The Guide to Applying to Medical School in the UK- 2019 entry
If you're going to be applying for medicine in October 2018 for entry in September 2019 then we've put together this guide to help with your applications.
Written with the help of admissions experts and students that have survived the process, we wanted to give you a guide that covers the whole journey and gives some pointers to help you with your applications. There's lots of changes for medical school entry in 2019 that you should be aware of and we've broken things down to the following topics:
- Deciding on a career in medicine
- GCSE and A-Levels required for medicine
- Choosing a medical school
- Considering studying medicine abroad
- Medical work experience
- UKCAT and BMAT examinations
- Personal statement for medicine
- Medical school interviews
- What if I don't get in?
Most students know that medicine is ferociously competitive to get into. Is this due to a poor selection of applicants? The answer is, of course, no. Largely the high number of rejections people can experience when trying to secure a place to study medicine can be put down to poor preparation.
Ideally your preparation should begin at least two years before you submit your application. But if you have come to the decision to apply to study medicine more recently, or if you unaware of what steps you need to take in order to prepare a strong application, don't worry. it's not too late. Even over a relatively short period of time, even a few months, you can put together a convincing application.
We hope you find this guide a useful resource and wish you all the very best in your applications to study medicine.
Here's a pretty infographic to ease you in gently to the guide.
1) Deciding on a career in medicine
The decision to embark on a career in medicine isn't one to be taken lightly. Higher education courses in medicine take considerably longer to complete than your typical three-year Bachelors and, when coupled with post-graduate study and specialist training, students may find themselves waiting up to 16 years before they become a fully fledged doctor.
Your typical MB ChB (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) takes five years to complete, three years of which is focused heavily on vocational work in hospitals and medical centres.
Medicine is one the UK’s most competitive courses and the universities which offer the course are at the higher end of most typical university rankings. Out of around 130 total universities in the UK, there are currently 33 medical schools. All of these are members of the Medical Schools Council and are considered to be some of the top areas of study for medicine worldwide.
Recent UK government plans for medical schools promise five new schools over the next three years. This is part of the UK’s plans to increase the amount of medical students by 25% in order to meet rising healthcare demands. These schools will be opened in Sunderland, Ormskirk, Chelmsford, Lincoln and Canterbury. Medical qualifications are highly-transferable, and a British medical degree enables you to be a doctor in most parts of the world without additional tests or qualifications.
Of course, the time frame of the path you take will vary greatly depending on your choice of career - the NHS states that there are over 60 specialities for students to choose from, like cardiology, psychiatry, surgery, teaching - all of which have their own rewards and demands.
The wealth of choice when it comes to figuring out where your career in medicine will take you is something of a luxury in higher education. While some degrees are relatively limiting, you'll never be at risk of feeling pigeonholed once you finish university - as long as you're determined to help people, the world will be your oyster!
A life in medicine has the potential to bring with it great prosperity and opportunities, but it's important to consider whether or not you're ready for the psychological commitment that healthcare brings. Firstly you need to ask yourself if you're prepared for the intense selflessness and round-the-clock focus that comes with many concentrations associated with medicine. While the answer to this may seem straightforward, remember that you may be required to keep that same mindset in the operating theatre at 2 am, or while running diagnoses at highly unsociable hours. This is a profession that's all-consuming once you enter your workplace.
There are very few 9 to 5 working days within a career in medicine, and there will be practical and intellectual challenges facing you on a regular basis.
We don't mean to start by painting an unhappy picture of the career but it's really important to point out that medicine isn't perhaps as glamorous as some students may have of it. Medicine is regarded as perhaps the most prestigious of all careers, helped by TV portrayals from the likes of House, Scrubs and Grey's Anatomy - the perception is often a lot more fun than it is in reality. You should be 100% sure you want to study medicine, having thought long and hard about the hours, salary and study needed to succeed. The last thing you want is to go down the long road of trying to secure a place in medical school only for you to regret that choice, either at medical school or during your training.
Now you've had a good hard think about this, let's move onto some of the more positive points of considering a career in medicine! There will never be a time where doctors aren't in demand - medicine is a wholly future proofed profession. With uncertainties about careers, and particularly the human input into careers, you can be pretty certain medicine will always require doctors, no matter how advanced technology gets. Medicine is always evolving, so it's a career that offers lifelong learning. You won't become bored easily or stuck in the same job for your whole working life. It is a well respected career that ( after training ) can also become very financially rewarding too.
