You want to be a doctor? Amazing! Just one problem, you need to get into Medical school.
“But Strange Article Writer,” I hear you cry, “I have absolutely no clue where to start with that!” Worry not aspiring medic. Here is a basic, seven step break down of the UK university application process for Medicine.
Medicine is a very competitive degree and has a limited number of places available per year. Because of this, universities have strict criteria for suitable A-levels for the course. Different universities have specifics, but they all land somewhere around requiring two science A levels with chemistry and/or biology + one other A level.
It’s harder to get into Medicine if you’re resitting A levels without mitigating circumstances. Although some universities will now accept these applicants, it may require higher grade boundaries.
P.S. The combination of Chemistry and Biology at A-level is not required by all medical schools, but it is required by most.
P.P.S. If those grade requirements seem a little steep for you, many universities offer reduced entry requirements (around BBB-AAA) for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. For more information,try our medical school calculator to see if you’re eligible.
Step 2: Work Experience and Volunteering
Timeframe: ASAP (usually Year 12 -13 but the sooner the better)
Work experience is spending time in a clinical setting, usually with a doctor, to gather insight into what a doctor does day to day. Volunteering is a service you provide for free to help someone (i.e. a charity, a vulnerable person etc.).
It can be really hard to get any relevant clinical placements, either in GPs or hospitals, particularly during the current pandemic. There are a number of good services that are out there that can give you virtual work experience and can give you insight into what being a doctor is like. Examples of these include: Observe GP, BSMS virtual work experience.
Some NHS trusts are starting to open up their work experience opportunities again and our advice is to use any connections to try to muscle your way in. Ask family/friends who work in healthcare to help you. Send letters to as many GPs as you can. Your school may be able to help so ask your teachers.
If you can’t get any formal opportunities to shadow a doctor then don’t worry too much. All universities don’t have a formal requirement for shadowing. Instead, they want you to show some understanding of what a medical career entails. This usually means volunteering/getting a job in anything that’s Medicine adjacent. For example, volunteering in the local care home, or joining St John’s ambulance and training in first aid. Try to use your volunteering to gain experiences you can talk about at the interview.
Step 3: UCAT
Timeframe: April – September (summer holiday between Year 12-13)
The UCAT is unlike anything you’ve previously prepped for in your academic life. The concept is to assess skills that common to a medical career (verbal reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning and situational judgement). Think of it like a Doctor IQ test.
It is required by most medical schools (some use BMAT, see the next section) but different universities weigh it with greater or lesser importance. The main thing is to start preparing well in advance before you sit your exam.
Quick note: There is a charge to take the UCAT, between £55-80 but you can apply for a bursary to sit it for free. Here’s the criteria for bursary from UCAT’s website. There is also the UCATSEN for those with special educational needs (e.g. dyslexia) which can give you extra time and rest breaks.
Step 4: BMAT
Timeframe: September or November of Year 13
The BMAT is an alternative type of medical assessment that some universities use instead of the UCAT. It’s more academic than the UCAT and roughly covers ‘GCSE’ Physics, Biology, chemistry and Maths (although it’s closer to A-level standard). You are assessed in 3 sections over 2 hours:
Section 1: Problem solving, understanding arguments, data analysis etc. Multiple choice, 60 mins
Section 2: Tests your scientific knowledge and mathematical ability. Multiple choice, 30 mins
Section 3: Your choice of an essay question from three, lasting 30 minutes
As of 2021, there are 8 universities that use the BMAT: Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, UCL, Keele, Leeds, Brighton and Sussex, and Lancaster. Generally, you only do the BMAT if you want to apply to these medical schools specifically. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of extra effort.
Step 5: UCAS and Personal Statement
Timeline: Deadline is Year 13, October 15th
People often get intimidated by UCAS and personal statements, but it’s generally one of the less weighted aspects of your application to Medicine. UCAS itself is the centralised system all universities in the UK use to standardise the applications they receive. You can apply to up to 5 universities, but only 4 of them can be to Medicine courses.
Most of the UCAS process is filling in your personal details and picking your universities. The personal statement is the bit that everyone hates. The most important thing about your personal statement is that it’s personal. It needs to reflect your own journey to Medicine and why you’re passionate about it. Use all the experiences you’ve had on your application journey as evidence.
You should never lie in your personal statement, because universities will read your personal statement before your interview and ask you specific questions on it. You don’t want to be caught out. Using the PEEL paragraph structure (point, evidence, explain, link) is a is a method of reflective writing and is a useful way to be succinct whilst reflecting on your experiences. You only have 40 lines and 4000 characters.
Step 6: Thinking About Which Universities
Youcan only apply to 4 medical schools in one academic year.
If you are basing your university choices on your application profile then step one is removing any universities where youdon’t meet the entrance criteria. Next, each university weighs the different areas of the application with varying levels of importance, i.e. some may weigh UCAT more heavily, or others your GCSE results. You should apply to medical schools who weigh the strengths of your application the most highly. It can be hard to find exactly what the universities entrance policies are.
Our calculator should be able to help but if in doubt and you can’t find anything online, there is usually a contact form or an admission office email address which you can use to get in contact with medical schools and it’s worth dropping them an email.
There are plenty of other aspects you may want to consider when applying to university; location, the campus, or course structure. All in all, it can feel really overwhelming. Our advice is to read official university guidance, try to attend open days (don’t forget, there are often travel bursaries) and start thinking about this as early as possible into your application.
Step 7: Interview
Timeline: November-March/April Year 13
The interview can be the most daunting aspect to a prospective medical student, but it’s just a chance for you to show off. There’re two types of medical school interviews:
The Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) is the most common and is a series of around 6-12 stations, each with an individual interviewer with specific questions
The traditional (AKA panel) interview is where the interviewee is assessed by a panel of interviewers asking a variety of questions in one longer session.
Both usually last around an hour.
Interviews are the hardest area to give advice on because you have to tread the line of being prepared for the common questions, while also not sounding robotic. It’s also down to how you express yourself as an individual. Ultimately, the most important thing is to be your authentic self. You have to be a pretty motivated person to make it this far through an application process for a five/six-year degree course. Show that to the interviewer and everything will be fine.