Guidance on applying to medical school in the UK from representatives from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School
First and foremost, prospective medical students need to be clear on why they want to study medicine. Whether this is due to a desire to help others, a genuine interest in medicine, or wanting to work in a team-centered environment, being clear on this will enable students to power through the long hours and stressful work that comes with studying and practicing medicine.
Generally, a medical degree takes five years to complete, with some schools offering a six-year option for an intercalated degree.
Intercalated degrees consist of an initial three years studying medicine, followed by a year of studying another course, before completing the medicine degree. Graduate entry into medicine is a four-year course.
Unsurprisingly, entry into medicine is highly competitive, with application numbers in the United Kingdom (UK) increasing year-on-year. In line with this, the UK government has pledged increased funding to support more training programmes for medical school.
All in all, the shortest training pathway to become a particular type of doctor is 10 years, for a General Practitioner (GP). One of the longest pathways to become a particular type of consultant is between 17-19 years (a maxillofacial surgeon). This is why determination, commitment and passion are so crucial to becoming a doctor.
The Medical Schools Council is the representative body for UK medical schools, and produces guidance for aspiring medics on the key things medical schools are looking for.
According to the Medical Schools Council, these are the core values and attributes medical schools are looking for and integrate within their admissions processes:
It’s important that medicine applicants are able to identify and explain how and where these skills are used in medicine, and also demonstrate that they have these skills from their experience.
Admissions officers are also looking for:
It’s also important to be aware of and able to speak to your understanding and experience of the NHS values. Being aware of these and being able to refer to them in your interview answers will greatly help.
Medical schools are aware that the pandemic means that there are limited opportunities for candidates to gain work experience in hospitals. However, it is a myth that in-person clinical work experience is necessary to successfully applying for medicine.
Schools want to see two things from your work experience:
Other ways to demonstrate your understanding of medicine include volunteering (e.g. care homes, hospices, youth clubs), reading (e.g. BBC Health, New Scientist, relevant books and novels), and extracurricular activities.
It’s important to remember that your experience and extracurricular activities should always be linked back to your understanding of medicine and your ability to apply the relevant skills.
There are many ways to decide which medical school you should study at. Attending open days, looking at websites and speaking to admissions officers all help.
Lots of aspiring medics tend to be overly focused on league tables, but it is more important to pick a medical school that best suits you. Every medical school is very very different, and as you’ll be there for such a long time, it’s very important that you feel that you will thrive at the medical school you’ll be attending. Some students may thrive in a smaller cohort, while others may prefer a bigger cohort; some may prefer a city campus, while others may prefer working in a more rural setting.
There are generally three styles of teaching medicine:
Other things to consider include:
All applications in the UK go through the University and College Admissions System (UCAS), which is the national portal for applying to university. Each student has five choices, but can only apply for four medical schools due to how highly competitive it is. A teacher reference will be needed.
It is important to note that there is an earlier deadline for medical school.
The MSC’s new website called Studying medicine contains all their advice and guidance for future medical professionals. There are lots of useful webinars, events and talks that applicants can check out.
Your personal statement should demonstrate that you have the skills, values and attributes required to study medicine and be a doctor. It should also convey that you have a realistic understanding of what a career in medicine entails and how the healthcare system works.
The BMAT consists of three sections: the thinking skill section, the Science section and the essay section. The science Section contains Biology, Chemistry and Physics at the GCSE level.
This is more like an IQ test with multiple-choice questions covering different skills.
To prepare for the admissions tests, students should utilize the free resources available on the admissions websites. It is a good idea to explore the different question types, attempt practice questions, and complete mock tests under timed conditions. UCAT recommends 25-30 hours of preparation.
The interviewee will move around different stations and be interviewed for a specified time by the different interviewers.
A more traditional interview style, this involves a few members from the medical school faculty or other healthcare professionals. This usually takes 20-30 minutes.
To prepare for your interviews, it is a good idea to check out the Medic Portal and MSC websites. Review the NHS values and be sure to research the medical schools you’re applying to, as failing to have a good understanding of the school you're interviewing for shows a lack of passion and research.
It’s important for students to understand that applying to medical school in the UK is a challenging and highly competitive process with low acceptance rates. The most you can do is to present yourself at your best for the personal statement, admissions tests and interviews. Many applicants won’t get in the first time, so don’t be disheartened if this happens! Don’t be afraid to try again, and even use your previous application experience to inform and strengthen your next application.
Image credits: RF Studio and Luis Melendez
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