The Medical School Application : A Survivors Story

So chances are if you’re not one of my devoted readers (hi fam), you’re a student about to enter the terrifying prospect of the med school application process. I’m a first year med student, and these past few weeks I’ve been helping out at offer holder days and a medicine summer school, and I was bombarded with questions about applying.

I’d kind of forgotten how much of a stress it is, so since I went through the whole (traumatic) experience .. twice, I’m putting together a guide for everyone facing the application process. You’ll be seeing stats like “only 40% of applicants get offered a place” which in the back of your mind you’ll be thinking “my god that means SIXTY PERCENT don’t get an offer”, and it’ll scare the living daylights out of you. I applied to both UKCAT and BMAT universities, and have had my fair share of interviews so hopefully you’ll find something helpful!

I only decided I wanted to be a doctor in the middle of year 12/lower sixth (lol I know), so I tried to cram all my experience into 5 months alongside coming to terms with wanting to be a doctor and doing a/s levels. I applied to Keele, Bristol, Liverpool and Lancaster – got an interview at Keele and narrowly missed out on an offer. Pretty safe to say I was GUTTED, but in hindsight I just wasn’t ready – both inexperienced and full of self doubt. However, I got the grades at A-Level to try again (AAAa in bio, chem, maths and english lit respectively), so applied again, this time to Lancaster, Manchester, HYMS and Leicester, got 4 interviews and 4 offers. Pretty safe to say I was ECSTATIC. sO here come my tips & lessons learnt.

UKCAT/BMAT

Okay, so apart from your grades (which are important, but to be honest have to be almost a given when applying for medicine because there are so many other things to get right), the admissions test, for me, is the most important component in your application.

Almost all med schools (UK) use them, and they can change their policies year after year. In more cases than not, the UKCAT or BMAT score is ranked, and the top ranking applicants are then invited to interview (or the uni sets a cut off point – e.g the top 40% of UKCAT scores will get an interview). SOME UNIVERSITIES STATE THAT THEY DON’T LOOK AT YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT AT ALL AND ONLY GO OFF YOUR UKCAT/BMAT SCORE. As annoying as this is, it truly emphasises how important these are, and if you smash them – well that med school door opens just a little bit easier. (check the uni website to see how they score ur application)

I used these websites to prepare, but there are others out there :

  1. https://www.medify.co.uk/
  2. http://www.ukcat.ac.uk/
  3. http://www.admissionstestingservice.org/for-test-takers/bmat/preparing-for-bmat/

I also booked the UKCAT for just after my a level exams finished – I was still in study mode, it’s much harder to try and study in the middle of August after 2 months off!

I personally think the whole “you can’t revise for the UKCAT” is UTTER rubbish. I did the “recommended” two day preparation the first time, and completely flunked it, a 2375 score (3rd percentile). Second time I revised for about 6-9 hours a day for about 10 days, second score, a 2810 (9th percentile). My first score closed the door to almost all of the UKCAT uni’s straight away, the second kept allll of them open – really is a lot less stressful if you just put in the effort first time.

BMAT – literally everything you need is on the website, I didn’t buy anything special for it!  I only took it once, and I wish I’d prepared more, but luckily I still got an interview. I did about 2-3 hours a day for about 2 weeks. Probably should have done 4 hours a day for a month – but it’s different for everyone!

Personal Statement

So, as mentioned above, some uni’s don’t take it that seriously. I was nothing but the God honest truth in both of my personal statements, but the more you talk to med students and uni’s, the more you find out that many lie/twist the truth in theirs. Each uni is different, and may require different information on the statement, so make sure u check their policies, which are hidden sometimes in a little pdf file on their websites.

Just don’t lie, it always trips you up, and if you tell the truth you don’t have to remember what you’ve said. Personal statements are used at interview sometimes too. Probity is the no.1 quality required of a med student and doctor. 

Reflect. Reflect. Reflect. But what does this mean? Well, pick an experience, what did you learn from it? Example : Did you see a doctor talking to a patient? What did you learn? Doctors need to be good listeners and empathetic? Now think of something YOU have done, where you have been a good listener or empathetic. Explain that you have these qualities and how you use them.

SOME UNIVERSITIES DON’T LOOK AT YOUR PS AND GIVE YOU ANOTHER FORM TO USE AND FILL IN WHEN YOU APPLY. THIS IS SIMILAR TO THE PERSONAL STATEMENT, BUT U HAVE TO ANSWER SPECIFIC QUESTIONS.  THESE FORMS WILL BE SCORED AND RANKED.

