Get Into Medical School
Is Medicine For Me?
There really is no other career like a career in medicine. The journey to becoming a doctor is full of challenges that will push you to your limits as patients literally put their lives in your hands - but the rewards it offers can be equally as fruitful.
Before applying to medicine, you should do all you can to ensure that this is the right career for you. This can be a difficult decision for many, as even those in the late stages of medical school or even their first years of work are only just finding out what life as a doctor is really like.
Before deciding to apply to medical school, speak to medical students or junior doctors, find some work experience and attend open days whenever possible. Ask yourself, what are my motivations for becoming a doctor? Is it the reward of helping others? Is it the esteem? Is it the financial reward? (Although this certainly isn’t as much as many other professions).
The most important step in making this decision is taking the time to reflect and think about what it is you want from life and the values that are important to you.
• Career centred on helping others
• Hugely respected profession
• A secure job for life
• Intellectually challenging
• Rich opportunities for the future
The Not So Good
• A stressful career at times
• Years of training
• Lots of exams even after med school
• Unsociable hours (weekends, nights, bank holidays)
This career is not for everyone. It may be you realise that your life ambitions and values don’t correlate with a career in medicine and there is absolutely no shame in that. There are equally amazing careers that you can pursue successfully that are completely unrelated to medicine.
But – if after some honest reflection you still believe that this is the career for you, then read our guide, use our resources and prepare yourself for the exciting road ahead.
Routes To Medicine
Undergraduate (Standard Entry)
An undergraduate is someone who doesn’t have any previous degrees and is studying at university for the first time. The vast majority of medical students are undergraduates having entered university after studying in sixth form or college.
The degree can sometimes be abbreviated to MBBS or MBChB, but both essentially mean you have a bachelor’s degree in medicine. The NHS covers your tuition fee in the last year of study.
Some students embark on a medical career having already completed a university degree. Graduates can either apply for a standard 5-year medical course or apply to one of 14 universities that offer a 4-year graduate entry medicine (GEM) course.
Current tuition fees stand at £9250 per year for both graduates and undergraduates. It’s worth noting that graduates are not eligible for tuition fee loans with a standard 5-year course but can apply for tuition fee loans with the shorter GEM courses.
In addition to this, the NHS contributes £3715 annually towards the cost of tuition fees for those studying a GEM course in all but the first year of study. Graduates must cover the remainder of their fees, either through a loan or self-funding.
Foundation Courses (Preliminary or Gateway Year)
Some prospective students may find that they don’t meet the grade requirements to gain entry to medical school or they come from backgrounds where they experienced significant barriers to their learning.
For those students, foundation courses may be a good option. These courses have either a ‘preliminary year’ before you commence the standard 5-year medical degree or are 6 years in total.
Some ‘preliminary year’ courses give guaranteed entry to the subsequent 5-year course, however, some universities require you to apply to their medical school again to obtain a place. If this sounds like a route for you then these are the universities currently offering foundation courses and eligibility requirements.
What Do Doctors Do?
A doctor is someone who is medically trained to diagnose, treat and care for patients. To become a doctor, you need to complete a university medical degree and register with the General Medical Council (GMC) in order to practise.
There are over 60 different specialities within medicine ranging from general practice to paediatrics, and surgery to histopathology. Each speciality is unique and has different training pathways. The end goal for most doctors is to either become a fully qualified GP or a consultant in their area of interest.
During training years you’ll be referred to as a junior doctor (which encompasses foundation year doctors up to senior registrars). It usually takes anywhere from 3-10 years after graduating from medical school to finish training in your desired speciality to become a consultant or GP.
Example Career Pathways
• Medical School (Five Years)
• Foundation Training (Two Years, FY1 - FY2)
• GP Specialist Training (Three Years, GPST1 - 3)
• General Practitioner
• Medical School (Five Years)
• Foundation Training (Two Years, FY1 - FY2)
• Core Medical Training (Two Years, CT1 - CT2)
• Specialist Training (Five Years, ST3 - ST7)
• Cardiology Consultant
UK Medical Training
Every new doctor must go through foundation training after leaving medical school. During this period you’ll learn the basics and build ‘foundations’ as a junior doctor and get a flavour for specialities that you might wish to pursue.
