I’ve created some videos to help anyone who needs it get a better understanding of the process of applying for Medicine in the UK. From my experience, it was a really long process that needed a lot of research and preparation, so I thought it might be helpful to have a good chunk of it all in one place!
Hope it helps! (I’ve put it down in writing below in case that’s preferable to you.)
Congratulations on choosing to do Medicine in the UK! Or at least for thinking about it.
So let’s get to it. I’m going to break down the incredibly long and drawn out process of applying and getting into Medical school in the UK. I’ll tell you about each stage of the process and give you some tips I’ve picked up along the way that will hopefully help.
Starting with step 1: Research and work experience (you)
Before I begin I’d like to say that it does need a lot of research and there’s not really one place where you can find all the information you’ll need so just keep looking at loads of different sources! But make sure they’re reliable of course.
So you would want to start by finding out which universities offer Medicine and what course structure each of them use to teach. Now there are three types of course structure – PBL, Integrated and Traditional.
PBL is Problem based learning and involves learning through case studies. You get split up into smaller groups and given a scenario from which you take the learning objectives and study them before discussing them with each other. There is a really good video that explains more about what it’s like studying using PBL and it’s linked at the end in a looong list.
Traditional learning consists of mainly tutorials and lectures for the first two years and then purely clinical learning for the next three years. So there is a very distinct divide between the pre-clinical and clinical years.
The Integrated course is basically a mix of the two. There is no pre-clinical and clinical divide so you get patient exposure from right at the start alongside learning.
This is of course a very brief overview of what each type of course structure entails so there’s a link below to an NHS webpage called ‘Choosing a medical school’ that tells you more about each course type in particular. (again, link is in the looong list below)
The next thing you need to know for this stage is the need for work experience. Once you decide you want to apply for Medicine, one of the most important things you want to do is start thinking about and organising work experience for yourself. In the holidays between your GCSEs and A levels, organise work experience. In the holidays between AS level and A2 levels, organise work experience. I can’t express enough how important it is to do at least one form of voluntary work or social work and some type of work experience in a healthcare setting. The reason why work experience is so important is because observing the way people work in healthcare shows that you are well-prepared to start Medicine and you know what you’re getting into. You’ve seen the long hours, how demanding being a doctor (or any other type of healthcare professional) is emotionally and physically and intellectually. And the reason why it’s important to do some sort of social work or voluntary work experience is to show you possess some of the skills essential for a doctor like empathy, good communication skills, etc. For example, you could spend an hour every week volunteering at an old-age home interacting with the people there. Or you could volunteer at a children’s summer camp for a week or more. The list of things you could do is never-ending because it’s all about how you can show you are developing the skills needed to become a doctor. Clinical work experience could be shadowing a doctor, nurse, GP or anything else you could think of that allows you to observe the way healthcare professionals behave in a work environment. The most important thing is to be able to learn from the experience. It could be for as short as a few days or for as long as a few weeks but what the admissions tutors are interested in is how much you took away from the experience – how much you really learned from it.
I highly suggest you join The Student Room, a forum where students from all around the world can connect with each other. By reading the posts on the Medicine forum you will get an idea of the kind of work experience people usually do and the grades other applicants have achieved. It’s a great place to discuss any queries you have with other applicants or current medical students and also do some research.
You’ll notice that most applicants do well academically and also have interests outside of studying like sport, music, etc. It would help to have extra-curricular activities that show you know how to manage time well and that you don’t just study all the time! It’s important for medical students and doctors to have interests outside Medicine to cope with the stress of the job. The key word here is ‘work-life balance’.
The last thing you need to know is the deadline for your application. You will have to apply through UCAS, the online application system for most UK universities by 15th October the year before you start university. For example, I finished my A level exams (A2 exams) in June 2015, and I was applying for September 2015 entry. So I had to submit my application before 15th October 2014.
