Medical school requirements and selection process explained.
Estimated reading time ≈ 7 minutes
Did you know that only around 25% of medicine applicants are successful? In this article, you'll learn how to:
'There are students who would make brilliant doctors but feel in the dark about what they need in order to apply... may never have considered their talent for medicine... Medical schools want to find the best candidates and believe they can come from any background.'
- Dr Paul Garrud, Chair of Medical Schools Council Selection Alliance
So you’re thinking about becoming a doctor. You vividly imagine helping people and doing a meaningful job, but do you know what the medical path looks like? It’s not a straightforward decision, so you should do your research properly before committing to going down this route.
For instance, you should check the academic requirements, as you will likely need AAA grades. You will also need to build evidence of your dedication to becoming a doctor well in advance of when you apply.
Finally, ask yourself if you have the determination and commitment for many years of challenging learning.
To help you answer this question, we have created an empathy test for medical students. A doctor’s role is not limited to technical diagnosis and treatment of a disease, but looking after patients’ overall health and wellbeing in a caring manner.
Medical schools will look for evidence of empathy during your interview and in your personal statement. Don’t be dismayed if you don't think you are a particularly empathetic person. Research has shown that empathy is not a fixed quality, and can be developed.
One of the main distinctions is sympathy vs empathy, so make sure you know the difference!
There aren’t many places at medical schools in the UK, around 7,000 per 24,000 applicants, making it one of the most competitive courses out there.
After 5 - 6 years in medical school, you will undertake an internship, as well as spending up to 8 years in further training depending on your chosen speciality.
This can be reduced to 4 years of study, plus further training for accelerated graduate programmes.
The annual tuition fee for medicine is £9,250. This full amount can be covered by the UK government in the form of a tuition fee loan, but this only applies to domestic students.
Buckingham University is the exception to the rule. It is a private medical school that charges £38,000 a year with no government subsidy.
The medical schools council lists 42 medical schools in the UK. Five new medical schools will open in the UK in a move designed to ease the shortage of trained medics in the country. The aim is to train enough doctors by 2025.
Due to the competitiveness of medical schools, just getting in is a massive achievement.
You can choose a maximum of four on your UCAS application, and you have one extra choice to apply for another subject.
Some universities permit you to write a separate personal statement for your fifth choice, but most don't. Because of this, students typically choose science-related subjects.
Each university has its own requirements, but broadly speaking you need to:
Every aspect of your application process is covered by Medify's courses. Our team of medical experts has created a platform to take the stress out of the medical application process. You can find everything from personal statement assistance and work placements to UCAT and BMAT preparation.
Andrea, from University of Aberdeen, told us:
‘My choice of science-heavy subjects for my A-levels were driven by my decision to pursue a career in medicine. I volunteered to teach English to child refugees during my AS year and followed it up with work experience on a busy labour ward during the summer holidays between AS and A2.’
Volunteering is great for demonstrating empathy and picking up a range of skills to talk about at interview. Whilst it is not mandatory, like work experience, it can strengthen your application.
Make no mistake, to be a doctor you need to excel academically. One way to achieve academic success is to spend time working on your actual study skills - not just learning the syllabus, but learning how to learn.
Take a deep dive into the specific requirements for medical school.
Sally Pickin, a GP in training, described how she opened her A-level results to discover 3 As and 2 Bs. For many, these would be considered good grades, but for Sally, the B grade in Biology meant she had failed to get into the University of Bristol to study medicine.
Sally went through clearing and studied Biomedical Science at the University of Sheffield, the closest subject to medicine she could find.
'I felt numb,' she described, saying people described her at university as a 'failed medic'.
This setback was not the end for Sally. She graduated with first class honours, which got her a place to study graduate entry medicine at the University of Bristol the following year.
'I can see that the failure I experienced all those years ago, and the unknown situation it forced me into, enabled me to build resilience – the kind that is vital to work as a doctor under pressure in our NHS.'
