Admissions Guide: UK Medicine Studies
- May 5, 2021
- Posted by: Amelia Buckworth
- Category: Universities
Ever considered a career in medicine? Has the determination and strength of medical professionals throughout the pandemic inspired you to make an application to study further? You wouldn’t be the only one, as applications to medical courses in the UK have risen by almost a third this year. Health leaders have put the rise in applications down, in part, to people being inspired by the work of doctors and nurses during the coronavirus pandemic. UCAS has shown that applicants for medicine courses specifically have increased by nearly 5,000 this academic cycle, with a further 60,130 people applying for nursing courses for autumn 2021 – an increase of 32% since 2020.
Despite this new wave of enthusiasm, applying to study medicine remains highly competitive; in the UK, there are 7,500 places available to study undergraduate medicine at university, and in 2020, there were 23,710 applications. Gaining a spot on one of these courses is no easy task, with entry requirements extremely high amidst a rigorous application process. Out of approximately 130 universities in the UK, there are only 37 medical schools. Each is a member of the Medical Schools Council and considered to be amongst the best for studying medicine worldwide. For international students, the application process is also made harder by the cap on numbers that the courses can intake, meaning more applicants are going for a limited number of places.
Despite these challenges, there is still plenty that students can do to give themselves the best possible chance of success with their application, so for those who are not yet deterred, please read on below for our advice on important consideration components and practical preparations.
Deciding on a career in medicine
This is not a decision to be taken likely and Medicine is a lifelong career path that requires commitment and passion. By contrast to other degrees, Medicine is often considered a lifestyle choice as much as an academic choice – young students in particular need to be mindful of this.
Prospective candidates must also consider the psychological impacts of a career in medicine, as well as the consuming long hours. However, as proven by the continued interest in the sector, a career in healthcare can be exceptionally rewarding and fulfilling for the right people.
Whilst the average UK undergraduate degree will take three years to complete, a direct-entry degree in medicine initially takes five. Studying for the degree has a number of practical and real-life components, usually with a heavy focus on voluntary work and working in hospitals. Beyond the initial qualification, there are then a multitude of specialisations a newly qualified doctor can pursue, and when considering post-degree training too, doctors can be studying for up to 16 years in some instances.
If deciding upon a career in medicine at 17 years old feels too early, or if an individual has a change in circumstances later in life, then there is also the option of applying to Medical School as a Graduate candidate. Graduate Entry Medicine is a pathway for existing graduates and degree holders who have studied other science-related degrees. Postgraduate Medicine programmes are accelerated, so they usually take four years to complete instead of the five or six years on standard entry courses. Entry is typically less competitive (in terms of number of applications) but will still require top grades and practical demonstration of interests.
Academic Entry required for medicine
As you might anticipate, good grades are central to a medical application due to the rigorous nature of the content due to be taught, and students will need to have strong GCSEs first & foremost.
Each medical school has slightly different requirements, but some subjects are deemed essential (Maths, English and certain science specialism – variable depending on the institute).
Most students will have achieved at least 5 A*-A grade GCSEs (or equivalent) in subjects including Maths and English.
Whilst A level students are only required to take 3 subjects, a lot of medical students will have kept up with a fourth. Having 3 A* – A grade A-Levels at A2 (or equivalent), including Chemistry and Biology, will put you in a strong position. Maths, Further Maths and Physics are also subjects that will also be looked upon favourably.
Most universities will be looking for students who have achieved between 36-38 points for those studying the International Baccalaureate. The University of Oxford, University of Cambridge and UCL require 39 points or above.
International students will also have to achieve relevant country equivalents.
Choosing a Medical School
Students applying to medicine will put four choices of medical schools on their UCAS application. However, their fifth choice is reserved for another subject. Some universities will allow students to write a different personal statement for their fifth choice, but many won’t, so the fifth choice is usually something science-related.
There are currently 37 medical schools in the UK to choose from, with ranging entry requirements.
Students should consider their predicted grades when applying to see which medical school this best aligns with.
It is also essential to consider the type of medical schools – 1) traditional 2) integrated 2) problem-based learning, plus any additional admissions requirements (further information below).
Traditional: With traditional medical schools, such as Oxford, Cambridge and UCL, students will spend the first two years of their studies in a lecture setting, learning about the more theoretical aspects of medicine. Some of the broad areas that will be covered are physiology, biochemistry and anatomy. The next few years will be spent learning under a consultant. This will involve completing ward rounds, shadowing or GP placements, and the course will focus on hands-on situations.
Integrated: Integrated courses are similar to traditional courses with one key difference: you’ll start some clinical work experience from day one. This is quickly becoming the most popular route as well as the recommended approach, according to The General Medical Council. An integrated course has long-term benefits as students gradually grow comfortable with clinical settings rather than being expected to apply two years of knowledge readily in high-pressure environments.