Step 2: UKCAT and BMAT
Now different universities have different requirements in terms of these exams, so the first thing you should do is find out which universities need the UKCAT, which need the BMAT and which need none. This is likely to change yearly so be sure to check an updated, reliable source such as the university website!
First, let’s talk about the UKCAT. The UKCAT is an online test that can happen anytime between June 1st and October 4th (you choose your own date). From my experience, I’d say it does need a lot of preparation. It doesn’t test scientific knowledge, only aptitude. Time management is key in the UKCAT. There are 5 sections – Verbal Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Decision Analysis and Situational Judgement. I know they all sounds very vague and quite scary but once you’ve done enough questions they do become slightly less scary.
The best way to prepare for the UKCAT is to start off with the books. There is one book that everyone swears by, which is the ISC Publications’ book ‘Get Into Medical School: 600 UKCAT Practice Questions’. I used this one along with another book called ‘How to Master the UKCAT: 600+ Practice Questions’ published by Kogan Page. These books did not have any Situational Judgement questions in them though so you may find a lot of newer books coming out that do have SJT questions so they may be more relevant.
My advice would be to solve all of the questions of whichever book you are using to get an understanding of the type of questions that come in the exam. Then, when you are a little more confident with the questions from the book, and as your exam approaches, you should do online practice. I used a site called Medify which has a great volume of questions for a reasonable price. The reason I suggest online practice is because it gets you familiar with the format of the exam (as you will have to give it on a computer) and also the questions on these websites are often more relevant to the year in which you are giving your exam as compared to the books. Another popular course is the Kaplan course, which is a lot more expensive than Medify but is again a very useful tool that has helped a lot of people. In my opinion, if you use a combination of good books and Medify and use those resources well it can be enough to get you to where you want to go.
Do note that it takes a lot of hours of practice so if you know your exam is in the first week of August, don’t leave it til the end of July to start preparing! Maybe start doing a few questions from each subtest every week after your AS exams end, then do a certain number of questions everyday to finish all of the questions in the book before a particular date. Then ensure you have at least 3 weeks of online practice and mock exam practice before your test.
Ok that was a lot of information! And that’s just one exam! Moving on to the BMAT.
The BMAT is the entrance exam used for some universities, including but not limited to: Brighton and Sussex, Imperial, Lancaster, UCL, Leeds and of course, Oxford and Cambridge.
Now, I didn’t give the BMAT but basically how it differs from the UKCAT is that it is not an online test, it is a written, pen-and-paper exam that happens after you submit your application. It happens around November 4th and results aren’t immediate (as in the UKCAT), they are released at the end of November.
So why would anyone want to give an exam that is essentially a risk because you don’t know how you are going to do until after you’ve submitted your application?
I think a big reason for that is in the sections of the BMAT. There are 3 sections – the first is an aptitude test (similar to the UKCAT) but the other two sections are quite different. Section 2 is called ‘Scientific knowledge and application’ and claims to test GCSE level Science and Maths. The last section is an essay writing task that includes ‘brief questions based on topics of general, medical, veterinary or scientific interest’.
As I didn’t give the BMAT I don’t have any advice for anyone who does want to give it but I’ve put together some links you might find helpful down below.
Lastly, you should know that some universities do not use either of the two entrance exams and assess you based purely on your grades and personal statement. It is therefore wise to assume that such universities may have slightly higher grade requirements than those that do assess based on the entrance test as well, but then again, all grade requirements for Medicine are high!
Step three: Personal Statement
Let’s talk about the personal statement. Medicine personal statements require you to do three things:
- Show that you know what qualities are required of a doctor
- Talk about what activities you do that reflect these qualities/ how you reflect these qualities
- Therefore impress upon them why you are right for the course
So you’re not simply telling them that you will make a good doctor, you’re showing them that you have all of the necessary qualities in you to be a good doctor. For example, you can say that you developed your ability to work in a team by being a part of a school sports team. Or that your weekly visits to an old age home, where you spent time with the elderly, helped you to discover your passion for interacting with people of all ages and helped you build on your communication skills.