You’ll most likely undertake some ‘core’ training in your area of interest, giving you a basis for more advanced specialist training. Core training is usually 2 or 3 years. Those interested in surgery will do core surgical training, and those interested in medical specialities will do core medical training.
To apply for specialist training, doctors will then go through a competitive interview process. Specialist training usually lasts between 4 and 9 years depending on the speciality. During this time you’ll be referred to as a registrar (because you’re listed on the specialist training register with the GMC).
Some specialities such as paediatrics and radiology are known as run-through. So instead of doing ‘core training’ you start specialist training straight after completing foundation years.
Usually, the time for reaching consultancy ranges from 7 to 13 years after graduating from medical school. After completing specialist training you’ll acquire a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) and be eligible to apply for a consultant job.
For those wishing to be GPs, you’ll undergo three year GP training after foundation training with a mixture of both hospital and GP placements. This means you can become a fully-fledged GP 5 years after graduating.
Applying To Medicine
What Is UCAS?
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) runs the course application process for all UK universities.
To get into a university’s medical school, you’ll usually need three A levels or highers with three A grades. Typically both chemistry and biology are required, with some schools preferring a third related science subject. Make sure you check individual requirements for each university you’re interested in.
Medicine is a very competitive course with 23,710 people applying in 2019 for only 6701 available places. No matter your route to medicine (undergraduate or graduate) you’ll need to apply for a place through UCAS.
Most medical schools also require an admissions test (either UCAT, BMAT or GAMSAT) which are explained later. UCAS will let you start your application on the 19th May 2020, but you won’t be able to submit your application until the 8th September 2020.
The deadline for most medical schools UCAS applications is 21st September 2020 at 1800 (UK time). You can only apply to four medical schools but there is a 5th UCAS option which can be anything except medicine. This is often a good ‘plan B’ in case you don’t get accepted.
If you’ve got your heart set on medicine, then we’d advise choosing a science based degree so that later ‘graduate entry’ will be easier if required. Saying that you may decide to choose something completely different like fashion or music – the choice is really up to you – but bear in mind that applying to medicine as a graduate with a non-science related degree can make things much more tricky.
UK Medical Schools
Choosing The Right University
There are 33 medical schools throughout the UK and picking the right one can sometimes seem stressful. You’ll be studying at this medical school for 4 to 6 years, so you must examine the following factors closely…
In the first few pre-clinical years of a traditional course, you’ll find you’re in lectures almost all the time learning anatomy and physiology.
This is much less interactive than PBL-based courses but you are generally given more guidance with your learning.
Typically there is much less patient contact in the first few years of a traditional course until you reach the clinical years (usually year 3 or 4).
Problem Based Learning
The main emphasis of PBL is self-directed learning. You’ll meet a few times a week in small groups with a facilitator and be presented with a medical case from which you’ll tease out learning objectives. This is a very interactive way to learn but requires a lot of self-motivation. There is usually much more early patient contact with PBL-based courses.
Many universities have now adopted an integrated style of teaching as per GMC recommendations. In an integrated course, instead of learning all your anatomy and then all your physiology separately, you tackle them holistically by learning them both via body systems.
For example, in your neurology module, you’ll learn your neuroanatomy and physiology together, as well as the common conditions that affect the nervous system and how to perform a neurological examination.
Intercalation is an additional one year of study in the middle of medical school where you can obtain another degree such as a BSc or Masters in an area of your interest.
In some medical schools, intercalation is mandatory, but It’s also a big financial commitment to add an additional year of study. Obtaining an additional intercalated degree can make your application for future specialist training after medical school much more competitive.
There are a few things your medical school requires to be eligible to apply. The first thing to consider is your academic results. You’ll need to see what GCSE, A-Level/Higher grades and subjects your medical school stipulates.
Additionally, most medical schools require an admissions test in the form of either UCAT, BMAT or GAMSAT (for graduate entry). You can find all the required grade requirements on the respective medical school’s website.
There are multiple factors used to rank UK medical school, from student-to-staff ratio, academic spend and student satisfaction. The Guardians rankings have been compiled and are available here.
Location & Living Costs
Location is an important factor for many. Some people like urban cities whereas others are suited to smaller towns that aren’t too far from home.
Different universities have vastly different student accommodation costs and city living is often much more expensive (especially in London), so this needs to be factored into any budgeting.