So if you believe that you're in a position to thrive among the physical, psychological, adaptive and cognitive challenges that medical studies bring then read on, you may just have found your calling.
2) GCSE and A-Levels required for medicine
That's right, med schools also look at your GCSE grades too when it comes to securing a place. Each medical school has slightly different entry requirements but there are some subjects that would be considered as a necessity to have. Firstly we'll start with your GCSE grades.
The competition you will be going up against for entry into medical schools is very high, therefore, it is crucial that you achieve the best grades possible even for your GCSEs. While ultimately the grades you get at A-levels will be considered first, this does not mean that your GCSEs are not important. Most medical schools tend to look at the overall picture when it comes to assessing prospective students. You stand a much better chance, wherever you are looking to study medicine, of being accepted on to the course if you have a strong academic history overall. So it is obviously very important that you do your best at GCSE level.
In order to study medicine at most universities in the UK you need to, as a standard, have at least five A* or A grade GCSEs in subjects including Maths and English. You also need to have at least a Grade B in a Science subject. Whether it is Chemistry, Physics or Biology is not often particularly important, unless the medical school you are interested in has stipulated this in its entry requirements. You can check this information on the website of each school. Take, as an example, a university like Cardiff requires GCSE Science and Additional Science at Grades AA or GCSE Biology, Physics and Chemistry at Grade AAB in any particular order. However, if you look at Edinburgh University, they will not accept GCSEs in subjects such as Applied Science and Additional Applied Science.
Medical degrees always require at least AAA at A-level and grades have to be achieved in hard science subjects like biology and chemistry with physics or mathematics considered next most useful.
Biology: Most medical schools do require biology at least at AS level. Most medical students should look to have an A2 in biology, though, even if it isn’t formally required. It would depend on your other A2 subjects, for example, if you were already taking an A2 in human biology.
Chemistry: Almost every medical school in the UK requires chemistry at AS level. Most expect you to have a full A-level in chemistry, though. The medical schools which don’t require A2 chemistry require you to have biology at A2.
Maths and Further Maths: A-Levels in maths are always useful to possess alongside biology and chemistry A-levels. Only one of the two - maths or further maths - will be accepted.
Other Subjects: Whilst most subjects are accepted as a third A-Level choice (alongside chemistry and biology), other sciences like physics will look best. Each and every medical school has varying requirements, and some will require you to have a third A-Level in maths or another ‘hard science’ or similar subject.
With the rising competition facing UK medical students, it has been said that 4 A-Levels is the new benchmark for applicants. Having 3 A to A* A-Levels at A2 including Chemistry and Biology will secure you an interview in many circumstances, though. In situations of extreme oversubscription and very high standards, it can’t be denied that having 4 A-Levels including Biology, Chemistry and then Maths or Physics and one other subject of your choice is the most reliable approach.
3) Choosing a medical school
Medicine is highly competitive, and this is why students are allowed to make 4 choices of medical school on their UCAS applications with a 5th choice allowed for another course just in case. The latest figures suggest that 80% miss out on a place at medical school altogether and you can expect that it’s often unlikely that you’ll get your first choice, depending on where it is.
The institutions that can award medical degrees are governed by the General Medical Council (GMC), and accredited honours are listed as UK Primary Medical Qualifications (PMQs).
The roll call of schools that are GMC certified is extensive, with 33 institutions making the list either solely or as part of a combination of universities, and hail from all corners of the United Kingdom. So the chances are you'll have plenty of choice both locally and further afield, should you wish to spread your wings.
The first thing to consider when weighing up your ideal medical school is the specifications of each institution offering a relevant qualification. Not only should you think deeply about the grades you anticipate getting or already hold (the criteria for entry to medical school is often considerably higher than a shorter term BSc or BA), but also your learning style.
Think about what kind of learning environment is best for you, and the amount of tutor interaction you crave. Most university ranking tables include a column that displays a 'student to staff ratio', and if you're a learner that needs to be in close contact with tutors then it might be worth finding an institution that's as low as possible for this ratio (currently UCL has the lowest student to staff ratio, with approximately 5.6 students per staff member).
Choosing a Med School: What are the Different Course Types?
Most med-school course types are listed as one of three:
· Problem Based Learning - PBL
In a traditional course, your first two years will focus on learning in a more traditional lecture setting. You’ll be taught about various and diverse science-based theory across all medicine. Some of the broad areas that will be covered in detail are physiology, biochemistry and anatomy. There will be lots of lectures and lots of coursework to complete - your lectures will likely cover 5 days every week and you’ll have plenty to do at weekends!
