By Helen Lami, managing director, Academic Summer
If you're about to click send on your application to study medicine you're in good company. Since the Government boosted the number of places available to study to be a doctor in 2018, applications have soared. 22,340 applied last year, up 7% on 2017.
But with still only 7,400 places available, this means just one in three of those hopeful applicants made it to their first day as trainee doctors last month. It's a competitive business, which makes it even more important that you prepare for this application process well. You, your family, friends and teachers might think you'd make a fantastic doctor but you'll only get the chance to prove it if you can secure one of those sought-after places.
With the deadline for 2020 entry only days away (15 October), it's likely that you are a good way through that process already. You've probably spent months refining your shortlist of four universities, and will have completed your UCAT(previously UKCAT) and/orBMAT tests. But finalising your UCAS application and those all-important interviews and assessment days (depending on which uni you have applied to) are still ahead of you. This is the point that applicants frequently trip up on, so I've got four tips to help keep you in with a chance:
Be strategic about your uni choice
Each of the UK's 33 medical schools have different cultures and entry requirements so it takes some careful thought as to which is going to suit you the best. It obviously makes sense to take the long view with this decision and assess which place suits you and your interests, lifestyle and circumstances.
But it's worth also thinking tactically about maximising your chances of being awarded a place. You'll know by now how well you did on the UCAT and BMAT aptitude tests. Different colleges place different weights on those test results and if your results were lower than you'd hoped it's worth thinking about which colleges might still welcome you given the results you have.
It might be disappointing to cross your first choice of uni off your shortlist at this stage, but surely a bit of realism at this point is worth it if it means you can still secure a place somewhere else.
Alternatively, you might decide that you could do better on the test and defer your application until next year. You could even use the time to secure some more volunteering work, raising your chances of success.
You are so much more than your grades – so prove it
Part of the UCAS application (probably the part you did first, quickly) is simply documenting facts about yourself – your personal details and the history of your education. Obviously you need to get this right, without errors, as a basic. But the part that is going to make the difference between getting or not getting your place is the personal statement.
This is where you go beyond showing what you've achieved academically, and communicate your character. Tutors want to see that you have the potential to be a doctor, that you have some essential qualities like being a good communicatorand having the ability to work well in a team. The best way to be able to demonstrate this is by referring to leisure and work activities – sports teams perhaps, hobbies, holiday jobs as well as any relevant volunteer work you have completed in the healthcare sector. But don't just list it and hope this speaks for itself. You need to explain in detail, giving some scenarios when you developed these qualities/skills. Your personal statement needs to sounds inspiring – this is your chance to really sell yourself and convince the tutors why they should believe that you could be a good doctor.
See the interview as an opportunity
Interviews can be nerve-wracking for many, but they are also a great opportunity to show the tutors what you're really made of. To fend off anxiety try visualising success – imagine yourself walking into the room, sitting down and talking confidently.
To help yourself, do plenty of research about what the particular university will be expecting of you. They all have differing requirements; some will just want a single meeting, others will expect you to attend a second or even a series of mini-interviews. Some students will be going to their first interview within the next few weeks, others won't happen until next March.
You'll be asked to expand on aspects of your personal statement so be ready to offer extra examples of whatever you have said about yourself. They'll also probably want to grill you on your academic and problem-solving abilities. But the area of questioning that catches most candidates off-guard is knowledge of the health services. My best advice is to spend the weeks and months before your interview regularly reading publications like the British Medical Journal to get clued up on the latest trends. Talking to people who work in the NHS will also be valuable – for their insight but also to be able to show your efforts to network.
Finally, consider asking your teachers to help you and any other students applying to medical school by running mock interviews – the Medical Schools Council publishes this helpful guide to running them.
Draw on your work experience
Writing and talking about your work experience is a key part of the application process for studying to become a doctor. You'll be expected to reflect carefully on what you did, what you observed others doing and what you learned as a result. Tutors want to hear that you have the ability to think back over your experiences and reflect objectively about your part in something – a key skill for medical staff.
So keep a diary during work experience and make it easier for yourself at interview stage by reflecting as you go. That way, you'll only have to read over your notes before the interview. If you didn't do this while you were doing your work experience you'll need to put aside some time before the interview to think through (and preferably write up) what you learned. It doesn't need to be rocket science – it just needs to prove you are capable of thinking about your actions.
Finally, don't forget to pore over the online guides published by the universities you are applying to, as well as the Medical Schools Council (the representative body for Medical Schools) , to find out the specific requirements for each application process.
It's worth bearing in mind that the tutors want you to succeed – the UK needs its next generation of doctors. With the right preparation you have every chance of being one of them.
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