So this is where the work experience comes in handy. It’s basically a tool for you to show off your personality and show that you have the traits that doctors should ideally possess. Clinical work experience also should be referenced to show that you know what you’re getting yourself into.
I’ve spoken more about the types of work experience you can do and why work experience is important in my first video of the series.
It’s really important to tailor your personal statement according to the university you apply to. There is a great book that has loads of sample personal statements to go through so you can see the types of personal statements that are successful at different universities. It’s called ‘Get Into Medical School: Write the perfect Personal Statement’ published by ISC Publications. (Trust me, that’s not the last time you’ll be hearing that name in this series.)
So the next sensible thing is to choose universities based on your strengths. You would be taking into account teaching style, GCSE grades, AS grades or predicted grades, work experience, extra curriculars, UKCAT score, desire to give the BMAT… there’s a lot. So what do you do? Hop on to the internet and do some research about which university would be a good option for you.
Of course you’ll be looking at other factors like the location of the university, whether it’s a campus or city university and also the cost of living in that area. But remember that you only get four choices instead of the usual five. The fifth choice, if you choose to use it, cannot be Medicine or Dentistry. Usually people choose Biomedical Sciences as their fifth choice, mostly because many courses would not accept a personal statement that talks about how much you want to be a doctor.
It’s important to start writing your personal statement in advance and to start thinking about which universities are right for you as you build your profile. You will very likely end up with a completely different personal statement by the end of the process as compared to your first draft. It’s also really hard to finish writing your first draft, and really hard to fit all of the matter in less than 4000 characters (including spaces)!
There is a really helpful video about how to write a personal statement that is linked below that is guaranteed to help you! It’s a little long but it’s definitely worth it.
Wow! We’ve reached the end of the first phase of your application and it’s time to send it off via UCAS! See you on the other side of October and congratulations!
Stage four: Interviews and Offers
Congratulations! You’ve sent in your application to medical school and now you can breathe for a bit. PHEW!
Ok now back to work. Interviews.
Don’t wait until you receive an interview call to start preparing! You should use your time to find out about which type of interview is held at your university. There are two main types: MMI (Multiple Mini Interviews) and Panel interviews.
Panel interviews usually consist of a few interviewers asking you questions about your work experience, reasons for choosing Medicine, hobbies, etc. They could ask you ethical questions or ask you about certain parts of your personal statement.
Multiple Mini Interviews are set up quite differently. There can be any number of stations that test different skills and qualities. For example, one could be a mini panel interview style station where an interviewer is asking you about your personal statement, while the next is a role play to demonstate your empathy and maybe the next, an ethical dilemma. There’s a great video on a medical school website that shows you what to expect in a typical MMI. It’s linked below.
The structure of both types of interview can vary greatly depending on the medical school in terms of the number of stations and the types of questions asked. So it’s important to find out about the interview style of the medical schools you applied to. Usually there will be some information on their websites.
There is a book by ISC Publications (shocker!) called ‘Medical School Interviews’ which is really helpful for learning how to structure answers and has lots of sample questions and answers. Their website, which I’ve linked below, also has a long, long list of questions but there are no sample answers on there. But it’s still a good idea to go through the questions to begin with to get an idea of the types of questions that could come up.
Reading the GMC’s Guide to Good Medical Practice and a document called Tomorrow’s Doctors can help you get a better understanding of what is expected of a doctor and can help you answer ethical questions and situational judgement questions. The GMC website has a section called Good Medical Practice in Action which is a fun way of learning about appropriate behaviour in different difficult situations (it’s much more fun that reading long documents!). The link is below.
Now, interviews can happen anytime between November and April so it’s a good idea to start preparing after you submit your application, even though you wouldn’t have received an interview call yet. It’s quite a stressful time waiting for interviews especially when other unviersities start handing out interviews and you have no clue what’s going on with your choices! I found it helped to keep checking the threads on The Student Room to see when interviews start getting handed out for the universities I applied to. (It just lets me be more prepared so my heart doesn’t stop each time I get a notification on my phone.)
