Choosing to study medicine as a graduate is an insane choice; that is a fact. It’s a huge personal and financial undertaking that few people outside the medical world will understand, and as a graduate your chances of being successful in gaining a position are significantly less than if you had applied straight out of school. But, it can be done. As a graduate student at the University of Glasgow currently in my 3rd year, trust me it may seem impossible, but it’s not – it’s just about playing the game, being smart with your application and using your age and experience to your advantage, rather than apologizing for it. So with this in mind, here are my top 5 things to consider when applying to medical school as a graduate.
1. Your application is not scored in the same way school-leaving applicants are, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Because they are often 16 or 17 when they are applying, school leavers, or “schoolies” as they are affectionately referred to at my university by the graduates, are chosen for medical school based on potential to be great medical students and doctors with very little time to prove their worth. Graduates (or “posties” for postgraduates) however, are scored based on attained achievement, and as such need to show that in the 3+ years since leaving school that they have achieved what would be expected of someone wanting to enter the medical profession. Bear this in mind when writing about your work experience when you got when you were 18 – it might’ve been enough then, but if you haven’t significantly developed it over the years you may come off as lazy and lacking commitment.
2. Apply to medical schools that best fit you, your experience and your eventual career aspirations.
All medical schools are different…to an extent. Yes, they all produce GMC-qualified doctors at the end, but they can differ greatly in their approach to medicine and the type and aspirations of applicants which they accept. For example, many of the inner-city medical schools are heavily involved in biomedical research, and as such individuals with traditional science backgrounds with a view to pursuing academic medicine or research may be able to use their experience in these fields to their advantage. Alternatively, medical schools in more rural areas may have a focus on providing excellent teaching for rural medicine, and those that are so inclined to practice out in the sticks. In practice, this means that once you’ve identified your strengths and you’ve thoroughly researched the universities which you are considering applying to, you can make it look like your application is tailored to a specific medical school, when really you’ve just applied to universities that share many of the same characteristics.
3. Don’t limit yourself to graduate only programmes – the lure of surrounding yourself exclusively with other graduates is tempting, but the competition is FIERCE (and they know this).
As a 25-year old applying to medical school, the thought of surrounding myself with 18 year olds for 5 years filled me with dread, and graduate-only programmes like that run in the much-coveted Warwick medical school were, for a long time, the only ones I considered applying to. Because they are so appealing to graduates like myself however, they attract an extremely high calibre of applicant and are therefore fiercely competitive to gain a place. Secondly, with a few notable exceptions they tend to have much smaller intakes than the traditional A100 medical courses, and as such the ratios for applicants:offers is much higher (sometimes around 20:1). So whilst by all means apply to them and I wish you the best of luck, but as someone who goes to a medical school with students aged 18-30 trust me, it doesn’t matter where you eventually end up studying medicine, and long as you get to study medicine.
4. Think hard about tuition fees and how you will fund yourself
At the risk of sounding like every parent ever, you need to think about how you will pay your way through medical school. As a graduate on a 5-year course, you are considered a “second first-degree student”, and as such will be staring down the barrel of a £9000-a-year-in-tuition-fees gun to study in England, and unless you are part of the 1% scraping that kind of money together every year for 5 years can be borderline impossible. So what to do? Aside from the obvious save as much money as you can before starting, it is essential to think about where will be cheapest to study – if you are from Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, studying in your respective region as a home student will drastically cut the amount you will be expected to pay each year. This means that depending on where you live in the UK for residency purposes will massively impact the number of medical schools you can realistically afford to attend, and yes in an ideal world this is perhaps not fair, if you really will do anything to get into medical school it may be a compromise you have to make.
5. Finally, don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a place whilst still in your final year of university (you have a much better shot once you graduate)
Ever since your school exam results day where you failed to get the grades you needed for medical school, you’ve everything right – you’re sporty, you’ve done the work experience in the care home, you have extracurriculars coming out your ears and you’re on track for that essential 2.1 or better and may even get a cheeky publication out of your honours project. You are the model student personified with a bullet-proof personal statement to match, but as days turn to weeks and weeks to months and still no updates on UCAS you begin to lose hope until it happens. “Unsuccessful”. And again. And again. And again. And it’s a horrendous, but it’s also OK, and that’s because in a way it’s be to be expected because you still haven’t proven anything yet. Medical school (and being a doctor) is not just about hard work, but it’s about continuous hard work and commitment, and, perhaps brutally, the only way for a graduate to show this is to not just be predicted that 2.1, but to actually have it. With a degree you have PROVEN that you can work and commit towards a goal until completion, and that’s exactly what they want. So if you don’t get in first time, just make sure you nail your exams and your year out so that come next year, you can make them regret not giving you a place the year before.