After the first couple of years learning scientific medical theory are up, you’ll be taught in clinical settings under the direction of a consultant. You might have to complete ward rounds, shadowing or GP placements. There will be some tutorials, seminars and lectures at this stage too but your course will mostly focus on working in practical hands-on situations.
A traditional course suits someone who prefers to have a greater knowledge base before beginning their practical studies. By the end of the first couple of years, you’ll have increased your medical knowledge hugely and this can increase your confidence considerably before you begin your clinical placements. Traditional courses are still amongst the most popular course type in the UK and they’re taught at almost all of the most academically-oriented universities like Oxbridge.
Integrated courses are similar to traditional courses with one key difference: you’ll start some clinical work experience from day one. Integrated courses are now joint-most popular alongside traditional courses and they’re viewed as more adaptable to the shifting landscape of modern medicine. Not only do integrated courses teach various aspects of scientific theory but also quickly acclimatise students to working life in clinical settings.
Another difference in how you’ll learn your scientific theory in traditional courses is that you’ll be taught by topic, rather than by discipline. For example, a disciplinary approach teaches medicine in age-old categories like biochemistry and anatomy whilst a topical approach teaches medicine per body structure. E.g. a module on the digestive system will teach all disciplines relevant to that structure - biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, etc. This is now the recommended approach according to The General Medical Council.
An integrated course yields long-term benefits as you gradually grow comfortable with clinical settings rather than being expected to be able to apply 2 years of knowledge readily in high-pressure settings. For some, this immediate immersiveness will seem pretty intimidating, though, and you may feel like you won’t be prepared to face patients in your first year. The truth is, most integrated courses don’t throw down the gauntlet immediately in your first week or month but gradually introduce you via group work.
Problem Based Learning – PBL
These focus on small group work, peer-to-peer learning methods and a high emphasis on education through problem-solving - and are available from a small number of universities. Problem Based Learning is a comparatively modern method of learning which focuses on solving problems using initiative and proactivity. Most courses have an element of PBL built into them but some are taught almost entirely using PBL. PBL aims to teach similar informational content as a traditional lecture-based approach but in a context which enables students to delve into more detail over the realistic application of such knowledge in hypothetical situations. Students will work in groups of around 8 alongside an experienced tutor and will be asked to investigate hypothetical situations and present information to the group whilst discussing the elements of the case and their interlinking nature.
This form of learning helps promote teamwork and acclimatises students to the multidisciplinary, overlapping nature of the NHS. Compared to a traditional approach, PBL often helps students engage with the healthcare service rather than with the underlying scientific theory which underpins medicine. PBL-type courses all have slightly different flavours so it’s always worth checking your prospective universities curriculum very carefully.
Location, location location
Location may not seem like an issue to hurdle for some students, and it's advisable to focus on which universities will best suit your needs. However, with many courses operating for up to six years, it's important to factor in whether or not you will feel comfortable living away from home for such a long time.
We've met thousands of budding medical students and are constantly surprised at the amount of students who seem to concentrate their applications in and around London or the south of England. For example Barts Medical school in London had over 2,600 applicants for 276 places in 2015, whereas Leeds medical school had 1,800 applicants for 237 places, so, 800 less applicants for only 39 fewer spaces. It's no bad thing to look at the different med school application rates, interview offer rates and number of med school places available when it comes to making your applications.
One final thing to keep in mind is tuition costs. Scottish students for example pay just £1,820 in tuition fees if they attend a Scottish university. Students from the rest of the UK pay £9,000 - so it's easy to infer that most Scottish applicants will choose a Scottish medical school to apply to, thus increasing the competition in Scotland for places in Med school.
Once you've settled on a course type that suits your learning style the best and drawn up a shortlist of the 4 medical schools you wish to apply to, make sure your'e happy with the geographical spread of those and competition ratios to maximise your chances of success.
4) Considering studying medicine abroad
If, on the other hand, you feel unfazed by studying further from home, then there's a chance that studying medicine abroad could be ideal for you.
Studying overseas has become an increasingly popular choice among students in the wake of increasing tuition fees and fierce competition for vacant places at universities domestically.