Problem-based learning: These courses focus on small group work, peer-to-peer learning methods and have a high emphasis on education through problem-solving. They are only available from a small number of universities. Students will work in groups of around eight alongside an experienced tutor and will be asked to investigate hypothetical situations and present information to the group whilst discussing the elements of the case and their interlinking nature.
Beyond course and learning style, it is also crucial to consider the location of the university too. What are your lifestyle preferences? Would you prefer to be in a city or a campus university? Is it important to be close to transport links, and would you rather be in the north or the south of the country? All of these lifestyle components are factors to consider when deciding where to apply.
Medical Work Experience
Gaining work experience is crucial to knowing if Medicine is the right career path for you before making an application, and work experience is also vital to build up your profile in advance of making an application. But it is tough to get work experience as a prospective medical student, particularly in hospitals and GPs. This is due to several reasons, including hospitals already being oversubscribed and patient confidentiality.
Medical admissions teams are aware of these challenges, and the key is the variety of work experience you can gain; it does not have to be all in hospitals. For example, volunteering in care homes and working with medical charities and youth groups is also a valuable experience that admissions teams will consider.
COVID-19 has created additional challenges, as the restrictions have made it nearly impossible for students to get in-person work experience. However, universities will understand the difficulties of this year and we are assured they will take these factors into account when reviewing potential candidates.
Online work experience and attendance to university-led lectures will also help demonstrate a passion for the subject matter.
Some universities also put on courses in the summer (both in-person and online) specially designed to expose students to what studying something like medicine entails. Attending one of these summer schools can be hugely eye-opening as well as being advantageous for the CV!
Admissions Tests: UCAT and BMAT
The UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test) and BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) are two standardised tests that are common entry requirements for UK medical institutions. Universities will usually require one or the other and the student’s scores will be used to further assess suitability.
The tests are designed to assess various areas of your thinking skills, medical knowledge and clinical aptitude. Familiarisation & practice are recommended as you can only sit the assessments once per academic cycle and the scores then count for all relevant institutes.
The UCAT is a digital test that focuses on candidates answering questions of varying difficulty in short spaces of time over topics ranging from Verbal Reasoning to Quantitative Reasoning, to Abstract Reasoning, Situational Judgement, etc.
The BMAT, however, is a written examination with an emphasis on mathematics, science and logical thinking.
Students must enrol themselves in the correct tests depending on which universities they have applied to (they also need to be mindful of deadlines!), and they should practice and revise before taking the exams to avoid disappointment with final scores.
Well known as the centre-piece for university applications, a medical personal statement, much like a regular personal statement, must illustrate the student’s academic abilities and achievements, whilst also highlighting any relevant work experience, in order to showcase a genuine passion and also a readiness for the subject.
The personal statement involves a 4,000-character limit, which is roughly 500 words.
UCAS, the admissions service for universities in the UK, describes a personal statement as “your opportunity to sell yourself to your prospective school, college or training provider.” Students are given a 4,000 character limit (which roughly equates to 500 words) to show off their appeal to the institutions of their choosing.
The key things that medical schools will be looking for are evidence of motivation, explorative work experience and suitability for fitting into their learning environment. The best approach to take in this respect is to break your statement down into relevant chunks.
Medical School interviews
If you are invited for a medical school interview, then well done – you have already passed the first few stages of the application process (the application review and the admissions tests). Like all interviews, medicine interviews can be nerve-wracking, and given the differing approaches, it is vital to prepare as best as possible in advance.
There are three types of medical school interviews: traditional, Oxbridge and MMI.
Traditional: These resemble job interviews, and you’ll likely first be asked questions about your background and goals – why you want to study medicine, where your passions began and what your ambitions are. Expect questions like “give me an example of when you worked with a team to achieve a critical goal” or “explain a time where you coped under considerable pressure”.
Oxbridge: Oxbridge medical courses are more heavily focused on research. This means that their interviews are far more focused on assessing your cognitive abilities and broader thinking skills, including your own philosophies. An example question may involve something as broad as: what makes a good doctor?
MMI: The MMI approach is a modern method of interviewing in which you face several interviewers in relatively quick succession. Each one will either give you a task or ask you task-specific questions. The purpose of this is to assess your interdisciplinary approach to tackling problems. Typically you’ll conduct a series of ‘mini’ interviews with members of staff that will present you with a scenario that requires a demonstration of problem-solving or role-play to resolve.
Whichever interview type of interview you end up taking, preparation is going to be key – so don’t be afraid to research, practice and seek assistance with general readiness. And this is true for all elements of the process. The application system is ultimately designed to assess suitability and ensure that any individual who pursues a career in medicine is genuinely going to be appropriate Doctor material. But in order to showcase your best self for this sort of opportunity, it’s only natural that you need to approach the process fully prepared.
For further questions about the medical admissions process or for more personalised support, please get in touch for a complimentary consultation.