Studying medicine in the UK is known to be tough. The journey to get there, however, is arguably tougher according to many medical students. In fact, only 15.6 percent of applicants secured a place in 2022, according to The Sunday Times, with The Guardian branding it the ‘hardest year on record to get into medicine’.
However the pathway to medicine can be made considerably less stressful and somewhat easier if you have good organisation and knowledge which is exactly what this guide aims to give. Disclaimer: it’s important to note that whilst all medical schools are regulated by the General Medical Council and maintain a similar standard, requirements amongst each school will vary.
According to the most recent data, there are currently 44 medical schools in the UK. The Medic Portal website states that whilst universities may set a minimum requirement, most successful applicants will typically achieve grades 7-9 at GCSE. Most medical schools (approximately 28) state that they require at least a grade 6 in English language to apply. The select few medical schools that allow you to apply with a grade 4 currently are Bristol, Exeter and Leeds. Maths has similar requirements with most medical schools stating a grade 6 or above is needed. Whilst it’s preferable to study triple science (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics) at GCSE, around 21 medical schools will still accept dual award science instead.
The majority of universities ask for a minimum of three A’s as a requirement to study medicine. However there a handful of universities that may ask for one or more A’s to be achieved. Examples of such universities include Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford and University College London to name a few. A-level chemistry is expected by virtually all universities in order to study medicine. Whilst it’s still possible to apply for medicine without A-level Biology, it limits the choices available and may mean that you have either Physics or Maths alongside Chemistry instead. For those who choose A-level Biology and Vhemistry (which gives the most flexibility when applying), the third option is almost entirely your choice. Whilst many students tend to choose Maths, it’s perfectly acceptable to opt for subjects like History, Geography, Psychology, or English Language. It’s important to note, however, that universities do not accept General Studies, Critical Thinking, Citizenship Studies or Global Perspectives.
Given the nature of a career in medicine, it’s expected that applicants demonstrate commitment, empathy and selflessness through some sort of long term volunteering. Although most universities don’t necessarily specify a time frame (except Keele who expect 160 hours), the unwritten understanding is that students volunteer for at least six months or beyond. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a hospital, it can be in a charity shop, primary school, care home, anywhere that allows students to demonstrate communication skills and compassion. There are countless charity shops in the UK like Barnardos, Cancer Research UK, and Oxfam, as well as homeless shelters or women’s aid shelters.
Pre-pandemic, obtaining work experience was a lot easier. Now, however, even after COVID-19 has greatly subsided, finding work experience is still difficult. As a result of this most universities have compromised on their requirements of having in-person work experience at a GP clinic or hospital. However, this doesn’t mean that it can be avoided altogether. Students must show that they’re proactive and interested in expanding their experience and knowledge of a career in medicine. With the countless online resources, this is more than achievable. There are many live online work experience programs provided by different organizations like Premed Projects, Medic Launch (who have an immersive Doctor for a Day program) and Medical Projects. For free, pre-recorded options students can visit Observe GP (put together by the Royal College of General Practitioners), or Brighton and Sussexes work experience programme.
The infamous UK Clinical Aptitude Test is an inescapable part of the application process. It’s required by almost all medical schools (except those schools which ask for the BMAT instead). It’s a two hour long test which takes place on a computer in a test centre. There are four sections which are each graded out of 900 and then a further fifth section which places you in one of four bands with one being the best and four being the worst. Most students prepare for this using some sort of online platform which mimics the UCAT. It must be said, however, that nothing can really replicate the real test and whilst practice is necessary it’s quite an abstract and unusual test to prepare for. There isn’t any syllabus or material that you are assessed from (unlike the BMAT), instead it’s more to do with building technique and tactics.
Extra Curricular and Hobbies
Demonstrating that you’re a well-rounded student is incredibly important. Universities want to see that you’re a human not a robot. It’s also important to find hobbies that you enjoy so that you have something to help you distress or unwind. It can be anything from a sport, to an instrument or art.
This is your chance to show the universities why they should choose you. You have a 4000 character word limit so it’s important to be concise, every sentence should be meaningful. Don’t include filler words or over-complicated vocabulary just for the purpose of sounding intelligent. Try to make it flow by having some sort of connection between paragraphs, they should fit well together rather than sounding isolated. A really good technique (though sometimes difficult to execute) is having a cyclical structure where you link the end back to the start in a subtle way.
It’s not an easy process, but it certainly is very rewarding and eye-opening if done for the right reasons.
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