The best way to get a feel for the medical school is by visiting open days and asking what other students like and dislike about their uni. Campuses vary in their sports facilities and the size of their students’ unions events. A good place to start is by looking at the university students’ union website.
University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT)
The University Clinical Aptitude Test (formally UKCAT) is used by many medical school admissions teams in their decision making process. You can find out how each medical school uses the UCAT score by visiting their website.
There are 5 domains that test your verbal, quantitive and abstract reasoning, as well as your situational judgement and decision making. These may be completely new concepts to you but it is entirely possible to excel with the right resources.
For 4 domains you’ll get a score between 300 and 900 points – so your overall score will be between 1200 and 3600 points. The average score per domain is around 620.
The situational judgment domain is marked slightly differently. You’ll be awarded 1 to 4 marks per question depending on how correct your response is.
BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT)
The BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) is a written exam that tests 3 domains – problem-solving and critical thinking, scientific knowledge and writing communication.
It’s used by nine UK medical schools (including Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial) instead of UCAT. BMAT scores are from 1.0 to 9.0. The average score is 5.0 but exceptional candidates score 7.0 or above.
What Is A Personal Statement?
In addition to getting the required grades and a good UCAT or BMAT score, you’ll need to write a few short but engaging paragraphs about yourself in a personal statement. A personal statement can be up to 4000 characters long or roughly 500 words. It should demonstrate what your motivations for a career in medicine are and why you should be chosen over the thousands of other students that are applying.
It’s never too early to start writing your personal statement, and the sooner you draft one the more edits and refining you can do. Different medical schools use your personal statement in different ways. Most will assign your statement a score and use it in their decision to invite you to interview. Other medical schools may not use it at all. Make sure you know how your medical school uses it before you apply here.
How To Write A Personal Statement
There is an art to writing an engaging and unique personal statement. Your basic structure should include:
- A short introduction to you and why you’re attracted to a career in medicine
- Your voluntary and work experience
- Your academic and extra-curricular interests and achievements
The personal statement is a cornerstone of your UCAS application – have yours checked by an expert doctor today to ensure it boosts your chances of success.
Start Searching Early
Work experience is a cornerstone of the medical school application, and we advise starting your enquiries as soon as possible – ideally, a year before your application is due. Although you won’t gain a full understanding of the NHS in a short placement, it will give you an idea of what it’s like to work in a caring profession, as well as an appreciation of the challenges health care workers encounter.
Work experience in itself will allow you to develop your communication skills with doctors, nurses and patients themselves. Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about medical conditions you may see (you can read about them later) – rather, focus and take the time to talk to patients about their conditions and how it affects their lives.
Not only is work experience seen as favourable by many medical schools, but it also gives you lots of things to talk about when it comes to interview. Most candidates will seek work experience in either their local GP practise, hospital, hospice or care home. These days, however, it’s not enough to just complete your placement – to stand out you should reflect on each experience and think about why it’s made you want to pursue a career in medicine.
How Do I Get Work Experience?
This can be difficult for many students, especially those without contacts in the NHS. Starting early in your search for experience is essential. Don’t be upset if your request is turned down, it’s usually because the hospital or GP practice has to accommodate students already studying.
We would recommend asking any friends or family if they have any connections to the NHS and whether you could get their contact details. If your school has a work experience co-ordinator, they usually keep a list of placements previous medical applicants have been on – so check with them for potential contacts.
GP practises will have a ‘practise manager’ that you can email with your work experience request and their details are usually on their website. For confidentially reasons, you won’t be able to get experience at a GP practise where you’re a patient, however, there are usually a few GP practises in a given area.
Have a look at local GP practises here. Local hospitals should be contacted well in advance of your application (at least 6 – 12 months) as they have to deal with hundreds of requests. Most hospitals have a section on their websites about work experience that you can easily find through google along with relevant contact information.
Most placements will require a valid DBS check, so make sure you apply for one early.
Not only is it a great thing to donate your time and efforts to a good cause, but you’ll also discover things about yourself and other people that will be invaluable lessons for life. You don’t need to volunteer in a medical setting (such as a care home or hospice) but some medical schools look at this more favourably.
Although it can be difficult to balance voluntary work with your studies and other activities, successful candidates usually commit to voluntary work for at least 6 months.
