Medicine courses are notoriously competitive programmes, and especially so if you’re an international applicant. For MBBS or MBChb courses in the UK, SG, and Australia, medical school begins right after high school, as opposed to MD programs in the US and Canada, where a bachelor’s degree is acquired prior to applying to medical school. For undergraduate medicine, this means that your performance in secondary school and high school, along with the extracurricular activities and standardized tests, matter immensely in the evaluation of your application. The ages of 15 – 16 years is an ideal time to begin preparation for medical school, and here’s 4 ways you can get started:
1. Ace your GCSEs
Here, GCSE simply refers to the grades you receive upon completion of secondary school, including O-Levels or IGCSEs. It should go without saying that your grades must be high, with a minimum of a B in English and Maths. Your scores in the sciences must be in the top tier, and different schools have different requirements. Having at least five A* or A grade GCSEs overall will place you at a competitive position when applying to medical schools.
2. Start preparing for admissions tests
There are a few entrance exams that aspiring medical students need to complete, depending on where they choose to apply to, and what their nationality is at the time of application. Taking either the UCAT or BMAT is a prerequisite to gain entry to all UK medical schools. Remember, you can only attempt these tests once for a given application cycle, so scoring well the first time is all the more important. If you don’t get a good score, you’ll have to take a gap year and try again.
To give yourself the best chance at success, it is important to start preparation early. These standardized tests are aptitude tests that heavily focus on math and verbal skills. In particular, you will need to hone your soft skills like mental math and data interpretation skills as the time constraints of these tests require quick implementation of math strategies. For the verbal section, it is important to develop your critical reading skills as all the questions are passage-based.
Furthermore, having built a strong foundation for the required skills, you will be less stressed in Year 12, and have more time to focus on A-Levels or IB exams.
3. Gain medical work experience
Work experience is valued highly by medical school admission boards and it is an excellent way of getting a hands-on feel of whether a career in medicine is right for you. Securing formal placements in a hospital or GP can be very competitive, so start searching early, or if you are fortunate enough to have family or friends who are in a medical career, contact them. Practical work experience also recognises a student’s ability to work independently or in a team, as well as communication skills, enthusiasm and responsibility. The winter or summer breaks are a great time for these.
4. Get involved through volunteering
Volunteering in care based roles in particular is really valuable experience. For instance, volunteering at places like elderly homes, hospitals, charities and youth groups is ideal in demonstrating that you are able to dedicate yourself to helping the less fortunate or able people in society. Do note that overseas work (paid or volunteer) is also not required, and will not necessarily help one’s application. Ultimately, it is more important to show how the volunteer role helped you grow as a person, reflect on the needs of others, taught you compassion, resilience, or any other qualities that are important for doctors to have. Here are 4 ways to build your profile in the Covid-19 era.