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How to Succeed When Applying to Medical Schools in the UK

Published by Afterschool.my on Feb 19, 2013, 10:15 am

Medicine is an increasingly popular subject choice for Malaysian students. However, the popularity is also growing with native British students, as well as international students from other regions. That means that competition for spaces is increasingly tough.

For students planning to study medicine, it is imperative that they choose the correct high school qualification, and also that they choose the right subjects. Firstly, it is not possible to enter a medicine degree course through the foundation route, which means that Malaysian students will have to study either A levels or the IB Diploma after their SPM or O levels.

For A levels, students should choose Chemistry, Biology, and either Maths or Physics for their main three choices. It is also advisable to study at least one additional subject which does not necessarily have to be science related – a modern language or Psychology are often popular, since these can suggest to university admissions staff that the student is a good communicator and is able to empathise with patients. Similarly, for students taking the IB Diploma, these same subjects should be taken at Higher Level.

Of course, due to the competitive nature of medical school admissions, students are expected to gain A and A* in all their subjects at A level, or to receive a score of over 36 in the IB Diploma to be confident of receiving an offer of a place.

However, good grades alone are not enough to guarantee entry. Students also have to take a medical admissions test. Most UK universities require students to take the UKCAT exam, but others, most notably Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial, require the BMAT. These are aptitude tests and test a student’s logical thought processes and reasoning skills. These tests are also timed, so it is very important to get as much practice as possible before sitting for the actual exams. The UKCAT website allows students to take practice tests online, however, the test itself must be taken in an examination centre.

The personal statement is also incredibly important. This is the chance for students to shine above the many other applicants who are also competing for places. It is highly recommended that students do some work experience at a hospital or clinic, and this is normally the basis for the personal statement. At Bellerbys we place students in a local hospital during the summer holidays. In the personal statement students should highlight what they have learnt and also what they found challenging during the work placement. Essentially students need to demonstrate that they have a passion for the medical profession, and this really needs to be shown clearly in the statement.

The deadline for applications for Medicine and Dentistry (and also Oxbridge) is the 15th October of the year before you plan to start your degree. Therefore, by this time students should have finished their work experience placement, received their UKCAT or BMAT score, and completed their personal statement. Students should also have a good IELTS or TOEFL test score by then.

Students usually use their AS level grades or their IB predicted grades to apply. Universities will also take into account O Level or SPM grades as well. Medical schools will then – hopefully – make a conditional offer on the final grades at the end of the course.

Students are able to apply to 5 UK universities through UCAS and it is very important that students plan their strategy carefully. For instance, if a student applies to the top 5 ranking UK medical schools they could find themselves without a place at all since these will all be highly competitive. It is therefore prudent to apply to a range of universities – including one “safety” option – and also to make one of your choices a subject which is not medicine. This is an additional insurance policy. Many students choose Medical Science or Pharmacy as their insurance option: at least they will have a place at university if the worst comes to the worst – even if it is not a medical degree.

Most students will be called for an interview, should their predicted grades and UKCAT score be sufficiently high. Again, it is very important to be well prepared for these interviews and most good schools and colleges will offer their students interview practice. The most common question to be asked is “why do you want to be a doctor”? It is harder to answer this question competently than you may think. However, you should be honest and, above all, convincing. As a warning though, if your answer is “because my parents want me to”, then you will quickly be shown the door….

Other recent questions have included “what is your opinion on euthanasia”? For this type of question there is no right or wrong answer – what is important is that you are able to justify your opinion in a logical and reasonable way. There may also be questions of a medical nature which you will not have covered during the IB or A level course. It is, therefore, useful to have done some reading in your own time in preparation for this – The Lancet medical journal is a good source of up-to-date medical information.

In conclusion, whilst it is tough gaining a place at a medical school in the UK, with the right preparation you will significantly improve your chances of success.

This article was written by Stephen Carter, Bellerbys College.

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