While quality, cost, and intricacies of overseas study vary greatly depending on region or institution, there are a lot of places in Central and Eastern Europe, such as Czechia, Latvia and Bulgaria, that teach medicine in English. Furthermore, under current EU directives, the resulting qualification must be regarded as equal to its UK counterpart (although we're awaiting confirmation that this will continue to be the case after 29th March 2019).
A Star Future warns that choosing to study medicine abroad shouldn't be regarded as an 'easy' option, and that the expected workload will be just as tough. The costs of study aren't necessarily cheaper than UK tuition too, the cost of completing a five-year medical degree in the Caribbean and USA is calculated to amount to over $250,000. It would also be notably difficult to transfer between institutions while you're midway through your studies.
However, studying abroad provides a rich cultural experience that's unparalleled by that of the UK and can bring huge character-building benefits and a refreshing change of scenery for some students.
For undergraduates that are curious about studying abroad, it's worth looking for individual courses and checking their entry requirements and tuition fees, and if they seem acceptable, pay them a visit and get a taste of how it would feel to gain your medical qualifications overseas.
5) Medical work experience
Gaining medical work experience prior to your applications is an excellent way of getting a hands-on feel of whether a career in medicine is right for you as well as an invaluable addition to your CV that is required by all universities.
Now this is the strange thing. Getting relevant medical work experience can be one of the hardest tasks facing a prospective medical student. When first faced with the challenge of obtaining work experience students tend to get in touch with GP surgeries and hospitals and request work experience. They are then faced with rejections or being asked to complete lots of forms for the chance to be part of a hospitals work experience programme which often consists of 20 places per year for those lucky students that are accepted, so the chances of getting work experience in hospitals is often very remote. This is down to 3 main factors.
Firstly hospitals are very oversubscribed when it comes to requests for work experience. You've got literally tens of thousands of people trying to get experience and the hospitals simply don't have the space for everyone. Secondly, there's no real system that is in place for the hospitals to manage students entering hospitals on work experience schemes. We all know NHS hospitals are stretched with their resources and private hospitals often won't entertain the idea of letting students observe in their hospitals and as they have no pressure or real need to do so, you'll find they won't go out of their way to implement a truly effective work experience scheme. The third reason why hospitals aren't too keen on allowing students through their doors is patient confidentiality and insurance issues. Doctors have a duty to keep any information of diagnoses of patients confidential. Students simply visiting a hospital on work experience do not so they have an issue with students being around sensitive, confidential information. Also should a student be involved in any kind of injury to themselves or a patient then the burden of any resulting legal action, compensation or blame may fall at the feet of the hospital. Now with no directive from the government or obligation to provide work experience schemes in hospitals, why would a hospital take those risks? And the strangest part is despite all of these issues, medical schools will stipulate that students have to gain relevant work experience nonetheless.
The key here is variety. The medical schools do know how hard it is to get work experience in a hospital, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try but you should also supplement your search with other relevant work experiences that are easier to obtain. Volunteering is a great way to show your caring side and desire to give up your time for the benefit of others. Volunteering roles are much easier to obtain for students, you can start by looking at do-it.org which has some great volunteer opportunities, both long and short term, in your local area. Volunteering in care based roles in particular is really good experience, things like care homes, charities and youth groups are often looking for volunteers and you can use your experience of these to demonstrate you are willing and able to dedicate yourself to helping the less fortunate or able people in society.
Jobs.nhs.uk is a great portal for finding relevant work in your local area too that isn't necessarily hospital based but still very relevant. Proactiveness pays when finding volunteer and shadowing positions. If you're set on gaining experience of the industry before beginning your studies, be sure to approach as many different places as possible to enquire if they would be willing to accept your help in a temporary role.
The value that work experience brings to a medical school application cannot be underestimated. In a competitive area of higher education with more applications for courses than available places, having a relevant employment history, no matter how brief, can really enable you to stand out from the crowd and be seen as an ideal candidate. Volunteer positions are usually subject to background checks, which does take time, so bear this in mind and act swiftly.
You may have noticed that medical work experience is what Premed Projects is all about, we arrange short term work experiences for students in the UK and overseas designed to give you some fantastic material to use in your applications to medical school. So check out our placements too and let us know if you have any questions about any aspect of what we offer.
6) The UKCAT and the BMAT
The UKCAT (United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test) and BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) are two standardised tests that are common requirements for United Kingdom institutions' entry criteria onto a medical qualification.
