How to get into medical school
Loads of people want to be a doctor. I can understand why. It's a worthy, ethical profession that commands both respect and a high salary. However, this means it's really competitive. To help my readers who'd like to study medicine I asked Nehal of Medtutors4u to answer some key questions about how to get into medical school. His answers are fascinating and very useful for anyone who wants to study medicine!
How to get into medical school
Everyone knows you need good grades to become a doctor. What other qualities are admissions tutors looking for in candidates?
Of course, good grades are the cornerstone of an application process for medical school, however, first and foremost, one needs to consider what makes a good doctor and therefore these are the skills and attributes admissions tutors are looking for in potential medical school applicants.What makes a good doctor? Good communication, leadership and team work, organisation, empathy and commitment. via @medtutors4u Click To Tweet
So for instance, candidates need to have good communication, they must demonstrate leadership and team work, they must be organised and show empathy and commitment.
There are around 100000 applications for 8000 medical school places and therefore medical school admission tutors need another way of filtering out the excellent candidates from the good candidates. The UKCAT and BMAT are two methods for doing this. The purpose of these tests are to assess skills which are not necessarily demonstrated within a personal statement i.e. critical thinking. Universities have different criteria, e.g. do they use UKCAT or BMAT, and therefore an applicant must research the requirements before applying.
What kind of work experience do you need to have in order to successfully apply for a medical degree?
Candidates should have a clear idea of what a doctor is, so preferably they would have some sort of work experience within a healthcare setting, whether this is at a hospital or at a GP surgery. However, if you don’t manage this then it is not a problem, as long as you have shown experience within a clinical setting, for instance: hospices, care homes, pharmacies.
A key point to note is that the quantity of work experience is not necessarily important, it could be one day or one week. What really counts is the learning process and the key word here is reflection. Reflecting back on your work experience is crucial, so for example you might’ve seen a patient who has had a recent heart attack, so how did the doctor communicate, how did he/she show empathy, who was working with the doctor – so those are the points you need to try and pick up on.
As a Doctor, reflection will be something you have to do on a regular basis, both to improve your clinical practice but also for revalidation (a portfolio to show you are fit to be a Doctor) as required by the General Medical Council (GMC).
Furthermore, with respect to volunteering it is crucial that you have done this. This could be from working with elderly people with dementia to working with children who have autism. The type of volunteering you have done does not necessarily matter, but what is important are the skills shown and developed during your time there.
Medical admission tutors are more interested in candidates who have volunteered for long periods of time i.e. 1-2 years, rather than volunteering for numerous organisations and managing to spend 3 months for each.
When it comes to further reading, where should you start?
When applying to medical school, applicants are not expected to understand the depths of a disease, what is expected is an understanding and an awareness of current health news.
BBC Health is a fantastic way to keep updated with health events. In an interview, you may be asked about recent hot topics i.e. Junior Doctors Contracts. You may also be asked ethical scenarios which have popped up in the news so it is well worth keeping an eye open on current health affairs.
You can also read the student BMJ but really BBC Health is the minimum.
What's it like studying for a medical degree? How many lectures do you have, how much time do you spend in hospital, what kind of independent study do you have to do?
It depends on the structure of the medical school, whether it is a traditional course or a more integrated course.
For myself, I attend UEA – which is a more integrated course which is founded on problem based learning or PBL. My general timetable is a 3 hour PBL session on Mondays where we are in groups of 10, we are given case scenarios and devise learning objectives for that week. We have to write around 4 pages on a particular learning objective and then we present this to our colleagues at the end of the week. We have lectures and seminars on Tuesday and Thursday which guide us with our PBL’s.
On average, we have around 16 hours of teaching time which also includes PBL and anatomy dissection.
Then on Fridays we have primary care for the duration of the day, here we see patients with the conditions we have learnt during the current week.
In terms of hospital attachment, we have a block of 4 weeks within each module, here we have patient teaching sessions, sit in outpatient clinics, learn clinical skills and attend ward rounds.
What makes an excellent personal statement when you're applying to a medical degree?
There are a number of points which distinguish an excellent personal statement from a good personal statement.
Firstly, you need a really strong opening paragraph explaining the reasons for wanting to study medicine. You need something here which will catch the admission tutors eye. Some examples to make it stand out could include reading about an amazing medical miracle or a family member who’s had an illness and therefore you saw the incredible nature of doctors and therefore want to pursue a career in medicine.
Then you need to talk about your work experience, as I mentioned before it is not all about quantity of work experience. It is more about what you learnt and how this has informed you what a career in medicine would be like.
Thirdly, you need to talk about your voluntary work and extra curricular activities. A candidate who has demonstrated a good array of voluntary work for a long period of time is better than one who has not. Here is the chance to demonstrate the skills required to become a good doctor. You can talk about how the voluntary work has improved your communication, team working and organisational skills.
Extra-curricular activities and awards are powerful statements and will make you stand out while sports and hobbies are a great way to showcase your skills. There is a life outside medicine – admission tutors want to know how you spend your free time.
Finally, the last paragraph should conclude your passion, determination and enthusiasm for studying medicine. The excellent personal statements generally link back to the first paragraph so that is something which a medical school applicant should try to do!
Nehal Yemula (2nd year Medical Student UEA) MedTutors4U
MedTutors4U is a tutoring service set up by medical students for potential medical students! We want to help you succeed and achieve a place at medical school, so we are offering help with medical school applications which include personal statement and interview practice! Whatever your background we are here to support you! You can find us at: http://www.medtutors4u.co.uk Or follow us on Twitter: