Applying to study medicine is notoriously competitive, so it’s crucial that you stand out from the crowd. To help you secure that med school place, here are some top tips on what admissions tutors look for.
1. Make the most of your medical work experience
Work experience in a hospital, GP surgery or care home is a key part of applying to study medicine, and how you reflect on your experiences will prove to admissions tutors that you could make a great doctor.
The important thing is not how many placements you complete, but what you learn from each one. For example, did you see great communication between a doctor and patient? Did an interaction with a patient teach you a lot about empathy? Keep a diary and note down examples of where you see key skills needed for medicine.
2. Prepare well for the UKCAT
The United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is a computerised exam sat between July and October, required by most UK medical schools. It has five sections: verbal reasoning, abstract reasoning, quantitative reasoning, decision making and situational judgement.
A great UKCAT score demonstrates to admissions tutors that you’re well suited to a career in medicine by testing skills such as communication, spatial awareness and numeracy, so it’s essential that you prepare well on a computer to mimic the real exam.
Improve your score by working on each section, completing practice questions and mock tests: for example, reading Good Medical Practice will help you in situational judgement and practising your mental maths will save you time in quantitative reasoning.
3. Revise thoroughly for your BMAT
The BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) tests problem-solving abilities, scientific knowledge and essay writing skills across three sections. It’s required by some of the UK’s top medical schools such as the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University College London and Imperial College London.
If you’re applying to BMAT universities, a strong score is key. Unlike the UKCAT, Section 2 of the BMAT tests scientific knowledge, so make sure you revise thoroughly. You can see which topics may be covered in the official Assumed Subject Knowledge Guide.
Past papers are also essential to prepare for the BMAT – these can be found on the Cambridge Admissions Testing Service. For these, it’s best to start with the older past papers and then complete the most recent ones.
4. Write an excellent personal statement
Your medicine personal statement is your chance to communicate to admissions tutors why you’d be a great doctor. Your personal statement should include:
- Why you want to be a doctor (motivation)
- Work experience (exploration)
- Volunteering (exploration)
- Wider reading and study (exploration)
- Extracurriculars (suitability)
- Conclusion (motivation)
Remember to reflect well on your work experience and what you learned and demonstrate that you have the key skills and attributes needed for medicine such as teamwork, empathy and communication.
Student experience at medical school
Student life at a medical university with a high staff-to-student ratio
International perspective: a Canadian at the Royal College of Surgeons
Applying to medical school is like starting a new relationship
Tokyo’s tiny medical school defied my expectations
Finding my family at a small medical school
Are medical school admissions too competitive?
5. Get clued up on the NHS and current medical topics
In your medical school interview, you may be asked about recent news affecting the medical profession and the NHS – for example, the junior doctors’ contract or a seven-day NHS. It's a good idea to keep up to date with the news and research in the medical community.
Try downloading a news app to your phone, or make a habit of reading a medical news summary every week.
6. Transfer your skills to medicine
Extracurricular activities are highly valued by medical schools – they are a great indication that you have interests outside of academia, that you will be able to cope with the pressures of medical school and that you have developed the key skills needed for medicine.
Whether you volunteer in a charity shop, play sports or are part of your college’s orchestra, remember to transfer your skills to medicine in your application. Have your extracurriculars allowed you to work well in a team, or develop your communication skills with a range of people?
7. Know the four pillars of medical ethics
Medical ethics are a key part of any medical school interview – so make sure you’re clued up.
You may be asked about ethical issues in medicine (for example, euthanasia or abortion) so it’s essential that you’re familiar with the four pillars of medical ethics – autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence and justice – and how these can be applied to different ethical scenarios.
Laura Maw is lead content editor for The Medic Portal, which is an official partner of the Royal Society of Medicine, and provides advice and resources for medical students including BMAT and UKCAT information pages