Medicine is ultra-competitive and amongst the various admission demands are the UKCAT and BMAT tests. These are by far the most popular choices of admission test amongst medical schools across the UK and are designed to test various areas of your thinking skills, medical knowledge and clinical aptitude. It doesn’t end there, though, as many universities now have their own admissions tests. It all seems very daunting and many students really fear these 2-hour exams that will take place in addition to their A-Levels.
There has been much debate over how useful these tests are, but they simply serve as another means of screening the vast number of applications made to med schools up and down the country. One challenge applicants do face is knowing the requirements of each university. Some will accept either, others just one and not the other, for this reason many students take both examinations so they have a greater choice of universities to apply to.
Both exams take different forms, with the UKCAT being a digital test that focuses on candidates answering questions of varying difficulty in short spaces of time over topics ranging from Verbal Reasoning, to Quantitative Reasoning, to Abstract Reasoning, to Situational Judgement and so on. The BMAT, however, is a written examination with an emphasis on mathematics, science and logical thinking.
The onus is on students to book their examinations of their own accord prior to university. The tests can only be taken once, and are only valid for one registration period, meaning that you couldn't sit a UKCAT exam in the summer of 2018 and use it to enrol into medical school starting in 2020 for example.
These tests come at a price too. With UKCAT setting students back £65, for tests taken before September 2018, £87 for tests taken after September 2018 and for international students the cost is £115, while the BMAT's costs start at £46 to sit for UK and EU nationals. However, both examining bodies offer a bursary that allows individuals to take the test for free depending on their household income situation.
If the prospect of a pre-enrolment exam feels a little bit frightening, fear not - there are plenty of websites online that offer free trial runs of the tests to help you gain an idea of what to expect. Practice.ukcat.ac.uk and Cambridge University's portal, admissionstesting.org, both provide excellent samples to help you prepare for UKCAT and BMAT respectively.
The UK Clinical Aptitude Test has gained some notoriety for being hard, very fast and rather gruelling. It’s the kind of test which just doesn’t gel with some people and finding out if you’re one of them is important to determine how much revision you need to do (or whether you want to apply to BMAT universities). It isn’t free to sit and you can only make one application per year so passing first time is all the more important. If you don’t pass then you’ll have to take a gap year and try again. If this does happen then don’t despair - it gives you so much extra time to brush up on everything and gain more work experience before your degree - the same applies for the BMAT.
The UKCAT is composed of five test categories: Abstract Reasoning, a Situational Judgement Test, Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Decision Making.
- The Verbal Reasoning section tests your ability to quickly sift through information logically. It will present you with a series of passages and then will quiz you on various elements of their contents.
- The Decision Making Test will survey how well you can apply logic to arrive at a useful and accurate conclusion. It will present you with charts, data and written/visual information and then ask you interpret what you've seen.
- The Quantitative Reasoning Test section checks how you can arrive at logical conclusions that are drawn from numerical information.
- The Abstract Reasoning Subtest checks your ability to extract and determine patterns from shapes and other graphical information.
- The Situational Judgement test assesses how good you are at noticing important factors in practical real-world situations. It checks how well your values and working ethics align to the General Medical Council’s guidelines.
The BioMedical Admissions Test ascertains your critical and logical thinking skills alongside knowledge you should have retained from school. Some consider it the harder of the two tests but this is very subjective - it just depends on your skills and knowledge. The BMAT is required by Oxbridge and amongst some of the UK’s other top med-schools. Whilst it does present plenty of the more abstract or ‘IQ-like’ questions, it has been designed to rigorously test intellect, skills and knowledge and does so via 3 test areas:
Aptitude and Skills: This area tests your ability to problem solve, analyse data and generate conclusions from complex or abstract information. It’s 60 minutes long and is comprised of multiple choice questions. Many might think “ooh, multiple choice… that’s easy” but unfortunately, it isn’t! These questions often take the form of hypothetical situations and ask you to deduce an answer based on logic and critical thinking.
Scientific Knowledge and Applications: This section is designed to reaffirm your knowledge from school, particularly knowledge acquired before the age of 16. That makes it sound easy but these questions are designed to make you transfer your understanding of basic principles and reinterpret them onto more complex questions.
Writing Task: This section requires you to produce a written essay-like answer to one of 3 questions. It evaluates your ability to communicate written information neatly and in an organised, intellectually stimulative and detailed manner.
