1.1 Applying to medical school - Introduction

Medicine is a highly competitive course. In 2015, UCAS recorded more than 10 applicants per place for medicine, compared to a higher education average of 5. Despite this, thousands of students succeed in their applications every year, and you can too! Stay focused, plan ahead and make sure you do your homework. The first and most important stage is deciding whether medicine is the right choice for you.

Who gets into medical school?

A huge variety of people get into and excel at medical school. Consider the huge variation in personality and background of doctors, and it is clear that no one stereotypical candidate that will succeed. The best advice is to demonstrate your research and realistic understanding of modern medicine and of life as a medical student and doctor. Demonstrate how your personality is suited to develop into a great young doctor, and show your enthusiasm and commitment towards succeeding in this goal.

One of the topics that will always come up in interviews is what your best qualities and what your flaws are. Consider how you could improve or better yourself. Be prepared to do some self-analysis. Take time to consider how you can grow and develop and what features of your personality, like a caring nature or a perfectionist attitude may at times make life as a doctor a challenge. An example being when you cannot help someone any further, or cannot fully relieve someone from pain. These are not true ‘flaws’ that criticise you as a person, but instead they highlight your ability to self analyse and show an awareness of the reality of being a doctor working within modern limitations.

A mature, committed and realistic candidate is the one who is most likely to succeed. Remember that the interviewers aren’t looking for a superhero but they do need to see enthusiasm, understanding and analytical intelligence.

Anne – Cardiff University
“I found that my work experience was the most useful in allowing me to get to know myself; how I respond to novel situations and whether my personality was suited to a career in medicine, by observing the ups and downs in a doctor’s day at work.”

James – University of Bristol
“However much or little you understand during your work experience, it is worth remembering that just being in that environment and observing health professionals communicate and face medical challenges is immensely useful. Try to get a variety of work experience in hospitals, in the community and through volunteering. You will then be in the best position to think carefully about whether it is the best choice for you. "

How do I know if medicine is for me?

We all have an impression of what being a medical student or doctor is like. No matter how well informed your impression, there’s always more research that you can do to confirm that you’re making the right choice.

  • Open days: Speak to current students, Make sure your reasons are sensible, honest and specific to a medical career.
  • Work experience: Spend time with clinical staff asking them questions you feel are important to gain some insight on and observe their day to day roles. Can you imagine yourself in their position? What is your motivation to pursue a career in medicine?

If you’re finding it tricky to get lots of work experience then have a look at our work experience guide, you need not just apply to hospitals or GPs; think about volunteering with St John’s ambulance, local charities or nursing homes. If you can’t get any contact time with a doctor, then ask your local doctor if they might be able to meet with you for 15 minutes to talk more about their job. Prepare a list of questions and with a focused discussion you should be able to get a lot of insight in a short space of time.

Ollie – UCL economics student
“I always thought I wanted to do medicine, since my parents were doctors themselves. However I did a two week shadowing placement with several different doctors, and I soon realised that the sight of blood was a no go! From then on – I didn’t look back, and am now a student in economics.”

Tom – Leicester Medical student
“I was one of those people who had been exposed to medicine from a young age, as my father is a doctor. I spent many hours shadowing him in his GP practice which made me realise it was the career path that would suit me best, with its unique blend of science and people skills.”

It is not all roses in medicine, and there may be times where you question whether you want to remain a doctor or medical student. However, medical schools have to be able to satisfy themselves that you understand the pros and cons of being a doctor and that throughout the process, that you are not only able to succeed as a medical student but also as a doctor, and able to cope with the realities of being a doctor.

Positives of being a doctor:

  • Respect: Doctors are well respected amongst all professions
  • Satisfaction: Using your knowledge to directly help someone and be responsible for their care
  • Knowledge: Understanding the workings of the human body
  • Salary: Reasonably well paid
  • Job security: Opportunities to move abroad or change specialities

Negatives of being a doctor:

  • Exams: Stress of examinations which can be non-stop until you are a consultant
  • Stress: Responsibilities can be overwhelming – especially when there are lots of them, some of which can potentially be life threatening
  • Workload: Hard work, long unsociable hours
  • Transfer: Requirement of moving around to different hospitals during training

Would you make a good doctor?

“Doctors have the enormous privilege of touching and changing lives. Through all the changes driven by research and public expectations, some of the art and science of medicine has endured down the ages and defines medicine as a profession.” Sir Peter Rubin – GMC Chair

Medicine is such a wide ranging field with diverse skillsets and knowledge base that almost everyone can fit into a particular branch of medicine, no matter their background. However there are characteristics common to all good doctors:

  • Caring: Being approachable, treating patients as human beings rather than solely as a symptom or collection of symptoms
  • Communicator: Takes time to listen and communicate honestly and effectively with patients, relatives, staff teams, managers and peers pitched at the appropriate level whilst putting everyone at ease
  • Teamplayer: Respect for everyone’s capabilities and their contribution to the team
  • Academic: Being competent, having technical skills, knowledgeable using evidence-based practice
  • Leader: Inspiring, confident about their standards and stands firm to uphold their and the team’s values and beliefs
  • Teacher: Learns and teaches without fear of humiliation, leads and trains the team as a team

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