Applying to Medicine Q&A

After my last post, I received a few questions about the application process in the UK so I decided to put together a Q&A for anything that you were still curious about!

Disclaimer: I’m just a student who has experienced this process myself, I do not know about the exact ins and outs of the system but I have a few tips that I’ve picked up in the past year. If you have any genuine concerns about your application, I always recommend contacting the individual university admissions departments and maybe looking at sites like The Medic Portal

For ease of navigation I’ve split this post up into several sections:

Are your parents doctors as well? Did they influence you to follow in their footsteps?
Neither of my parents are doctors, however my mum was a nurse for around 10 years. Although they were supportive of my decision, my mum was keen for me to pursue another field (like genetics) because she’d worked in the NHS before and knew how tough it could be. She eventually came around though!

What were your GCSE results?
I got 8 A*s and 3 As

What were your grades at AS?
I got 4 As in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology and Spanish

Why do you think you were rejected from Oxford and how did you deal with it?
By Oxford standards, my GCSEs and BMAT were relatively ‘meh’ so I expected to be rejected pre-interview. I wasn’t particularly surprised when I was rejected and it didn’t really upset me that much, especially since I loved the UCL course so much. I was already planning to move to UCL for my clinical years if I did get an offer from Oxford so I really didn’t mind!

If you could have done anything differently in Year 12 to improve your application, what would it be?
I think I would have tried to get more work experience: I have a relatively small amount of clinical experience in comparison to other applicants so I think that I would have tried to get some work experience with a GP in order to build up my application a bit more. I would have also completed a MOOC or similar online course as I think that can make your application look slightly stronger. However, I couldn’t fit everything in my personal statement as it was, so I doubt I would have needed anything else!

Which universities did you apply to and have you got any offers/interviews?
I applied to Hull York Medical School, Oxford, Edinburgh and UCL. I was rejected from Oxford and Edinburgh, however I got interviews and offers from UCL and HYMS. I also applied to Edinburgh for neuroscience, however I withdrew my application after I received my HYMS and UCL offers.

I know A Level Chemistry is generally required for medicine, is it really that awful? How do you get through it? I’ve heard so many people say it’s extremely difficult.
I actually prefer Chemistry to Biology because it’s much easier to revise! I really struggled at AS Level as our GCSE specification missed out a lot of key concepts (we didn’t even cover moles!), however by the time it got to my AS exams it was the subject I was most confident about. A lot of the topics link into each other so you find yourself revising as you go along and at A2 (for Edexcel at least) a lot of the topics are just continuations of the AS ones so there’s less content to revise as by covering the A2 topics you’re revising the AS ones.

Did you do lots of extracurricular activities? Which ones? And have you done any volunteering + where?
I did quite a few extracurriculars! The ones that I mentioned on my application were: musical theatre exams up to grade 6, participating my local youth theatre group and being part of the sixth form council. I also spoke about volunteering at a local preschool for a year and being a young leader at a local Beaver Scout group for over four years.

How early did you apply?
I applied on the 9th or 10th of October (I can’t remember exactly)

What are your predicted grades?
I’m predicted A*A*A* in Biology, Chemistry and Psychology with an A* in my EPQ

What would you do if you got rejected from medicine this year or advice to people who have?
Now that I have my offers, I’d only be rejected on the grounds of grades in which case I’d apply in the next cycle for neuroscience or perhaps a biomedical degree and then I may consider Graduate Entry Medicine afterwards (although I’m interested in research anyway and I’d be interested in an NHS career as a scientist!)
Had I not received any offers, my plan was to reapply if I got A*AA or higher in my exams (potentially AAA depending on how I felt) and if not I was planning on doing a different undergraduate degree like I mentioned above.
I wrote a section about what to do if it all goes wrong in my other post about applying to medicine!

What are the steps of becoming a doctor after high school in the UK?
In the UK, medicine is an undergraduate degree (although there are Graduate Entry courses for people who already have a degree) so most applicants enter onto the course either as soon as they leave school or after taking a gap year. Once you’ve finished medical school you complete two years of foundation training where you cover a wide variety of specialties. After this you usually begin your core specialty training for two or three years – this is still pretty broad, however it’s when you decide whether you want to do surgery or medicine, etc. Once you’ve completed this, you move onto your higher specialty training where you choose the specific specialty that you’re interested in (for example, cardiothoracic or plastic surgery).
Some specialties have run through training which means that you only apply once after your foundation training, others require you to apply several times during the process.
This diagram from the BMA summarises it well.

