UK Medicine: the 5 steps to getting in
It's a marathon, not a sprint.
If you are interested in studying Medicine, you’ll need to start preparing your application up to 2 years in advance of the UCAS admissions cycle. This is a long, but necessary, process to make sure you have all the right criteria to be a successful future doctor. Here are our 5 key steps to help you get in for Medicine.
Step 1: Choosing the right subject choices
Medicine courses have very specific subject requirements, so it’s important to do some research into the requirements of the universities that you would like to go to when picking your A Level / IB / Pre-U options.
Most medical schools require a combination of Biology and Chemistry. The third option doesn’t have to be Maths or Physics; other essay subjects like English Literature, History, or a Modern Language can be equally desirable.
For example, Birmingham University requires Medicine candidates to have studied Biology, Chemistry and one other laboratory based science subject (ie. Physics) at Sixth Form in order to apply. If a candidate’s third subject is Physical Education, Theatre Studies, Dance, Art or Music, then a fourth academic subject is required at Sixth Form.
The A Level entry requirements for medicine vary from AAA – A*A*A. This is a tough goal, so you need to be realistic with yourself from the start. Consider whether these grades are achievable; as it is difficult to get into an undergraduate medicine course without them.
However, all is not lost - if things don’t go to plan, you can always explore other medical related careers. You can check out the Unifrog Careers Library to find a range of medical and health related options.
Step 2: Choosing your medical school
Try to play to your strengths. Choosing a medical school is a great opportunity to really tailor your application and find a place which really suits your needs.
For example, if you’ve done really well in the UCAT, use this to your advantage and apply to the schools that have a high weighting for this in their application process. If you look on a course website and see that their UCAT cut off score is usually above what you achieved, don’t risk it.
Wherever you apply, make sure that you fulfill all the entry requirements for that course. You can only apply to 4 medical schools (unlike the usual 5 choices for other courses) so it’s even more important that every application counts.
Location is another important factor to consider for any degree course. However, becoming a doctor will take upwards of 5 years, so you must be certain that both the university and the location are right for you.
Step 3: Work experience and volunteering
For a vocational course like Medicine, work experience is an essential part of your application. It shows you are aware of the practical element of the course, and that you are committed to the medical career that is expected to follow.
Work experience can also be tricky to find. You will need to write emails to local practices, or to work experience coordinators at hospitals. There will be a lot of students looking for hospital placements which can be very competitive; you normally need to write a convincing cover letter and CV to explain why you would suit the opportunity. You can check out how to write a winning cover letter here, and find support for writing your CV here.
Throughout the duration of your work experience, keep a diary throughout your time, writing down what effect the experience has had on your own desire to become a doctor. The main objective here is to come away with a better understanding of what you want to do within the profession, and concrete, personal examples of how the experience supported your desire to pursue a career in medicine. This will be super helpful when it comes to writing your personal statement.
All of your experiences do not have to be specifically medical. In addition to medical work experience, you might want to do some volunteering. For example, assisting in a charity shop or tutoring younger students also shows a desire to help others.
Step 4. Admissions tests
All undergraduate UK medical schools require you to do one of two admissions tests: the UCAT or the BMAT. Different medical schools use these in different ways: some use ‘cut off’ marks to exclude the weaker scoring applicants, whilst others simply view it as another section of your application to be assessed alongside your interview, exam results and Personal Statement.
The UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test) is used by the majority of UK medical schools. It is a two-hour computer test, with 5 different sub-sections: Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement.
If you are applying to a UCAT university, you will need to register for the test on the UCAT official website during the summer preceding your application.This is also where you’ll find resources like example questions and past papers. You typically sit the exam in the summer holidays before you apply on a date of your choice at a local open test centre, and you receive your results right after you complete the test.
The BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) is only used by a few universities. These universities are:
- University of Cambridge Medical School
- University of Oxford Medical School
- Imperial College London
- University College London
- Leeds’ School of Medicine
- Brighton & Sussex Medical School
- Keele University (overseas applicants only, home applicants sit the UCAT)
- Lancaster University
The BMAT is another 2 hour exam, but it’s a traditional pen and paper test. It consists of a one hour aptitude and skills section, a 30 minute science section (testing your GCSE science and maths knowledge) and a final 30 minute essay question.
If applying to a university which requires the BMAT, you will need to register for this exam through your school or on the BMAT website. Tests are generally sat in November. This means you will not have results until after you have applied for your medical course, so try to apply to a mix of UCAT and BMAT universities. If you don’t perform as well as you would like, you don’t want this to entirely ruin your chances of reaching medical school.
Step 5: The personal statement and interview
Your personal statement and interview are the parts of the application which will make you stand out as an individual. These are the places where you can really shine, and show admissions tutors why you are uniquely suited to their course.
The first draft of your personal statement ideally should be finished before September of your final year at school. The UCAS deadline for Medicine applications falls in October, and you don’t want to rush this key part of the process.
Check out the department websites to find out what the admissions tutors want to see in their applicants. If they’ve mentioned that they need to see evidence of work experience, extracurricular activities, or practical medical skills, make sure you include them!
Ensure that when you read your personal statement back, it answers the question ‘Why are you perfect for a degree course in Medicine?’ Each example you include of volunteering, work experience, academic achievement, sport, drama or music needs to be evaluated and discussed in a way that answers this question.
Interview preparation can be done with the help of books, friends and teachers. Ask a friend who’s also applying if you could give each other practice questions, or try to get a teacher to provide you with a mock interview.
There are always some standard questions you should be prepared for, like ‘Why do you want to be a doctor?’, or ‘Why choose medicine?’ but you shouldn’t just stick to practising these. There are many different potential interview formats: in a multiple mini interview (MMI) you will be asked to move around stations and role play situations whereas in an Oxbridge interview you will be asked longer, more scientific questions which will test your ability to form a logical argument.
For more information on acing the Medicine interview, check out Unifrog’s article
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