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Getting into Medicine

Seven factors to consider when choosing Medical Schools

Deciding which medical schools to apply to can be extremely daunting, but fear not! This post is a guide of which factors to consider when deciding which medical schools you should apply to. BMAT or UCAT; PBL or Traditional; City or Campus; Integrated Masters? They might just all sound like words, but we’re gonna go through it all!

The Basics

Around a year ago I was in the exact position you’re in now, deciding what medical schools to apply to, so I know how you’re feeling! Starting with the basics, applications are made through UCAS (at least for UK-based universities). You get five choices total, but only four can be applications for Medicine.

The fifth option…

It’s up to you what you do with your last option. Some people apply to another science-based course such as Biomedical Sciences, some apply to a degree completely unrelated to Medicine, and some just don’t use it. The biggest problem with applying for a different course is that your personal statement will (or should!) be tailored for a Medicine application. Some universities allow you to submit a substitute personal statement, such as Durham University, so do your research! My personal advice would be to seriously think about applying for a ‘back-up course’. Having done a Biomedical Sciences degree myself, even though there is some overlap, it is still a completely different degree to Medicine, with completely different skills required. It takes a lot of money and energy to study a full degree, are you willing to spend (mentally and physically) all that on a degree you don’t actually want to do?

There’s always the third option: not using the fifth choice. When I applied for Medicine I didn’t use my fifth choice because I was finishing my first degree and if I didn’t get into medicine straight away, I wasn’t going to spend another three years doing a course that wasn’t medicine. Even if you’re applying straight out of Sixth Form/College, not putting a fifth option can still be a good idea. This way if you don’t get in the first time, you can always take a year out, work on your application and be ready to apply the year after.

Which aptitude test are you going to take?

For most undergraduate medicine degrees you will need to take an aptitude test: either the UCAT or the BMAT (for graduate entry you might even need to take the GAMSAT). You can always take both exams (I did) but then I would make sure that you take the UCAT earlier in the examination window so you have enough time to prepare for the BMAT.

They are COMPLETELY different exams so it’s important to do your research about whether you want to do either one or both of them. There’s also the cost component to think about, the UCAT costs between £55-£80 and the BMAT costs around £50, plus any preparation tools that you buy.

If you decide that you only want to take one of them, then that automatically cuts out some of the universities you can apply to.

If you decide to take the UCAT – make sure you check out this post!

If you decide to take the BMAT – check out this post!

Okay, let’s be real: How competitive is your application?

You have to be realistic about how competitive your application is including your GCSE grades; your predicted A-levels; your UCAT score (if you need to take it); your work experience; extra-curricular activities. Medicine is different to most degrees in that it’s not just about being able to meet the typical AAA offer, universities assume that you will be able to meet that, it’s about you as a whole person.

Realistically, if your application isn’t the strongest, there’s probably no point in applying to the top universities. This will save you from ‘wasting’ one of your choices on an unrealistic expectation.

If you have a really strong application, you might want to use the university rankings to decide which schools you want to apply to.

Another thing to note is that different medical schools have different A-Level subject requirements so you need to check whether you have even taken the right A-levels to apply there.

Location, Location, Location

There are a few aspects to consider regarding location. The first of which is whether you want to be close to home or not and people normally go one of two ways. 1) they absolutely cannot wait to get out and live on their own and they want to get as far away from there parents as possible (not necessarily in a bad way) or 2) they want to stay relatively close to home, if not stay at home, so they can visit/see family regularly.

I happy medium that I found was moving around 45 mins away so that it was a bit far for parents to just ‘drop-in’, but not too far that I couldn’t come home when I needed to. I also could drive and had a car, which made visiting home a lot easier. Don’t be so quick to say you want to move to the other side of the country, think it through properly, are you going to love it when you’re carrying three suitcases on a four hour train journey home with a couple of changes? I’m not saying don’t do it, I’m just saying make sure you think it through.

Another aspect to consider is whether you want to study at a campus-based or a city-based university, this is just down to personal preference but I would recommend visiting both types of universities to get a feel for which you’d prefer.

The last aspect you need to consider is, are you going to study in London or not. London has some top universities but it is EXPENSIVE to live in. You do get a little bit more maintenance loan (if you are a UK student doing your first degree), but living costs can be quite a bit higher than living in other parts of the country.

Traditional, PBL, or Integrated?

Different Medical Schools teach in slightly different ways, and it’s important to apply to schools that teach in a way that matches how you learn.

  • Traditional (e.g. Oxford) – these types of courses are taught mainly through lectures and tutorials. Instead of focusing on individual patient cases, you learn in distinct modules such as Anatomy, Pharmacology, etc. These courses also tend to have a more distinct pre-clinical phase followed by a clinical phase. This is good for students who feel they want to gain a good understanding of the scientific concepts before putting them into practice and talking to patients.
  • Problem Based Learning (PBL) (E.g. Lancaster) – This is a relatively new style of teaching, and each medical school uses it slightly differently. PBL teaching revolves around patient cases, with lectures and other teaching being supplementary. Students themselves come up with the learning objectives for the week, so this style is a lot more student-led. This style is great for people who like working in groups.
  • (Case-Based Learning is similar to PBL but is in a more clinical setting)
  • Integrated (E.g. Leeds) – this style of teaching is more similar to traditional courses but with clinical exposure from the outset. Teaching is also organised by topic, rather than discipline. E.g. Respiratory, Cardiology, Paediatrics rather than anatomy, pharmacology, biochemistry. This style is good for those who want to get right into interacting with patients.

If you are unsure what style of teaching would suit you, The Medic Portal has a short quiz to help you.

Other points to consider

Intercalation

Intercalating is when you take a year out of your Medicine degree to do study another subject in detail, earning a second degree. There’s a wide range of options, you can gain a BSc, MSc, BA, MA, or many others in a variety of different subjects. Each medical school offers different courses and at some medical schools intercalation is compulsory, so it’s definitely something you should look into before applying. Intercalating is a good way of improving your application for jobs after medical school, especially for competitive specialities. Even if you don’t know what speciality you want to go into, it’s always good to keep your options open.

Clinical Exposure

This links to what style of teaching you would suit, but medical schools can still differ a lot in terms of when you begin interacting with patients. This depends a lot on confidence in interacting with people and there’s no shame in wanting to have a good knowledge base before trying to put it into practice. Alternatively, you may feel like you want to dive in straight away to start building up your communication skills. Have a look at different university websites to see when they start clinical placements.

Rankings

As with any other university course, it’s always worth looking at the university rankings to see how well a particular medical school is performing. This gives you a good idea of student satisfaction, graduate prospects, and the quality of their research.

If you have any questions please feel free to message me on the contact me page!!

Check out these interview tips if you do decide to apply and you get an interview!


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