The UCAT and/or BMAT are yet another hurdle to getting into medical school. These exams test more than just academic skills, but are an overall assessment of your suitability for medicine.
Getting exposure to real-life medical situations is necessary for medical school applicants. This can be a major roadblock. You may not have connections in the medical industry and could be left at a disadvantage.
At Medify, we are committed to widening access to medical education, to help you get into medical school regardless of your background or connections. Check out our Work Experience App to help you get those all-important glimpses into life as a doctor.
Some universities have specific requirements, so please check with your chosen universities before applying for work experience.
Useful articles on work experience:
You don’t have to choose just between being a GP in a local surgery, or a surgeon. There are an incredible number of specialties within medicine. Do you have a specific interest in an area of medicine? You don’t need to figure it out now, but perhaps you’re considering one of the following areas of expertise:
Being well-rounded isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have. Good grades are fundamental, but so is showing that you can handle one of the toughest careers out there. When it comes to choosing activities, it’s best to select them strategically. The Times Higher Education recommends that you ‘transfer your skills to medicine’.
What does that mean? Not just looking for new medically-relevant skills, but finding out what you’ve done already that will help your application. If your hobbies include working in a team, or communicating with a range of people, these are just the skills universities are looking for.
You will need to write a 4,000-word personal statement as part of your UCAS application. We go into serious depth on this topic in our personal statement article, but here are some general tips:
Medify’s Personal Statement Course can help you to complete a ready-to-submit personal statement in just three days. You’ll be guided by admissions experts on how to frame your experiences and demonstrate your suitability for medicine or dentistry. You’ll also get access to over 100 personal statement examples.
One of the major purposes of the interview is to assess your stress response. Unexpected questions are to be expected, as the admissions team wants to see how you cope under this pressure.
It is absolutely essential to come prepared. Various techniques and problem-solving strategies will be required, and your logical thinking will be tested. Ever heard of the P.E.E approach? What about S.T.A.R or I.P.A.R? These are the tools that can make you stand out from the rest.
Medify’s UK Interviews Online Course provides everything you need to excel in your medical school interview. Prepare at your own pace with in-depth tutorials, authentic example video responses from real students, and an extensive Knowledge Bank for just £25.
Prepare for your UCAS reference in advance. Here are some of the ways:
There is more than one way to get in. Not everyone studies medicine straight after school, at 18 years old. You can opt for graduate entry medicine after your first degree.
Strong grades, a good admissions test score, a great personal statement and an interview are all important. You can also consider taking a gap year and applying again, as well as studying medicine overseas.
The applicants to places ratio is around 1:4. This means medical school admission is extremely competitive. Most students who apply have already got very high grades and have achieved most of the medical school requirements before considering their application.
If you don’t feel you are ready for a medicine degree after school, broaden your knowledge with another degree, before committing yourself to medicine. You will need top grades in your first degree. Learn more about graduate entry medicine.
It can take up to 15 years to become a fully trained specialist, depending on your speciality. However, after four to six years of your medical degree, you start earning an income as a junior doctor.
Sometimes, medical schools may not consider applicants who are younger than 18 at the beginning of their medical degree. This is because there may be legal and practical difficulties in arranging placements in the NHS.
However, there is no upper age limit for you to study medicine, according to the Medical Schools Council.
A lot of people wonder if it’s too late to start medical school once you’re 30+ and whether they’ll be surrounded by younger applicants and disadvantaged in their career.
If you’re a mature candidate, don’t worry – your age won’t hold you back. In fact, bringing a plethora of experiences can only be beneficial for a field like medicine, where traits like communication and empathy that develop with time are required and celebrated.
You will not only thrive as a doctor, but also contribute to the diversity of your cohort to enrich the learning experience.
As for starting medical school at 50+, there’s nothing stopping you from going for your dreams, but you do have to consider some practicalities.
Medical doctors retire at an average age of 59 in the UK. Therefore, if you start medical school at 50+ and graduate in your mid-50s, there may not be much time left to complete further training and practise as an established doctor at a full capacity.