Applying to study Medicine is an exciting time for any potential doctor. Sending your UCAS application alone is already a mark of years of hard work and preparation, fantastic academic achievement, extensive work experience and most importantly a commitment to a lifetime of study and progression in one of the most rewarding professions to date.
The application process, however, does not start upon universities receiving your official UCAS profile, but in fact, as soon as you make the decision to become a doctor, and the most important aspect about reducing the pressure associated with such a decision is knowing exactly what needs to be done before the October application deadline. This article should help you not only become organised with application criteria, but should also ease pressure and stress from your initial dream of becoming a doctor through to achieving your final A-level or IB marks.
A question frequently seen spread throughout forums is: “Am I good enough to study Medicine?” First, you must ensure your GCSE and A level, or equivalent accepted, achievements meet the entry criteria for an institution offering the MBBS Medicine course. This does vary somewhat throughout the UK, and you can use the UCAS website to ensure you either already have the required grades, or know which grades you must work towards. In simple terms, if you meet or are expecting to meet the entry criteria, and are enthusiastic enough to commit to preparing your application, you are good enough to study Medicine.
So, what’s next?
Begin building experience, and ensure you get the right experience. Medical schools are interested in something requiring a level of commitment, such as a year volunteering in a care or nursing home one evening a week. Many homes welcome ‘befrienders’ who sit and talk with residents and help with activities such as board games, quizzes, and feeding residents at dinner time.
It is extremely important you do not use this time simply to ‘tick a box’, but to improve communication skills and become more familiar with the types of people that will be your future patients. It is also important to have some level of experience in a clinical setting such as a hospital or general practice to help you really ensure medicine is the right career for you.
The important thing here is to be persistent; email and phone as many healthcare settings as it takes for one to welcome you for a few days. This will not only look fantastic as an extra on your application, personal statement, and as a talking point in interviews, but will also give you more of an idea of how the multidisciplinary team works together and what a day in the eyes of a clinician looks like.
You will then need to look at universities which are appealing to your style of learning. More traditional universities will have little to no patient contact in the first two or three years of your course and be heavily bioscience targeted. Others will place you in clinics as soon as your first year starts.
You will need to attend many open days and find out as much information as possible in order to decide which medical university is best suited to your learning style and what you would like to get out of the medical course. Of course, these schools will have specific admissions tests such as the psychometric ‘11+ style’ UKCAT and the more scientific BMAT.
You will need to take one or both of these, the UKCAT being before the application deadline and the BMAT after. After you send your UCAS to your chosen universities, you may have up to four interviews to prepare for, which can also be incredibly stressful.
So, how am I expected to balance all this whilst needing A*A*A – AAA in A level? How will the application process affect my mental health? Will I have time to do things I enjoy, or do I need to drop them all? These are all questions students ask themselves during this process, and there are many things that can help ease your worries.
Primordially, a potential medical student must be organised. The easiest way of balancing requirements and studies is to make use of summer holidays. For example, the UKCAT can and should be prepared for and taken in the latter part of the summer holiday, and the same goes for university open days.
Furthermore, work experience such as hospital and GP placements can be arranged during the summer (make sure you apply early as spaces fill up fast!). Arranging these key requirements at a time where you need not worry about study is a fantastic way of reducing pressure in the months leading to October, and gives you time to work on your all-important A levels. After your application is sent, it is essential you make a revision schedule with the recommended hours of self-study your course requires, and stick to it. Ensure you keep track of what you have learnt throughout the year and do not ‘cram’ at the end and be sure you reserve a few hours a week for interview preparation.
Can you spare time in your schedule for things you enjoy such as sports and seeing friends? Yes. Should you spare that time? Absolutely! Getting the balance of work and life right at this stage is an essential skill. You will find that your social life can de-stress you and take huge amounts of pressure off your workload, and more information will be retained when you sit down to do work.
Consequently, stress now is not a sign that you cannot be a doctor. If you still feel too much pressure, talk to someone. You may be surprised at how much help and support your friends, family and teachers can offer. Medicine is not a sprint, it is a marathon. If you are enthusiastic enough to commit to the work load and can attempt to de-stress whilst doing so, you are already on the right track to becoming the best doctor you can be.
By Max F, Maths, Science, English and Medical tutor in London