In the UK do you go from high school to medical school or do you need an undergraduate degree before you go to medical school?
Like I said above, it’s a undergraduate course in the UK although there is a course for graduates too.

Why did you decide to put UCL as your first choice university?
I’m really interested in working in paediatrics in the future and they’re the only place I’ve seen that offer an intercalation option for paediatrics. Similarly, one of their teaching hospitals is Great Ormond Street which was also a benefit since I want to work with children. I also loved the general atmosphere there and I really like London as a city.

Which medical schools don’t rely too much on GCSE grades?
As far as I’m aware here’s a list of places that don’t really rank you on your GCSEs (from a quick look at their selection process):

What kind of GCSE grades do you need to get into medical school? I know they depend on the university but roughly what would you say?
Honestly I could just say a random number like 5 A*s and the rest As but there are so many variables depending on each medical school that it’s impossible to tell. If you’re worried about having low GCSEs then just apply to universities which don’t rank you primarily on your GCSE grades and you’ll be fine. If you look around, you’ll see people with 11 A*s who were rejected and then people with 2 A*s who got an offer – so much of it comes down to your work experience, the rest of your grades as well as your interview performance.

I’m planning to go to medical school in the UK next year, which one would you recommend?
If you want to work in the UK then it 100% does not matter which you go to when it comes to applying for F1 jobs as your university will have no influence on your application. If you want to work abroad, then it may be worth considering a university with a more established international reputation. According to the QS World University Rankings for Medicine, Oxford, Cambridge, University College London, Imperial College London and King’s College London all rank in the top twenty worldwide.

If I haven’t started work experience or volunteering (which I’ve applied for) will my application be less admirable?
This totally depends on what year you’re in. If you’re in Year 12 then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find a great amount of experience before applying in October, especially as quite a few medical schools like to see long term placements and volunteering which show commitment. In which case I would still apply, but be aware that it may damage your chances (especially once you get to interview and you’re asked to reflect on your experience). However, it’s important to remember that you could always take a gap year and build up experience during this time before reapplying.
If you’re in Year 11 or lower then I wouldn’t panic as there’s still plenty of time to find experience!
If you want some ideas to help you find a place to start, I recommend my post about finding work experience!

How do you know if you are suitable for medicine?
Get experience! Honestly, the best way to find out if you’re suitable is to shadow a consultant or a GP and ask them about their career. It’ll never be able to give you the full picture, however it’ll give you an idea of the reality of being a doctor and help you see if it’s right for you. Alternatively talk to medical students at open days and see if you like the sound of the course, they’re much more likely to talk about the negative side of it than admissions tutors or university prospectuses.
I also suggest getting some sort of non-clinical caring experience as this tends to be more hands on and lets you have the chance to see if you enjoy caring for people or whether you’d prefer a lab-based science. You can look at my post linked above for more ideas about where to get experience!

How hard are the BMAT and UKCAT?
I didn’t find the UKCAT or the BMAT particularly dreadful although it’s worth mentioning that they’re definitely tough – but they’re meant to be taken by the brightest students in the country so they’re never going to be easy! I struggled with timings on both of them, however I feel like the UKCAT gets slightly easier as you practise whereas I never managed to finish a paper totally for the BMAT (I’d always guess towards the end). I found the BMAT tougher in terms of content as I haven’t studied Maths or Physics since my GCSEs so I found it quite difficult to revise the information again.

How did you prepare for the BMAT and UKCAT? Can you provide any resources that you used?
The key to doing well in these tests is practise! Although there is content to learn for the BMAT, the key to doing well is being able to get through the questions quickly and accurately. If you want more information about the resources that I used, I spoke about them in detail in my Applying to Medicine 101 post.

What’s the difference between BMAT and UKCAT?
They’re both entrance exams for medicine (and also dentistry and some biomedical science courses) in the UK. Each university will only require one of them, however they’re very different in structure. The UKCAT has five different sections which are all multiple choice and designed to test your inherent intelligence and abilities. The BMAT has three sections, two of which are multiple choice and one which is an essay. This test is designed to look at your scientific knowledge as well as your ability to understand and put together an argument. Furthermore, the UKCAT is taken on a computer at a test centre (I did mine at the same Pearson centre where you do driving theory tests) whilst the BMAT is a paper exam taken at your school or college usually.