It really helps to practice questions with an adult, sort of like a mock interview. It’s quite scary, but the more mocks you do, the less daunting the actual interview should be! Just remember to be truthful and be yourself, because if you’ve made it far enough to get an interview, there must be something about you that makes them think you could be a good medical student. Show them your passion for doing Medicine!
That’s the interview stage! You give your interview and then you’ve got another wait on your hands until you get an offer. Offers to medical school are usually conditional, unless you have achieved A level grades and are usually higher than AAA. If you receive more than one conditional offer, you can choose a firm choice and an insurance choice. For example, if you have two offers, one for A*AA and one for AAA, you could choose to firm the A*AA one and insure the AAA one. So if you miss your A*AA offer by any chance and achieve only AAA, you will still have a place at available.
Just a note for international students that your condition may also include an IELTS score, which is basically an English proficiency test that you don’t have to give before you submit your application, but if it is mentioned as a condition, of course you will have to give it before your results. It’s not a very difficult exam or anything but it’s a good idea to book your test in advance and get it done with when you have the time!
And that’s it! You have your exams and then results day and then you’re off to med school before you know it.
If you missed any of the videos in this series on Applying to Medical School in the UK, click here to watch them. Hope to see you as a medical student in the UK soon, good luck! Feel free to leave me a comment below about any queries you may have.
Research and Work Experience:
Video explaining PBL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzX5dQvI_sw
NHS ‘Choosing a medical school’: https://www.medicalcareers.nhs.uk/considering_medicine/choosing_a_medical_school.aspx
More about the teaching styles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_school_in_the_United_Kingdom#Teaching_methods
Applicant profiles: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=865511
UKCAT and BMAT:
Official UKCAT website: http://www.ukcat.ac.uk/
Official BMAT website: http://www.admissionstestingservice.org/for-test-takers/bmat/
ISC Publications’ UKCAT book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/into-Medical-School-comprehensive-explanations/dp/1905812094
Kogan Page UKCAT book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Master-The-UKCAT-Questions/dp/0749468211
Kaplan course: http://www.kaptest.co.uk/ukcat/course
Explaining the BMAT: http://www.admissionstestingservice.org/for-test-takers/bmat/about-bmat/
BMAT specifications: http://www.admissionstestingservice.org/images/47829-bmat-test-specification.pdf
UCAS guide to writing a personal statement: https://www.ucas.com/ucas/undergraduate/getting-started/when-apply/writing-personal-statement
ISC Publications’ Personal Statement book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Get-into-Medical-School-statement/dp/1905812108
EXTREMELY HELPFUL VIDEO about writing any personal statement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jQ3MJgdkJY
Interviews and Offers:
BEST summary of how to prepare for a medical school interview: http://www.oncourse2ncl.co.uk/5-tips-med-school-interview-success/
Explaining the types of interview:
Understanding the stucture of an MMI:
Tips for MMI (not specific to the UK): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uC-ffaAmasg&list=UUnxeHByQKs8NhOJG-ZgF-Rw
ISC Publications’ book about Medical School Interviews: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Interviews-Questions-Analysed-Includes-Multiple-Mini-Interviews/dp/1905812051
GMC’s Guide to Good Medical Practice: http://www.gmc-uk.org/Good_medical_practice___English_0914.pdf_51527435.pdf
GMC’s GMP in action: http://www.gmc-uk.org/gmpinaction/characters/index.asp (very useful!)
Understanding the structure of the NHS: http://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/nhs-65/alternative-guide-new-nhs-england
Tomorrow’s Doctors: http://www.gmc-uk.org/Tomorrow_s_Doctors_1214.pdf_48905759.pdf
IELTS website: http://www.ielts.org/