Student Blog: Are medical school admissions too competitive?

Student blogger Katie argues that the UK admissions system to medical school works just fine, as it teaches students to play an important game, and even rejection can present a new opportunity.
January 5 2016

Katie blogs in response to 'British student criticises competitive UK medical courses after securing university place in Italy':

I'm not going to lie, getting into medical school is difficult. It consumes your life and, even then, it seems like a bit of a lottery with every step. Will you get an interview? Will you get a place? Will you get the grades?

The admissions system works

But it’s competitive for a reason, because when all the best and brightest are applying, there is more to consider than just their grades. It’s not too competitive; yes, good people get turned away, but the system works. There are the people who apply without really knowing what they’re getting themselves into, whose parents have pushed them and who don’t actually want to do medicine; the people who apply for the money and the prestige without realising it will take a long time to get anywhere, and would rather be bankers. All of these people have to be sifted out.

Then, you’ve got to consider that medical schools have to assume every one of these students applying will someday be a doctor. You’re then looking for people who are kind, who have a genuine interest in people, who are willing to commit to long hours and a restricted social life for the rest of their lives.

In 2011, there were 10 applicants for every UK medical school place- so inevitably, some mistakes are made and good candidates are being turned away, but it’s a rarity. There will be times when medical students look at their peers and wonder how so-and-so got in because they’re terrible with people or they’re always behind on work, but admissions officers see everything: every possible spark of potential.

The application process for medicine is long. For the majority of medical schools, you need to take an admissions test before they’ll even consider your personal statement. After that, you could be offered an interview; for some medical schools this is one interview, and for some it is several. They’re testing your maths, your science, your communication. They look at your dedication, your ability to handle stress, your motivation; they go so in-depth, sometimes it feels like they’ve been tracking you since birth.

Learning to play the game

Admissions criteria, found on medical school websites, can be pages and pages long, but there are ways to get around it. Part of getting into medical school is learning to play the game you’ll be playing for the rest of your life. It’s finding a medical school that suits you – if you’ve done badly in an admissions test, you choose one that’s weighted towards your other strengths. Some medical schools weight applications more strongly on GCSE scores. Some will only care about your predicted grades. I know of one medical school that will not even read your personal statement until the interview – so you have to play the game and work out which one suits you.

The application process is brilliant because different schools favour different things. It makes the medical student population more diverse, and it makes the doctors they produce more representative of the general population they set out to treat. Some universities will favour students who have a contrasting A level (an arts or humanities subject); some will prefer those who can show exceptional dedication to medicine through work experience and extra-curricular activities.

Rejection as an opportunity

I have spoken to plenty of people who didn’t get into medical school the first time around. For some, it was a wakeup call that medicine was the right thing for them, and they spent the next year honing their application to perfection. For some, it was a kick away from medicine and into a career they love even more. I didn’t even fill the fifth space on my UCAS form (only 4/5 spaces can be used for medicine) because I knew I didn’t want to potentially take a space on another course I didn’t want to do.

I disapprove of private medical schools because they aren’t run to the same rules and the foundation programme is already over-saturated, so why should people who can afford it have more of a chance of becoming a doctor than those who don’t? Doctors treat every inch of the population, from deprived rural areas to big, expensive cities. A good doctor is able to relate to every patient – not just the ones from the same socio-economic class they’ve run in since they were tiny. Medicine is only just moving away from being a degree for the wealthy, and we need to keep it moving in that direction.

No admissions officer wants to turn down a clever, kind student who genuinely wants to be a doctor, but sometimes the numbers of potential students are overwhelming. Not getting into medical school the first time around is unfortunate, but it’s not only chance you’ll ever have to be a doctor. Nobody is forced to go abroad to study- it might actually pay off in the long term to consider why they were rejected from the UK in the first instance and to try and improve. Paying ridiculous sums of money to private providers to avoid the UK application game seems a waste and shows a lack of dedication, in my opinion.

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