Tips for UKCAT?
This applies to the BMAT as well but your biggest friend is the “guess and move on” tactic! These exams are extremely time sensitive so whilst it may be hard to move on when you feel like you’re close to an answer, your best bet is to eliminate the obvious wrong answers and then guess from the others. If you have time left you can flag the question and come back to it at the end.

For how long did you prepare for the UKCAT and the BMAT?
For the UKCAT, I started preparation around three weeks before my exam date (although I had done bits and pieces throughout the year, even if it wasn’t in a lot of detail). For the BMAT, I started around mid-September, although I feel like I should have started earlier as I felt rushed as it got closer to the test date.

What did you get in your UKCAT?
I got a 715 average (680 VR, 740 QR, 760 DM and 680 AR) with Band 2 in SJT

Did you have to do any MMI interviews? And if so, how did you prepare for them?
My only MMI interview was HYMS so I don’t have a lot of experience with them. For my MMI, I read up on a lot of current events in the news as I knew one of the stations was going to focus on recent events and issues. I also looked over medical ethics as I knew there was a station centred around this too. The other stations I did were group work and a role play which didn’t require any preparation.

Can you suggest any books you read in preparation for interviews?
I didn’t read any interview preparation books specifically, however I did read a couple of medicine related books which I mentioned in my personal statement. Personally I’ve read Do No Harm (which I honestly found to be a little boring and it mainly sounded like the guy was complaining all the time – this may have been the bad audiobook narrator though), The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat and Phantoms in the Brain.
I recommend mentioning books on your personal statement as it shows you have an interest in medicine and do research outside of school, but make sure you’ve actually read it and you’re able to discuss it as they might try and catch you out at interview!
I’ve also made a post about good books for pre-med students if you’re interested!

How did you prepare for medical school interviews?
When preparing for my medical school interviews I spent a lot of time reading about current events within healthcare on the BBC and Guardian websites as it’s relatively common for students to be asked about these in interviews. I also watched some TED Talks and read a couple of New Scientist articles which I then made notes on so that I could talk about research I’d read about.
I also did a lot of research on dementia (I actually ended up doing a MOOC about it ) as I had mentioned in my personal statement how I’d done an awareness course and that I was interested in neurology.
Beyond that, I did research around the BMAT essay title I answered as UCL will almost always ask you about your essay so that I could back up my points in the interview and also counter argue them if I was asked to.

Tips for acing MMIs?
Know your stations! I’m aware that some universities keep them secret, but if you can then you definitely need to find out what you’ll be doing at the interview. I’d also say be concise with your points as you only have around 8 minutes maximum at each station so it’s vital that you stick to the question and keep your points focused. Similarly, make sure you ask the interviewer if you don’t understand as there is no time for you to be talking about a subject that is totally different to the question you were asked.

Do you know any Canadians who got into med school in the U.K.? If so, how did they do it and do you have any advice? Love from Toronto!
I don’t know any international students unfortunately, however I’d give similar advice to you as I would to UK students: medical school is extremely competitive (even more so for international students due to caps on places) so it’s important to play to your strengths and apply to medical schools which only rank you based on the parts of your applications that you feel are the strongest. Unfortunately, you have to do a bit more digging to find how each university ranks international applicants, but I’d suggest that you start with a general UCAS search in order to see which universities you’d be interested in.

In the UK do you have AP classes cause I want to study there and I’m doing advanced placement but if they don’t know what it is, is there a point ?
We do not have AP classes here, however admissions tutors will be well aware of what they mean and some universities actually have them as part of their requirements. For specific details you’ll have to look at the requirements of each university individually though.

I live in Canada and I want to apply to medical schools in the UK do you have any tips on how I can get accepted ?
You have to make your application extremely competitive due to the fact that there are very limited places in UK medical schools for international applicants (the government caps the number that each medical school can take it, for example Oxford can only take 14 international students a year). This means having good amounts of work experience, very high grades and potentially extra awards/achievements outside of school (for example there are olympiad competitions for the sciences which you can enter). Unfortunately, there will be a certain degree of luck involved as even the best applicants have a high chance of rejection so even if you do everything right, you may still be rejected (that isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try and apply the next year though or look at other countries!)

