Choosing a Medical School: Introduction
Does it matter where I go to study?
The application process can be a stressful, nerve-wracking time; so make sure you’ve thought clearly about your decision and which schools you are most suited to.
There are 33 medical schools in the UK, and they are fairly evenly spread throughout the country. They vary considerably in their approach to teaching medicine over the course of the 5 years, but each will award you with an MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) upon passing all years successfully. Many offer an extra year of intercalation, too, which provides a Bachelor of Science (BSc) or a Bachelor of Arts (BA) upon completion. It is worth noting that for Oxford and Cambridge, University College London and Imperial College London, this BSc/BA year is compulsory.
Choosing the right medical school is an important decision – it is where you will spend the next 5 or 6 years of your life and gain the skills needed to be a successful young doctor.
All medical schools offer high-quality teaching and produce excellent doctors. All medical schools teach slightly differently, but all must adhere to standards set by the General Medical Council (GMC), so that you meet minimum requirements when you graduate. Getting into a well-known university certainly gives you more resources and opportunities. However, wherever you study, whether you take opportunities that are offered is your choice. So while the medical school you choose may help your career, the most important factor in determining what you do as a doctor is you.
Does my medical school/degree determine my future medical career?
Where you go to medical school will not affect your application for a junior doctor’s post when you finish your degree. The application for your first job as a doctor will be an online process and depend upon four factors. These are:
- your ranking within your medical school (classified in deciles among your peers)
- your academic achievements, which include points for additional degrees or publications
- a reference from a tutor at your medical school
- the scores of a situational judgement test (SJT)
Therefore, focus on applying to medical schools that you love and hope to thrive at, rather than making a selection based on how good you think one medical school is compared to another.
Because of the ranking system, at an academically rigorous university you would need better grades to get a good ranking than at a less academically rigorous institution.
The different degree classifications from medical school (i.e. MB BChir/MBBS/MB ChB) are all equivalent.
What are the minimum grade requirements?
The first and most important thing to consider is the entry requirements of each medical school. This may sound counterintuitive but there is no choosing a medical school the requirements of which you cannot meet. Establish your options and then thoroughly research the best choices for you.
Although entry to any medical school is tough, some are more focused on academic achievement than others. Some place weight on the results of admissions tests like the UKCAT, some take more account of the personal statement and others consider the overall impression they have of you as a person.
It is very unlikely that a medical school will make an exception for an application that fails to meet one of their minimum entry criteria, regardless of how good the application is in other ways. An important part of medicine is knowing your own strengths and weakness and playing to them, starting with your application. As the process is competitive you have to be smart in order to succeed: this means doing your research and making logical decisions about your application choices.
Be ambitious: it is worth applying to your dream medical school as long as you meet their minimum requirements. However, ensure that you have other, well-researched options, which are places with requirements and values that match you and your application.
Remember that there is no medical school that is universally easier to get into than others, but there may be some that you stand a higher chance of getting into based on your personal strengths.
Once you know which courses you meet the minimum requirements for, you can delve deeper into each course and its medical school. There are many factors for you to take into consideration. A good starting point is reading online prospectuses or, even better, attending an open day.
The entry requirements for universities vary from year to year. But note, chemistry A level is compulsory for most universities, along with a second science subject (maths, biology or physics).