With around 8,000 applicants for medical places each year but only about 600 places available for international applicants, medical degrees are certainly among the most competitive courses in UK higher education and preparing for and getting into a UK Medical school is challenging even for the most able student. Training to be a doctor is a long process and requires tenacity, dedication and strong will.
Kings Education has produced an excellent guide that outlines a clear, detailed 6 step process to prepare for application & interviews.
As the first step below outlines, it is never too early to start to plan for a career in medicine.
As Pangbourne School’s Head of High Potential Achievers Programme (HPA), Mr Jack Simms advises; “the very best advice to give a prospective Medic is to start the supra-curricular (wider-reading) as early as possible. This not only gives the student more interesting things to talk about should they be invited to an interview, but will complement their understanding of their A Levels so that they can perform well in their final examinations.”
Early preparation is something King’s Ely Senior school is also addressing: “To help fully prepare students, as early as possible for a career in medicine, we run the Avicenna Society. Crucially, the club is open to any student in the school of any age. Every student is encouraged to study the history of the British National Health Service, reflect on ethical issues to do with medicine and present on topics of interest in medical and veterinary science. Students visit local medical facilities such as Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and attend presentations from practising medics and vets. Towards the end of the two-year programme, students are given time to practise and receive guidance and feedback on work experience, UCAS applications and UCAT and MMI tests,” says Ned Kittoe, Head of Science at Kings Ely Senior school. The proof of the effectiveness of this early planning is that a significant proportion of members of the Avicenna Society go on to read medicine, or medical related courses at British Universities.
So stage 1…
Step #1: Get relevant medical experience as a volunteer or intern–this work experience cannot start early enough, but obviously getting hands on experience has not been easy during Covid. However, there are some excellent online intern opportunities. Westbourne School for example works very closely with Heath hospital in Cardiff. The programme Heath hospital offers, the Medical Work Observation Programme (MWOP) used to be for a week, in person, but for the last 2 years it has moved online. As Westbourne’s Head of Sixth form, Lisa Phillips says; “A recent pupil of ours, who has just started studying medicine at Queen’s University Belfast completed this course prior to her medical school application and the experience was invaluable.”
As Raf Garcia-Krailing, Director of UK Education Guide says; “ the pupil at Westbourne, now studying medicine at Queen’s, was placed by us at Westbourne School. Finding appropriate work experience for this pupil, an international pupil from Saudi Arabia, was really difficult, as opportunities in Saudi were incredibly limited, so the MWOP was an invaluable asset and definitely boosted this student’s personal statement significantly.”
Mark Jeynes, Director of Padworth College which offers its own Medical School Preparation Programme for its students also backs up the view that work experience or an internship is; “one area of the application process where applicants have the opportunity to truly differentiate themselves”. He adds, “even securing and completing a virtual programme such as those offered by organisations such as InvestIN can enable an applicant to stand out from other applicants.”
The NHS also offers additional ‘virtual’ work placement opportunities that can be accessed across the UK. https://alliedhealthmentor.org/nhs-healthcare-careers-virtual-work-experience/.
Step #2: Establish the right academic path for Medical School–Most medical schools expect both Biology and Chemistry at A-level, though some may only want Chemistry and others may even prefer three sciences (or Maths). The grades expected vary from AAA to A*A*A.
The competition for entry into medical schools is very high, so even though A-level/ IB predicted grades will always be considered first, it does not mean that GCSEs are not important as most medical schools tend to look at the wider picture when it comes to assessing prospective students.
In order to study medicine at most universities in the UK, applicants are generally required to have at least five A* or A grade GCSEs in subjects including Maths and English. Students may also need to have at least a Grade B in Biology, Chemistry, or Physics or Biology – which of the three is not always significant, unless the chosen medical school has stipulated this in its entry requirements.
Step #3: Choose the best and most suitable UK Medical School
The institutions that can award medical degrees are governed by the General Medical Council (GMC) There are over 30 different institutions which are GMC certified in the UK, and many of these are considered to be some of the top institutions for medicine worldwide. All medical schools teach slightly differently, but all must adhere to standards set by the General Medical Council (GMC), so that students meet minimum requirements when they graduate…Although entry to any medical school is difficult, some are more focused on academic achievement than others. Some place weight on the results of admissions tests like the UCAT, some take more account of the personal statement and others consider the overall impression they have of you as a person.
Medical school teaching styles are typically classified into three different categories: traditional, problem-based or integrated teaching. Traditional medical courses are offered at universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. Most medical schools currently adopt the integrated style, which is also recommended by the GMC.
- Traditional courses: 2 years pre-clinical (biomedical science) then 3 years clinical (in the hospital wards). They involve lectures and clinical learning.
- Integrated courses: Pre-clinical and clinical stages are integrated so students do clinical work from the start. They involve lectures/tutorials and self-directed learning.
- Problem-based courses: This is a patient-oriented approach, with students doing clinical work from the start. They involve tutor-guided group work and self-directed learning.
Step #4: Take examinations for UK Medical School entrance
Once students have conducted their research into the various medical schools in the UK, and begun their decision-making process about which to apply to, it’s time to start thinking about preparing for and taking examinations such as UCAT and BMAT.
The UCAT (University 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. 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.
The University Clinical Aptitude Test is the aptitude test that most universities use. Students receive their results straight after the test, which means they can use the score to decide if certain universities are more suitable for them – some medical schools have higher UCAT requirements than others.
The UCAT is a digital test and focuses on candidates answering questions of varying difficulty in short spaces of time and is composed of five test categories: Abstract Reasoning, a Situational Judgement Test, Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Decision Making.
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.
The BioMedical Admissions Test ascertains students’ critical and logical thinking skills alongside knowledge they should have retained from school. 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, Scientific Knowledge and Applications and Writing Task.
Step #5: Write a compelling Personal Statement
Students must focus on what they have learned about working in the healthcare profession from work experience or voluntary experience, and include information on any areas of medicine that interest them personally. Medical schools admissions teams will also want to learn about what students like to do in their spare time, how these hobbies have developed them as people…
Step #6: Prepare for the Interview
Med school interviews take one of three forms:
Traditional-These resemble job interviews and will most likely involve questions about your background, personal interests and goals – including why you want to study medicine. The interviewer will want to discuss medicine itself including medical ethics, advancements and current affairs about the NHS. You’ll also be asked about ways in which you’ve applied problem-solving techniques to work through challenges.
Oxbridge medical courses tend to have a more distinct focus on research. This means that their interviews are far more focussed on assessing your cognitive abilities. That said, they’ll want to get an idea of how you approach tricky ethical subjects and more general areas of medicine, so some of the interview questions will be along these lines.
The MMI (multiple mini interviews) approach is a contemporary method of interviewing in which students face a number of interviewers in relatively quick succession. Each one will either give you a task or ask you questions. These different ‘stations’ are designed to assess your skills in areas such as: communication, self-awareness, maturity, critical thinking, and empathy. The MMI also measures teamwork and oral communication skills.
Students literally move from one room or space in a room to another. In some stations there will actually be actors and a student has to step into that scenario and act as if they are a doctor.
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.
Our thanks again to Kings Education for allowing us to reference their guide to applying for medicine to inform this article.-the whole document can be found here:
The full article can be found here in 2 parts on The Hong Kong Standard web site.
Part 1 here
Part 2 here
For more UK Education Guide published articles, please follow this link