Number 1: RESEARCH!!! Look into what unis want you to study before you pick your A levels. I didn’t do this, I did maths, physics, chemistry and law (because I wanted something different). Notice something missing? Biology. I should have swapped physics for biology. I can’t stress the importance of having something different in there, I loved doing Law because it was different to my other subjects and it also taught me how to write long, well structured essays. Also, if you’re applying to a graduate (GEM) course, then make sure you meet the requirements of the course, ie which exams you sit (always sit more than 1 just in case) and your work experience requirements.
Number 2: Do 4 full A-levels. If you need AAA, you’ve got a better chance of getting it with 4 than 3. Yes, it’s a lot of extra work, but if you can’t handle doing 4 A levels I seriously doubt that you will be able to cope with the workload of medicine. I’m not saying that people with only 3 can’t cope. I’m saying that you could have coped with 4.
Number 3: UKCAT (whatever it’s called now) and GAMSAT (if you’re applying for graduate) results are vital. A lot of medical schools don’t look at your application, they don’t care if you have 8 months working in a HIV clinic in Africa. If you don’t get above their cut off score then they don’t even look at your application and you don’t get an interview. There’s normally some information online about where abouts the cut off was for the unis were the year before. Tailor your application to these values. If you only scored 550 on UKCAT (not a bad score) there is no point in applying to Newcastle who have never had a cut off below 570. It’s just wasting a choice. It’s difficult to practice for the tests, so my recommendation is to do the online practice tests. They are harder than the real ones. And do sudukos, that’s what I did to practice, it just gets your mind in the right sort of place.
Number 4: Work experience. It is so important. However, don’t fall into the trap of doing things like “I shadowed a doctor for 6 days.” If you haven’t done it. They will ask you about it. Be prepared to answer questions on what you liked and didn’t like. My work experience was nothing like that.. well I did that and I wrote about it, but when I spoke to the admissions tutor about it she told me that it was the other stuff I’d done that got me the points for an offer. I spent a week of summer every year volunteering in Lourdes in France with my church (I’m not really religious) working with terminally ill, deaf, blind and generally unwell people who go on pilgrimage there. Things like that where you can show that you genuinely care about people and can work with sick and old people are more valuable than the traditional shadowing. Especially now as it’s so difficult to get shadowing without knowing a doctor.
Number 5: Personal statement. They are less important. They’re really just a means of getting across your work experience. Only points I’d make is including hot phrases like your experience of working in a “multi-disciplinary team”, they love that stuff. Also.. don’t be afraid to exaggerate a few things, as long as you can remember them in an interview. If you can’t, then don’t. Finally, make sure that you get someone to check it a few times. Hassle your tutors to check them for you. I’d be willing to check one or two if they were sent to me, but the best person to check them is your college university admissions tutor (there will be one), or a university careers advisor.
Number 6: Interview. Practice. Sit down with someone who has interviewed people (not necessarily for medical school, though if you can find one. Awesome.) and get them to ask you questions. Be prepared to answer why you want to be a doctor. They will ask it. And they will follow it up with “Ok then, why don’t you want to be a nurse then?” They love trying to pick people up. Look here:
a lot of medical students have worked together to compile this and it tells you what to expect at each of the different medical schools for both the undergrad and graduate courses. It is a brilliant resource. One tip I can give is to expect “good-cop, bad-cop” if there’s 2 people in there. The most important thing though is confidence. They will try to trip you up early on, just ride it out. If you can’t answer something, then pause and give yourself a second to think. Ask them to repeat the question to give yourself some thinking time. Making a mistake and then recovering is a good sign.
I hope that this has been useful for you, feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.