The best advice we can offer for the UKCAT and the BMAT is practice, practice and practice again. There's no magic formula for success for these, simply a case of knowing what to expect on the day and being well prepared. They are designed to test an applicants core strengths in various areas and so there's nothing you can really learn from a textbook that will give you an edge on the day. The whole point of them is that they are designed to level the playing field so you can't just memorise facts and answer questions you've revised, think of them like IQ tests, an intelligence screening process. The biggest problem students usually encounter is not practicing and being unprepared for the type of questions that will come up. If you make good use of the available resources, no question should come as a surprise. Yes, the question itself will differ from what you have practiced but the general layout and formula of the questions should be very familiar.
7) Personal statement for medicine
Composing a personal statement for any degree is a challenge but for medicine, this is your chance to illustrate your academic prowess and work experience alongside a genuine passion and fascination for the medical subjects you love. A personal statement can support your application if your exam results are slightly below your expectations or can enhance a strong set of grades for the best chance of acceptance.
UCAS, the admissions service for universities in the UK, describes a personal statement as "your opportunity to sell yourself to your prospective school, college or training provider." Students are given a 4,000 character limit (which roughly equates to 500 words) in which to show off their appeal to the institutions of their choosing.
Here, it's important to get into the mind of the member of admissions staff that will be reading your statement - what do they want to see? 500 words may seem like plenty, but you'll likely find that space is at a premium when you're trying to find the perfect formula to impress your chosen university.
The key things that medical schools will be looking for are evidence of motivation, explorative work experience and suitability for fitting into their learning environment. The best approach to take in this respect is to break your personal statement down into chunks.
Many use their introduction to make an immediate impact on the reader. Any exaggerated claims stressing a lifelong passion to pursue medicine may be met with scepticism by the reader, though. It’s best to remain honest and indicate some thoughtful introspect about why you want to study medicine.
Next, you want to start overviewing your medicine work experience. Reviewers will be looking for any practical actions you may have taken that underlines your passion for the subject. This will be the body of the personal statement and it’s best to focus on your highest achievements first. State the curiosity that it aroused and discuss the ways in which it fuelled your desire to study medicine. Remember, it's very easy to say that you love medicine, but it's another thing entirely to backup your claim with examples. Simply overviewing the facts is not enough - you need to show that you can apply the things that you learnt.
There are a few life skills you want to relate back to your work experience - motivation, mental fortitude and a genuine desire to help others. The admissions team will not only want to see practical experience but also an understanding of the more emotive component of medicine - genuine care, understanding and desire to assist. A coldly written personal statement that merely discusses grades and achievements doesn’t read well compared to a personal statement that discusses patient care.
You will certainly need a section on your own personal interests. Here, you can let your relaxed self come through. You could discuss activities which required teamwork and determination, or you may wish to discuss some key challenges that you’ve overcome on a personal level.
By ending your personal statement with a focus on your suitability for entering into their learning environment, you're returning the emphasis back to the medical school in question. Here, it's a good idea to talk about your adaptability and ability to cooperate and collaborate with ease. Explain that you've chosen the institution because, of all the medical schools you've researched, they offer the best combination of educational quality, staff approachability and the most complementary match for your personal learning style. It's also a good idea to avoid telling them that the only reason you applied to their university is because it's only two miles from your house - regardless of whether or not it may be a true statement!
Whilst remaining upbeat is essential, a medical personal statement should be formal and precise in tone. This doesn’t mean that you should constrain your personality, but rather introduce this in the later sections which overview your personal life.
There really is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing a personal statement and the reader isn’t looking to catch you out or dismantle your views. The best approach is to remain friendly, honest, accurate and transparent. Showing passion is great but pushing things too far and over inflating yourself can be off putting.
The length will depend on how much information you have to present. There really isn’t the need to discuss too many details when disclosing information about your school or college life, as your grades and references should speak for themselves. Keep the detail in the sections about work experience. You only have 47 lines so it will take a few attempts to get everything right but equally don't worry if your'e a couple of lines short - it's not an exercise in filling the space and we've seen many excellent personal statements for medicine that fall under the character length by a little.
Again some of the most common mistakes surrounding the personal statement for medicine applications stem from poor preparation and not fully understanding what the admissions team are looking for. When writing your personal statement keep saying the word "Personal" over and over again in your mind. The clue is in the title. Clearly articulate your motivations behind your application to enrol at medical school. To say that you wish to help others is great, but the chances are that the admissions team will have seen that line hundreds of times already throughout the week. Here it's advisable to explain the root cause of your desire to pursue a career in the medical industry, and reference any figures or works that may have inspired you personally.