Hospices will let you experience care for people who are usually at the end of their lives. It can be an emotional place to work but it will give you the chance to see good holistic patient care. To find local hospices near you click here.
It is possible to use certain travel companies to facilitate healthcare work experience abroad in places such as Europe or far more exotic climates like Barbados.
International placements are not essential and can be very expensive and time-consuming to arrange. It will, however, give you a great experience of another countries’ healthcare system and plenty to talk about at your interview.
Making The Most Of Work Experience
- Research the department or practise that you’re going to be placed in. If possible read up on some of the common conditions that the department sees or some of the services the GP practise offers.
- Ask questions, ask to get involved and show that you’re genuinely interested in the things you’re seeing. You’ll take far more from the placement with a positive attitude.
- Record the things that you’ve seen and the patients that you’ve spoken to (without writing down any identifiable information) so that you can reflect on this over the coming weeks. It’s great stuff to talk about at interview.
- Jot down things that might not have seemed clear so you can read about them later or discuss them with one of the doctors.
In addition to this, download our Experience Diary to document what personal attributes you have developed on this placement – again it’s great to mention these in your personal statement and at interview!
How Do The Interviews Work?
So your application has been successful and you’ve been invited to interview – this is when the real preparation must begin.
Most students consider this the most stressful part of the application process as you’re in a new environment being asked questions by senior doctors, health workers and laypeople. Medical schools use two types of interview styles; traditional and multiple mini interviews.
In a traditional interview, you’ll be asked a series of questions by a panel on topics ranging from your personal statement, your motivations and even science or ethical based dilemmas.
Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)
Similar to speed-dating, in multiple mini interviews, you’ll rotate through a circuit and be presented with questions and tasks from a new interviewer each time.
These tasks can include things like breaking bad news or talking through an ethical dilemma. Some medical schools also use group interviews where you’ll be assessed with other candidates before moving onto a more traditional panel interview.
Most medical schools will hold interviews from December 2020 onwards.
Maximise your chance of interview success with our trusted, comprehensive online interview course.
Don't Be Disheartened
Getting into medical school is tough, and not everyone is successful first time. Many fantastic doctors working in the NHS right now weren’t successful until their second or third go and it hasn’t hindered their careers going forward.
Just because you’ve been rejected does not mean that you couldn’t be a fantastic doctor too – it may be down to things outside of your control, such as a bad day at interview, or missing a grade.
If you do miss the grade to meet your offer requirements, call up the medical school and explain the situation (they may still give you the place if you’re borderline), or if you’re seeking an exam re-mark, explain this to the medical school so they can hold your place until the result comes back.
Similarly, if you’ve got extenuating circumstances such as a recent bereavement or illness you can explain this to the medical school but you’ll need to provide written evidence.
If despite your hard efforts you still don’t get a place, take this time to reflect and consider your next steps:
Some medical schools have been known to offer places through clearing, so pick up the phone and contact them straight away if you think you’re a borderline candidate.
Take A Gap Year & Re-Apply
If you still think this is the career for you then work on the aspects of your application that need strengthening for next time.
Although a longer route, you could study a non-medicine degree and apply to medicine again as a post-graduate towards the end of your first degree.
Choose A Different Degree
You may realise that medicine is not for you but another degree is – this minor setback may lead to an equally fruitful and successful career in something completely unrelated to healthcare.
Making The Most Of It
You might decide to defer your entry to medical school by taking a gap year (although not all medical schools allow this) or you may have been given no choice if your application was unsuccessful.
Whatever the reason, a gap year can be one of the most rewarding times of your life, a time where you can grow and learn as a person. If you do decide to take a gap year, make sure you consider the following…
You’re free for 12 months to do whatever you want, pursue a passion, travel the world, have life-changing experiences – just make sure you make the most of it.
Most gap year students wishing to travel will seek work for a few months so they can save up and travel. If possible, try and get one related to something in the medical field such as care work or working in a GP practise (although this isn’t essential).
Not only will this bolster your application for next time, but it’s also a great thing to dedicate your time to. You may wish to incorporate this into any travelling that your planning.
Improving Your Application
The most vital part of your gap year preparation if you didn’t get a place is working on the parts of your application that need improving. Get involved with new hobbies or learn new skills. You may wish to look at our comprehensive courses to boost your chances too.