Choosing to study medicine is not an easy decision. It certainly requires a lot of thought and consideration. Dedicating four to six years of your life to learn the art of treating patients and understanding how the human body works is a decision that should not be taken lightly. However, once you have made that decision, it is a great feeling. You finally feel as though you are working towards something worthwhile.
This blog post is targeted mainly towards students in Year 12. It will summarise the steps you need to take to get into medical school and what you need to be focusing on now. However, Year 11s, graduate students and gap year students may also find this post useful. The aim of this post is to inform you of the necessary steps required for a successful application to medical school. During this time, a lot will be happening and it can become overwhelming. For example, whilst you are trying to achieve the required predicted grades, you might be participating in some work experience and also juggling UCAT prep at the same time. It’s a lot, yes, but definitely doable.
It’s important to note that medicine is one of the most competitive degrees in the country. To put this into perspective, according to UCAS, over 23,000 students applied to medicine in 2019 but only 7,500 places were available. These figures may seem daunting, but it genuinely isn’t impossible, so far you take the necessary steps to prepare.
To secure a place at medical school you need to make your application as strong as possible. To do this, you need to get past each of the individual hurdles of the application process. These hurdles include:
Achieving the minimum GCSE requirements
Choosing the right A-level subjects
Acquiring the relevant work experience
Achieving the minimum A-level predictions
Getting a good UCAT and/or BMAT score
Writing a strong personal statement
Doing well in your interviews
Achieving/Exceeding your A-level predictions
Although we’ve listed the general steps that you must pass, you need to aim for more than just the minimum to remain competitive. For example, some medical schools, such as Birmingham and Cardiff, will score your highest GCSEs which will help determine whether you are eligible for an interview. Therefore, try to achieve your best in each of the mentioned steps. Take a look at the entry requirements universities have posted online, which should provide you with an idea of what they are looking for.
I’m in Year 12. What Should I Be Doing?
Now that we have addressed the hurdles that you need to overcome. Let’s talk about what you need to do whilst you are in sixth form. Year 12 is a very important year because you need it to build the bulk of your personal statement and achieve the required predicted grades for medical school.
Achieving the Predicted Grades
First and foremost, achieving the required predicted grades should be your priority. Even though you need a well-rounded application, failing to achieve the required predicted grades will instantaneously remove you from the application process. However, some medical schools offer contextual offers for students from underrepresented backgrounds. Often these contextual offers will reduce the required grades needed to enter medical school so make sure you do your research to see if you qualify! Remember different universities have different contextual offer criteria.
Here’s an example of UCL Medical School’s page on contextual offers:
To ensure you achieve these grades, you need to be consistently working at a level which will ensure that you will receive the necessary predictions. This is usually shown by doing well in end of topic tests and by putting in the effort to show that you are capable of achieving your grades.
During Year 12, you need to start working towards your personal statement. This should include developing your work experience, volunteering and extra-curriculars. Although this may seem early, we need to put this into perspective. As soon as you enter Year 13, there will be no time to gain work experience because the UCAS deadline is on October 15th – so please be mindful of this. Additionally, the experiences you write about in your personal statement are likely to be brought up at interview because they can be used to support your answers to interview questions. Backing up your answers with your own personal experiences will help you stand out at interview, because your answers will be unique to you.
Please do not be tempted to lie about your experiences when it does come to your personal statement. As a future doctor, you need to behave honestly and with integrity, otherwise how will your patients trust you? Also, medical schools do not take lying on your personal statement lightly and some do check. In fact, during my application cycle, the universities I applied to contacted the places where I did my work experience.
It is highly likely that you will forget many of your experiences, that is why we advise having a diary dedicated to the work experience that you do. After each work experience session, you should state what you did and what you learned from it. This will make writing your personal statement much easier. When you get to the stage where you write your personal statement, you will realise that the whole piece is about reflection, this is what will help you secure your place at medical school. Having your reflections written down already will speed up this process.
Given the current circumstances with COVID, there will be challenges trying to find work experience. Universities are aware of this and it is highly likely that they will take this into account by the time you apply. Finding physical hospital work experience will be virtually impossible, so we have included a few alternatives. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it is a start.
Work Experience Suggestions - COVID 19
Brighton and Sussex Virtual Work Experience: https://bsmsoutreach.thinkific.com/courses/VWE
The Aspiring Medics: https://www.theaspiringmedics.co.uk/online-work-experience
Medical Schools Council Work Experience Guide - COVID-19: https://www.medschools.ac.uk/media/2636/guidance-on-gaining-relevant-experience-for-studying-medicine-in-the-time-of-covid-19.pdf
Life of a Medic - Compilation of Resources: https://lifeofamedic.com/2020/04/30/work-experience-opportunities-during-covid-19-lockdown-for-aspiring-medical-students/
Extra-curricular activities form an important part of your personal statement. Not only does it show you are a well-rounded person, it also helps show that you can cope with the stresses of medicine. Having other interests besides medicine is imperative because it shows that you are able to separate your work life with your personal life. Believe me, when the job gets stressful this is very important. Your extra-curricular activities can include a variety of things. This could include playing a sport, instrument or any other activities such as sewing etc. The list is really endless. Especially since we are in a pandemic, learning a new skill online could also be the way to go. It will show that you have taken the initiative to learn a new skill which is a good indicator of whether you will be a good doctor.
Demonstrating an interest in science is an important part of the application. Simply studying Biology and Chemistry at A-level is insufficient because almost everyone else will be doing the same thing. You need to show an interest in science and since many events are online, it’s even easier to attend a few conferences on a chosen specialty or scientific interest. I would advise treating your scientific interests as an extra-curricular activity. Go to events, read academic papers, watch podcasts, enter competitions. Luckily, this can be done from the comforts of your own home. Although it may seem tedious, it’s important to get involved in the scientific aspects of medicine. After all, you will be studying this degree for a very long time, so it does help if you like science.
Now that you’ve come to the end of this post, hopefully you have a better idea of what you need to do to get into medical school. Remember, getting into medical school is tough and in reality you only really need one offer (which is a great achievement to say the least). The tips from this post will help increase your chances and if you need any more advice feel free to DM us. Also, subscribe to our mailing list for further tips and resources. All the best with your applications!
Written by: Bimpe Adeyemi (Co-founder of the Black & Forth Platform)