It sounds obvious but please check your spelling and grammar! You would be surprised at the number of applications submitted with spelling mistakes and that doesn't paint the best impression when looking at entering a career that counts attention to detail and precision as of vital importance!
After you have finished your personal statement ask family, friends and teachers to take a look through it and offer critical feedback. When you read through your personal statement yourself, ask yourself, does this show why I want to be a doctor?
8) Medical School Interviews
Firstly, if you're preparing for an interview with a medical school - congratulations. Due to the volume of applications that institutions receive, it's an achievement in itself to be called in for an interview, so you must already have made a good impression.
Interviews may seem like the most nerve-wracking component of any degree application. It's important to compose yourself well, speak clearly and show that you’re prepared. Interviews are seen by admissions staff as a great way of getting undergraduates to expand on their qualifications and personal statement while looking into their communicative skills and aptitude.
There are hordes of sample questions and interview preparation sites out there, which is great in many ways, but can be a hindrance in others. Interviewers are wise to this and often look to change things up to avoid the risk of talking to somebody who may as well be reading an auto-cue.
Be sure to study your invitation for an interview carefully, as it can reveal a lot about the format that it will take. While traditional interviews will take the form of an informative conversation between one or two members of staff and yourself, the notion of the Multiple Mini Interview is beginning to gain popularity in education today. One sure thing you can prepare for is the structure and style of each type of interview.
Med-school interviews take one of 3 forms:
These resemble job interviews and you’ll likely first be asked questions about your background and goals - why you want to study medicine, where your passions began and what your ambitions are. The interviewer will want to discuss medicine itself including medical ethics, advancements and key hot topics or current affairs about the NHS. You’ll also be asked about your own life, your motivation, your hobbies and passions and ways in which you’ve worked through problems and challenges. Expect questions like “give me an example of when you worked with a team to achieve a critical goal” or “explain a time where you coped under considerable pressure”.
It’s best to prepare by writing down some notes about key moments that occurred during your work experience or school/college life and also key moments in your personal life. For example, you could explain how you functioned under pressure during a work placement and then go on to explain how you’ve coped with a challenge on a more personal level. Anything which displays empathy, warmth and care is a massive bonus as this is considered very important for those wishing to work in healthcare.
Oxbridge medical courses are more heavily focussed on research. This means that their interviews are far more focussed on assessing your cognitive abilities and thinking skills. That said, they’ll want to create a detailed picture of how you approach sensitive ethical subjects and more general areas of medicine.
They might kick off the interview with something so simple that it throws you off like “what makes a good doctor?” and then go on to ask you more detailed questions which might involve mathematics or knowledge of areas of medicine that you should have covered at A-Level. Oxbridge interviews have gained some notoriety for their offbeat questions but even if the question is difficult to grasp in the moment, they at least want to see that you’re approaching it openly from an angle of discussion rather than simply shutting it down with an “I don’t know.”
The MMI approach is a modern method of interviewing in which you face a number of interviewers in relatively quick succession. Each one will either give you a task or ask you questions. The purpose of this is to assess your interdisciplinary approach to tackling problems. It also keeps you on your toes and assesses your ability to adapt. You'll conduct a series of 'mini' interviews with members of staff that will present you with a scenario that requires a demonstration of problem-solving or role play to resolve. Each part of the interview is designed to last for less than ten minutes, but the overall interview process may take up to two hours to complete. While the prospect of interacting with multiple members of staff may seem daunting, the method of interview is bound to work wonders for the more interpretive, visual and physical learners among us.
Some of these questions might be a little offbeat and unexpected. For example, you could be asked to tell the interviewer how to unwrap a box or pour a bottle of water into a cup and you’ll be expected to give precise instructions which can’t be misinterpreted. E.g. if you tell them to lift up a flap on a box to open up, they might lift up the wrong flap. Other interview stations will quiz your ethical views, medical knowledge and personal life and background.
You'll likely be asked to elaborate on some parts of your personal statement during the interview process (which makes it a good idea not to lie while writing it!), so make sure you work on your responses for that. And remember to keep calm and approach it as a conversation. You've already got them interested enough to call you in for an interview, so there's no need to feel out of place.