Work Experience

Anything to show you have the necessary qualities of a doctor and that you have a realistic view of medicine. Examples:

-arranged work experience in hospital

-volunteering in hospitals

-work exp. in GP

-hospices

-care homes/nursing homes

-volunteering for primary schools/youth groups

-volunteering for charity shops

-health care assistant at hospital(more for gap year students etc.)

-volunteering abroad/placements (E.G GapMedics)

-working in a shop/resturaunt/paid employment (shows u r a real person in the real world)

I personally volunteered .. a LOT – just a few things I did: primary schools,charity shops, childrens hopsice, hospital, care home.. and then during my gap year I worked as well, in a supermarket and I luckily got given a job as a HCA at the children’s hospice that I’ve now been at for nearly 3 years. The key is to be comfortable in a massive range of situations, so put yourself in positions you wouldn’t normally be in, until you get to the point where nothing phases you.

Choosing your university

PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS. 

At the end of the day, a medicine degree is a medicine degree, and you’re going to be a doctor no matter where you graduate from. Therefore, don’t get caught up in all the prestige of it – be savvy and apply to places that:

a) you feel you would be happy living and studying in for FIVE WHOLE YEARS

b) you have the best chance of getting an interview according to their admissions process

Got amazing GCSEs ? Apply to a med school that ranks A*/A’s very heavily.

Amazing UKCAT? Apply somewhere that really uses the UKCAT.

Great experience? Apply to a uni that really takes your experience/personal statement into consideration

I honestly count my blessings every day that the ONE uni that I dreamt about going to even before I decided on medicine was one that I also had a fighting chance of getting into.

RANDOM TOP TIPS:

– Start writing your personal statement early. Deadline is 15th October for UCAS applications (med/vet/dentist/oxbridge) so in your head set the deadline for a month before so you have it ready and people can proof read. 

– Grasp every opportunity to gain experience. 

– On work experience placements, prepare a load of questions you want to ask. No question is stupid. I come from a non medical background so I think I asked the most obvious questions, but I learnt from them.  Some questions that I got really interesting answers from:

  • ‘Have you ever treated a patient that you will always remember? – expand’
  • ‘What would you change about the NHS’
  • ‘How do you find the lifestyle of a doctor’
  • ‘What do you find most difficult/interesting about your job’
  • ‘What do you wish you would have known before entering the profession’

One thing that I was told again and again and again, without even asking, was “it’s not worth the money – don’t do it for the money. There are much easier ways to earn our salary or even double’. So – yeah. Don’t do it for the money. Or for your family. Do it for you. (You’ll be constantly asked – ‘why medicine’, prepare an answer before placement so you’re not put on the spot.)

– TALK TO PATIENTS WHEN ON PLACEMENT. It’s the most daunting thing, but honestly the most rewarding thing and you learn a lot about yourself from it. You will feel CONSTANTLY in the way, and have not much to do – so make the most of it. I was so scared and didn’t know what to say so : 

 “Hi, I’m ___ and I’m on work experience. Do you mind if I come and talk to you? How long have you been here? Family visiting today? Do you live near by? How are you finding your stay in hospital? All good conversation starters. They’ll most likely ask you what your doing/want to be and they’ll put the focus on you. Most people fancy a chat. If they don’t – don’t take it personally, they will be feeling poorly, anxious and tired.

– Be optimistic, enthusiastic, and open minded.

  • Also – DON’T obsess over the student room applicants pages. I was 100% guilty of this, and quite frankly once you’ve been on it once it’s very hard to not continually check what other people are saying and then comparing yourself to them. although some of it may be true – take everything. and i mean EVERYTHING that students say about themselves with a pinch of salt.

(P.S Once at interview – my top tips would be: be the type of person/med student/doctor that you would want treating your family in hospital. Make sure u brush up on GMC guidelines for future doctors and honestly – if you’ve put your absolute all into it, and this is what you really really want to do, and you believe that you can do it – that just shines through without you even knowing and that medicine door will open.)

Good luck with your application, and don’t be afraid to try as many times as you need to to get to where you want to be!! 😀

**Disclaimer – this is my personal experience and please please check with your tutors/unis/websites about the application process because it does change every single year**

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