Medicine, Medicine, Medicine!

By Alison Home, on 23 August 2012

Medicine is the course we are most frequently asked about. It is easy to see why: most medical schools have close to 100% graduate employment, and it is a fascinating, demanding and rewarding career. However, medicine is not an easy option. It is an extremely competitive and academically demanding course, and there are many layers to the admissions process. This post pulls together as many information resources about medical school applications as I could find. Enjoy!

Let’s start with a quick summary: there are 32 medical schools in the UK. You apply through UCAS, the deadline is 15 October. You can only apply to four medical courses: a fifth choice is reserved for a non-medical application. Medical degrees are longer than most undergraduate degrees: they last five or six years (UCL is six). Medical schools make their selection on GCSE results, A level or IB subjects and predicted grades, additional aptitude tests, the personal statement, and interview. Every medical school will have its own different requirements and specifications, they are not all the same. But in general they are looking for high academic performance in the sciences, especially biology and chemistry.
(Note that this post was written in August 2012, and admissions requirements can change from year to year. Always check current details on the websites of the universities.)

UCL Medicine MBBS prospectus entry
(MBBS is an abbreviation of the Latin term ‘Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae’; it means ‘Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery.’)

You will find much more detailed information about the MBBS on the UCL Medical School website.
Download helpful FAQ and information sheets, look out for Medicine Open Days in the Spring.

UCL Medical School runs a widening access programme called ‘Target Medicine’, including  a Year 11 Summer School and Year 12 mentoring. (Please be aware that Target Medicine is only open to students from London non-selective state schools, from lower-income backgrounds, whose parents who haven’t been to university.)

UCAS guidance on applying to medical school.

Additional admissions tests
There are two additional admissions tests that medical schools use, the BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) and the UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test). You must book to take these tests during your application process. You will go to a test centre to sit the exam (a bit like taking a driving test). UCL uses the BMAT. Be aware of the deadlines for registration, and prepare by doing practise past papers

University league tables
Universities in the UK (and the world) are ranked in annually produced league tables (for individual courses and for the university as a whole). Leagues tables are run by newspapers or independent organisations. They assess various factors: some may focus on student satisfaction, some on the university’s overall academic performance, or graduate employment rates. League tables are a good way to get an idea of the quality of different universities and courses. UCL tends to be in the top ten!

Student discussion websites and blogs
On university discussion boards you will find current and prospective university students discussing admissions, interviews and work experience, and reviewing each others personal statements. The best known one is The Student Room (TSR). These sites are fun and a good way to get an overview or chat to peers who are going through the same process. A major word of warning however: don’t take advice from discussion forums at face value. You might see current students sharing their experiences and offering suggestions, but their circumstances won’t be exactly the same as yours: admissions criteria can change slightly each year. Also, you have no way of knowing for sure that people are really who they say they are! Always check the university’s own prospectus and homepage for accurate information

Lots of medical students write blogs, so it might be interesting to read about their experiences. Remember, it is a personal account of medical school and will be subjective. Don’t take it as representative of everyone’s experience. Here is a current example of a medical student blog:

Work experience and interview preparation
You can download a PDF at the UCL Horizons resources page that gives advice on getting relevant work experience, and here is a list of possible interview questions.

Further reading
While preparing to apply, you need to get informed about the medical sector, the NHS, and current issues in UK healthcare. You should read articles in good broadsheet newspapers and medical journals, and look at websites of major medical organisations and professional bodies.

The NHS, the General Medical Council and the British Medical Association

The Lancet and the British Medical Journal

Online newspapers – look in medicine / health / higher education sections for relevant articles

Plan B – what if I don’t make the cut?
You should never have medical school as your only option: it is so competitive that you could get rejected from all four of your options. You must always use the fifth UCAS choice. Students tend to apply for Life Sciences degrees as their back-up, like Biomedical sciences, but you could also apply for an Engineering or Physical sciences degree. I recommend that you put effort into researching this fifth choice as well as medicine, as you don’t know what will happen. Once you have submitted your UCAS form, you could contact the admissions tutor for your fifth non-medical choice and offer to submit a second personal statement focused on their subject instead of medicine. Some of them won’t need you to do this, but some tutors will appreciate it as it shows you have a genuine interest in their course.

Good luck to tomorrow’s doctors!