Getting into Medical School
The sense of joy and achievement that I felt on learning of my acceptance to my first-choice medical school, The University of Nottingham in 2014 was immense and unrivaled up to that moment. However, this has since been followed by other similarly intensely satisfying experiences during my time as a medical student such as helping to deliver babies, getting to assist in surgeries, putting in my first cannula, getting involved in research projects and witnessing patients being told that their cancer has been cured. Although being a medical student is indeed hard-work, stressful and tiring at times, every day I feel extremely fortunate and incredibly glad that I made the choice that I did.
I took a non-traditional route into medicine via the graduate-entry programme having first studied an English Literature degree. To do this, I sat the GAMSAT entrance exam and attended MMIs (multi mini interviews) at four different medical schools. This was a considerable undertaking that required a great deal of effort and preparation. In addition to this, I also spent time gathering valuable work experience and writing a personal statement.
When I tell people about my background before medicine they often raise their eyebrows and say ‘English Literature! That’s quite a change. What made you decide to go into medicine?’. I think it was because I have always loved communicating with people and have a real interest in them coupled with a genuine desire to help. Also, I came to realise through both my work experience shadowing doctors and reading into the subject, that a career in medicine offered the kind of mental stimulation and challenges that I would enjoy and thrive upon. I discovered that medicine truly is a uniquely fulfilling profession.
I would encourage anyone who is passionate about a medical career to apply even if you feel uncertain, or under-confident about your skills. Seek out people who are able to advise and inspire you, whether that is people in the medical profession, or other supportive individuals who are able to offer you constructive feedback on things such as personal statement and interview techniques.
For many people, even the brightest and most talented, getting a place at medical school can be a long and arduous journey that may involve many setbacks. However, with perseverance and the right amount of preparation and planning you can reach your goal. Ensure that you tailor your application to suit your strengths; a good idea may be to use a book such as Getting into Medical School 2018 Entry (2017) to help guide you in this respect.
I have written a few simple tips below pertaining to interview skills and work experience that helped me along the way; I hope that they are useful.
Again, preparation is key – even if you are blessed with naturally good communication skills, developing and adapting these to the specific requirements of the medical school interview is very important.
A good place to start is by thinking about the commonly asked questions such as ‘Why do you want to be a doctor?’ and ‘Why this medical school?’. Try to be unique and individual in your response and practice these where possible to people who are able to offer you feedback. The practice you have gained answering these kinds of questions will instill you with confidence on the day of your interview, even if you are feeling nervous.
It is highly likely that you will be asked a number of ethical questions during your interview and knowing about the four key principles of medical ethics will enable you to respond to these kinds of questions in a structured and logical manner. I used a book called Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction (2004) which summarizes the main ethical topics and scenarios covered in the medical school interview succinctly. I was asked questions on topics such as euthanasia, stem-cell treatment and patient confidentiality at my interviews.
I would also recommend trying to keep up to date with medical developments and news. At all of my interviews I was asked to talk about recent developments in medicine that interested me and this is a great opportunity to demonstrate your enthusiasm for medicine. The BBC News – Health website (www.bbc.co.uk/news/health) is a free, accessible website that provides a good starting point.
Role-playing scenarios are also very often used by medical schools to test a candidate’s ability to communicate and empathise with others. You may be asked to break some bad news; this may not necessarily be within the context of medicine, for example I was asked to break the bad news to a friend that I had lost their pet whilst they were away on holiday. Interviewers are looking for someone who can empathise, listen and accept responsibility for their mistakes.
Finally, it is very important to be mindful of non-verbal communication skills such as smiling, handshaking, eye contact and body language. It is very easy when you are feeling nervous to neglect to do these things, but the interviewer will certainly take note.
Work experience is incredibly important when applying to medical school both via the undergraduate and graduate route alike. Many people worry about the quantity of their work experience, however, although it is great to be able to get as much relevant work experience as possible, it is what you learnt from this which is most important, as this is what you will be expected to discuss in your personal statement and at interview. I was very fortunate in that I managed to accrue a fair amount of work experience in the form of employment as a healthcare assistant in a hospital, volunteering in a hospice, shadowing a number of hospital doctors and spending time in a GP practice.
I would recommend volunteering as a great place to start as not only is this an intrinsically admirable and very satisfying activity, it is relatively easy to arrange. Contact your local hospital volunteer department, hospice or care home early in the application process as it may take time to undergo CRB checking.
Doctor shadowing in a hospital or GP surgery is sometimes more difficult to organise, so don’t be disheartened if an opportunity does not immediately present itself. Some hospitals now have shadowing programmes for candidates to apply to, or you can try contacting doctors’ secretaries who are often very busy people so this may require numerous attempts. There is also much to learn from spending time with other kinds of healthcare professionals – nurses, physiotherapists etc. Indeed, a common attribute looked for by interviewers is an appreciation of multidisciplinary team working so this kind of work experience will stand you in good stead.
(Clinical Phase 2 medical student at The University of Nottingham)
Barton, James. Getting into Medical School 2018 Entry. 1st ed. [S.l.]: Trotman Education, 2017. Print.
“Health.” BBC News. BBC. (n.d.) Retrieved from www.bbc.co.uk/news/health
Hope, Tony. Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.