Do you think deferred entry has anything to do with being rejected?
I’m not an admissions tutor so I can’t say for certain, however I know that a lot of medical schools don’t look kindly on deferred entry and many don’t allow it. This is likely due to the competitive nature of the course, although I don’t know for sure. Individual universities seem to have their own opinions on whether they allow it or not, so it’s best to look at their policies individually.

Is there anything you wish that you can change about medical field? What do you think about healthcare?
The NHS has a lot of issues at the minute and honestly I don’t think I’d know where to begin if someone asked me how I’d fix it!

What is your favorite medical show?
Grey’s Anatomy. Forever and always.

Which doctor do you think in the past history needs more recognition?
Honestly, the only one who comes to my mind is Ignaz Semmelweis because he spent his life trying to make doctors be cleaner only to die of blood poisoning.

What is on your bucket list?
I want to learn sign language!

Is there a particular doctor/nurse that you looked up to?
I feel like I should say my mum but honestly I first got interested in medicine because of Orphan Black (I started watching it around the same time we covered genetics in GCSE biology) so I’d have to give some credit to Cosima and Delphine.

How do you get a scholarship for the best universities?
Scholarships are pretty rare for medicine in the UK (even more so if you do not fit means tested criteria or you’re a UK student) so unless your university offers a specific scholarship, you’re unlikely to get one.

Could you give any advice for writing personal statements for medical school?
I suggest using a structure like this one:

  1. An introduction that explains why you want to do medicine
  2. Anything you have done to further your interest in medicine, including reading books or MOOCS, then give another reason why you want to do medicine
  3. Details of any work experience you undertook, including what you did and what you learnt from it – where possible you should give timings and specifics
  4. Academic extracurricular activities which have helped you to develop the skills needed to be a good doctor, for example research activities and being a mentor to younger students
  5. Non-academic extracurricular activities which have helped you develop the skills needed, including volunteering or musical instruments
  6. A conclusion that sums up why you’d be a good medical student and future doctor

I’ve got more advice in my Applying to Medicine 101 post

Hopefully these questions have been useful to you in some way! If you still have something else you want to ask me, then feel free to DM me on Instagram or send me an email!

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  1. Hi Emily,
    I just had my year 11 results and I’ve been so down and disappointed because they did not go how I expected to at all. I realise some may recognise them as good but seeing as I want(ed?) to do medicine I’m really not sure to be honest.
    I had 3A*s and 8A’s
    Speaking honestly and being blunt do you think I would honestly still have a chance for medicine? I’m feeling a lot less confident about alevels after seeing my results so I’m honestly not very sure how they will go either to be honest (but I’ll try my hardest to make up for my GCSEs!).
    Sadly I also haven’t got many extra curriculars, I have done lots of stuff within school (Deputy Head Girl, peer mentor, prefect, maths support group and I was part of the Debate Team for a short amount of time- dues to exams yr11s couldn’t continue after April). I was also apart of my local scouts for roughly a year and I volunteer at my Nepalese community group. The problem is I haven’t done much volunteer work and I saw you say that once you reach yr12 it may be more damaging to start so I’m unsure as to whether still take party in any volunteering or not :/
    With my somewhat lack of extra curriculars and my poor GCSE grades do you think I would still be able to apply for medicine? Please be honest, I know it’s already not looking good but if I know for certain I can’t atleast I won’t waste anymore time sulking and hopefully look into other careers for myself.

    Thanks so much,
    Victoria xxx

    1. Hi,
      Honestly do not panic about your GCSE grades because there are countless unis that don’t even look at your GCSEs providing you hit their minimum requirements (usually Cs or Bs in English and Maths). You can definitely catch up on extracurriculars and volunteering in year 12 so don’t worry about it. Start contacting your local hospital so you can do work experience during the next school holiday as well as looking at places where you can volunteer on a weekend/during your frees. I volunteered at a preschool during one morning a week from December of year 12 so I had almost a year of volunteering done by the time I applied for medicine in October.
      You have as good of a chance as anyone else at medicine so don’t give up. Just try and be strategic in terms of where you apply (AKA don’t go anywhere that ranks you on your GCSE grades)!

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