How to craft the perfect application for a medical degree

Applying to medical school is tough and competitive, but following these tips will ensure you are prepared and help you put together a strong medical school application 

November 22 2019
Female doctor administering vaccine to small child

The typical Bachelor of Medicine or Bachelor of Surgery degree takes five years to complete, three of these years are focussed specifically on practical work. A medical degree, post-graduate study and specialist training means it could take up to 16 years before you achieve your dream medical job.

Although medicine is one of the most difficult degrees you can commit to, a career in medicine brings many opportunities and experiences. Medicine is a future-proof profession – despite budget cuts, there will never be a time when doctors are not in high demand.

Researching and deciding which schools to apply for

Choosing which medical schools to apply for can be difficult. It is important to prioritise your end career goal and keep in mind how competitive medical schools are. You might be setting yourself up for disappointment if you only apply to top-tier schools. Making sure you apply to some middle-tier medical schools will ensure you are shortlisted for an interview. You might also want to consider applying to biomedical science or biochemistry degrees as an insurance option if you don’t get accepted into a medical school. This is still a good route to take as you can always apply for a graduate medicine course on completion of your degree.

When looking at the courses you would like to apply for, you may want to research the learning styles of each. Most medical schools host three different types of courses: traditional, integrated, or problem-based learning (PBL). Do your research into which style will be most suited to you and include this in your decision-making.

Studying medicine abroad is also an option you might want to consider as it can broaden your options.


Student life at a medical university with a high staff-to-student ratio
Learning in the lab and on the ward
A Canadian student studying at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
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


Qualifications and experience

Gaining good grades in physics, biology, chemistry and maths are all a good precursor to studying medicine at university. 

Work experience is also a key part of building your CV while also giving you a real taste of what it is like to work in medicine. However, gaining relevant work experience can be one of the hardest parts of becoming a prospective medical student. Work experience in hospitals is hard to come by and difficult to apply for. However, any type of shadowing or volunteering in a care-based role is key.

Exams

To enrol in a medical course, you are commonly required to take an admissions test. These exams in the UK and EU come in the form of the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) and the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT), which are quite different from each other. The UCAT is a digital test where candidates answer questions of varying difficulty over a short space of time. The topics range from verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, situational judgement and abstract reasoning. The UCAT ANZ is a similar test which is used in Australia and New Zealand. 

The BMAT, meanwhile, is a written examination with a strong focus on mathematics, science and logical thinking. Both tests come at a price, varying from £46 to £115 depending on the type of test and whether you are a domestic student or an international student. However, bursaries are offered to cover this cost based on the individual student’s household income status.

The equivalent of the UCAT/BMAT for students in the US and Canada is the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). The format of this exam is a computerised multiple-choice questionnaire designed to test basic knowledge of scientific concepts along with your critical thinking, writing skills and problem solving.

These admission tests are designed to test applicants’ core strengths in several areas. Think of the exams more like an IQ test than a school exam. While you cannot learn the answers from a textbook, by taking past tests you can make sure you understand the layout and process so that you know what to expect on the day.

Personal Statement

A personal statement is an important part to anyone’s degree application, but medicine is a particularly difficult and competitive field, therefore your personal statement needs to stand out from the crowd. Your personal statement should illustrate your high academic ability and relevant work experience, together with your passion and determination for your prospective medical career. Most medical schools are looking for motivation, interesting work history and a good fit for their learning environment.

However, try to stay away from clichéd phrases such as “lifelong passion”, as these can become tiresome for admissions staff. Keep your statement honest and include thoughtful comments on the reasons you would like to study medicine. Although your personal statement should be formal, do try to put across your personality through the tone and style of your writing.

It may sound obvious, but check constantly for spelling mistakes. Submitting an application with a spelling mistake doesn’t paint you in the best light for a career where attention to detail and precision is of vital importance.

After completing your personal statement, share it with friends and family to make sure your personality shines through, and ask yourself if those 500 words really express why you would like a career in medicine.

Interviews

Gaining an invitation to a medical school interview is an achievement in itself; this proves your personal statement was good. Your invitation to interview should tell you what format it will take. Traditional interviews take the form of one student answering questions from one or two members of faculty. Nevertheless, multiple mini-interviews are becoming a far more popular format. This usually means making your way around several different tables where you will answer questions or solve scenarios from a different member of staff for four minutes each.

By knowing the planned format of your interview, you can prepare and practice as there are many sample questions and interview preparation tips online. Be prepared to expand on your personal statement and work experience; anticipate some questions you may be asked and prepare for them. For all interviews, it would be beneficial to keep up to date on the health service in the country you are applying to, as well as on medical industry news and developments. 

So, if you’re looking for a career in medicine, make sure your application is the best standard it can be. Be honest and captivating in your personal statement, speak extensively about your work experience and show your passion and drive towards your dream career.

Read more: Best universities for medicine 

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