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Choosing Medicine as a Career

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Medicine is an extremely competitive degree course: there are about 19,000 applications for 7000 places in 31 medical schools.Very few offers will be for less than AAB - realistically you will need to be predicted AAA/AAAA to stand a good chance. In addition, you will need at least 6 A/A* at GCSE.

As well as A-Levels, medical schools may require you to sit an entrance examination to test your suitability for medicine. It is absolutely crucial you find out details well in advance as some medical schools require you to register and complete the examination by a certain date. Although the UKCAT is now applicable for entry to most medical schools, some medical schools use the BMAT. Don’t make the mistake of believing that you cannot revise for these as this is untrue - by completing practice papers for the UKCAT, BMAT and GAMSAT tests you will ensure that you know exactly what is coming. Being unprepared is the single biggest reason why candidates for medical school fail. You can get hold of guides which explain the thinking behind the tests and include sample questions for you to try, so it’s well worth your while preparing yourself as much as possible with these. Make sure you know which tests you need to take for your particular university applications.

Choosing a Medical School

When choosing a Medical School (or any other University), you need to consider a number of things in addition to the academic side:

• How far away is it from where you live?
• Will it be time- consuming/expensive/tedious for you or your parents and friends to travel back and forth?
• Is it in a large city or a small one, or is it relatively rural? Which do you prefer?
• What is the accommodation like?
• How near to the University is it?
• What are the criteria for being accommodated?
• How expensive is it to live there?
 
The structure and teaching style of a medical degree varies between institutions. Candidates have been rejected by medical schools in the past because the interview panel felt the study style of the particular course would not suit them. It is therefore important to do your research. You might want to consider the following:

Learning and Teaching Styles

Some courses are lecture and tutorial based whilst others may incorporate problem based learning. Oxford and Cambridge follow traditional academic courses where patient contact does not occur until the clinical course, after three years. Since neither school has a large teaching hospital most students receive their clinical training elsewhere, often in London.

All other medical schools have moved to an integrated type of course where patient contact is established right from the beginning. A further distinction is between systems-based courses that teach medicine in terms of the body’s systems e.g. the cardiovascular system, and the more traditional subject-based courses that teach in terms of the fundamental subjects such as anatomy or biochemistry.  

Some courses offer opportunities for an intercalated BSc and for electives.  The intercalated BSc scheme allows students to tack one further year of study on to the end of the two-year pre-clinical course.  Successful completion of this year, which may be used to study a wide variety of subjects, confers a BSc degree.  Electives are periods of work experience away from the medical school - in some cases abroad.

These are matters of personal preference so you should consult the prospectuses to find out the type of course that is being offered. How do you feel you are suited to the particular course? Visiting a medical school open day will give you a chance to discuss teaching styles with tutors and current students.

If you are still thinking of applying for this course, then, here are a few tips:

Lots and lots of work experience
In a hospital; not just shadowing a doctor, but maybe spending some time shadowing other staff, such as nurses or lab staff. Support roles including; hospital receptionist/porter, care homes, auxiliary nursing, healthcare assistant roles. Some hospitals have work experience/volunteering schemes. Talk to clinicians and healthcare staff. Learn to appreciate everything that all the team do; take notes! They prove useful in interview.

Part time work
Not necessarily in a healthcare setting. Roles that involve dealing with people in stressful situations, communicating with a range of people, working as part of a close team.

Sources of work experience

NHS jobs website: www.jobs.nhs.uk
Health care recruitment agencies: www.apex-nursing.co.uk , www.firstpointhealthcare.com , www.advantagehealthcare.com
Red Cross: www.redcross.org.uk
Hospices: www.hospicevolunteering.info
St John's Ambulance: www.sja.org.uk/sja/volunteer
Do-it.org, A volunteering website searchable by postcode: www.do-it.org

Personal Statement
Your personal statement is absolutely critical in the selection process. Above all, you should use it to demonstrate your passion for and commitment to studying medicine, together with your motivation and ability to deal with stress.

Why do you want to be a doctor?
This is the first question that interviewers will ask. The answer should also form the first sentence/paragraph of your UCAS personal statement. Try and think why you want to be one - not just the old 'I want to help people' answer; 9 times out of 10 you will face the retort of, 'So why don't you become a nurse then?' This is probably the most difficult question as, of course, the answer is totally individual.

Commitment to medicine
Remember to include how this interest developed. Make sure the things that you claim interested you in medicine show a realistic picture of the profession. How have you followed up this interest?

Experience
Detail the tasks that you have undertaken. Hands-on experience is better than simply observing, even if the tasks were very basic. What did you learn about the caring profession and about yourself? What did you learn about patient care? Keep this realistic. You will most likely have seen a number of different health care teams in action. What do you understand about multidisciplinary teams?

Also include any shadowing experience. Insight and reflection is again important here. Have an awareness of the pace and pressures of life as a doctor. How do doctors build relationships with their patients? Again, how have you built on this experience?

What skills can you bring from other work/extracurricular experience? Interests show that you are a rounded individual and have a good work-life balance.

Team sports and other posts - Medical schools love reading about your participation in team sports, orchestras, or previous posts that you have held. This is so that you appreciate that medicine is not an isolationist career, but is very much a team career. The theory is that being in team sports or heading a team shows that you appreciate that.

Art, reading and other hobbies - This is to show that you have methods of relaxing to cope with stress. The doctor is the very definition of stress; otherwise how can one cope with being on call for 36 hours?
 
Interviews
You will usually be called for an interview; interview structure varies between medical schools. All will expect you to cover your motivation for medicine, your commitment, your previous caring experience and your ability to reason around an ethical/social issue.   

They also look for some knowledge of current affairs and new medicine. - Take clippings from newspapers about the latest developments in medicine, and try to understand them - what the treatment is for, who it will benefit, a little of the science behind it. For current affairs, at least keep abreast of the headlines.

Remember that admissions tutors are interviewing applicants not just for a degree course but for a career. Training a doctor costs £150,000 so institutions want the kind of people who will make a success of the course and who will stay in the profession.
 
You can only choose 4 medical schools - The reason behind this is to prevent oversubscription of places. You can, however, apply for one other closely related subject such as biomedical science. 

Useful Reading
UCAS "Getting in to Medical School”

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