Whichever interview you are preparing for it's a really good idea to keep up to date on current news stories surrounding medicine, med schools and the NHS. There's a very good chance you'll be asked a question surrounding a controversial news item such as the right to die, NHS budgets or obesity costs to the NHS. Popular topics this year have been the 7 days NHS and the Charlie Gard case. The Alfie Evans case would be a good bet for interviewers to ask about for interviews taking place in 2018 and 2019. You don't have to have a definitive answer, the topics are controversial for the reason that they polarise opinions, just make sure you know the basic facts of some popular or controversial topics so you're prepared and armed when you attend your interview.
9) What if I don't get in?
Don't panic, is the short answer. Not succeeding in your medical school application may feel like a big blow as you’ll have most likely prepared for ages. As well as obtaining your A-Levels, you may have volunteered or worked in healthcare or completed other qualifications and the first important thing to remember is that these are certainly not wasted just because you didn’t get into med school straight away!
There are many reasons why you might not gain a place at the institutions you applied for, and much of those will be completely out of your hands and through no fault of your own. Remember that places in medical school are relatively few and far between in comparison to the level of applications that are sent year on year.
The longer answer is that you still have plenty of options available to you. If you missed out on a place prior to your exams, then the best course of action for you to take first will likely be to focus on getting the best grades you can and re-apply through UCAS Clearing - which is a part of the admissions site where universities post their leftover vacant spaces for courses. This way, you can gain entry into a similar course at a different medical school. The places available for med school entry this way are limited but have increased over recent years so it's no longer unheard of to get a place in medical school through UCAS clearing.
Should you decide to take the option of a retake year, or simply launch a second attempt in the following academic year, remember that work experience can really help you stand out from the crowd when competing for places. If you're motivated and focused, then the world is your oyster!
If you didn't quite get the grades you needed to enrol with your choices the two biggest options available to you is to resit your final year or apply for a similar course with the appropriate entry criteria through Clearing. If examinations were your downfall then the first thing to consider is re-sitting them and re-applying. If you missed the mark by a fair bit and dropped some grades to high B's then this is definitely worth considering but do check with the universities you’re applying to - many simply don’t accept resit students. Missing your grades isn't the end of the world when it comes to applying for med school, you can still make a success of it next time around.
Apply to another degree course
You’ve come a long way and if you’ve picked up even half of the grades and experience you need for med school then you’re equipped with the qualifications and ability needed to get into many other well-respected degrees. With a strong degree in a medicine-related course, you can try and enter med-school as a graduate. You’ll often be able to take a 4 year fast-track course, too. The most obvious course for this path is biomedical science but physiology, anatomy and pharmacology are all very useful too and can either prepare you for post-grad med school or another career in medicine and healthcare.
If you go down this route, you will have ample time to pick up as much medical work experience and medicine volunteer work as possible and this will go huge lengths in supporting your graduate entry medicine application.
There are a fair few courses which allow you to transfer from the first year to med-school. This is risky and competitive - you don’t want to be stuck on your course for 2 years if you don’t succeed with your transfer. One thing to bear in mind is that if you take this route and can’t transfer, failing to finish the whole degree will likely negatively impact your chances of ever getting into med-school. You need to illustrate your commitment - finish your degree and try to apply to med-school as a graduate. For this reason, it is essential you choose carefully. Those who are successful will excel in their first year at university and will get involved in as much work experience and other voluntary work as is possible.
Here are some courses which will allow transfers:
Many applicants are entirely focussed on med-school but the reality is there are many, many, careers which are tremendously fulfilling and can lead to various PhDs and cutting-edge work and research. It is possible to become heavily involved with the world of medicine and medical science without going through med-school.
If you have any questions about applying to medical school in the UK then we'd love to hear them! You can ask us anything using the form below and we'd be very happy to answer any questions you may have about the process and to offer some advice.
Getting a place in medical school is arguably the hardest stage of your journey to becoming a doctor so it's not surprising that many students become unstuck at some point in the application process. Just remember you're not alone. There's literally tens of thousands of students in the same position as you, honestly the biggest reason why students become unstuck is not knowing enough about the various hoops you have to jump through to gain your place.
One word that you will have read in this guide more than any other is "prepare." Learn the whole process inside out - how to write your personal statement, what a med school interview looks like, the format of the UKCAT and BMAT examinations and the medicine work experience you need to have and you'll give yourself a very good chance of succeeding in gaining your place in medical school.
Or alternatively fill in the form below and we'd be happy to respond to any of your questions surrounding applying to medical school.