There are so many sources for advice out there for potential medical students. So many books, so many forums, so many careers advice people, and so many confusing and scary myths, that I thought it might be useful to just put up some simple guidelines on what is required to become a medical student and a short book list to get your started.
I am now in my 5th year at university and my 4th year of actual medicine. Since getting into Medical School in 2009 I have gone back to my 6th form college in South Wales at least once a year to talk to the students who wanted to become medical or dental students, to offer some advice, answer any queries that I could.
This year, I tried to to do the same sort of thing for high achieving pupils at my old comprehensive, because if you don't get the right advice young enough then you won't be able to do everything that is required of you to get into Medical school straight after your A-levels. Unfortunately, due to some new rules I wasn't allowed to. So, since I couldn't give any advice in person I thought that a blog might be the easiest alternative way to give young comprehensive students a guide in the right direction. So here goes...
How to get into medical school:
You must show that you have the academic capacity to cope with the huge volume of information that will try to teach you and that you have the determination/tenacity to achieve what you need to. To show this you must get good grades:
a. >8A*s at GCSE + separate science modules if possible = you have to be able to do science.
b. >3A’s at A-Level = Chemistry + Biology + anything else you want, as long as you can get an A.
2. You must have an understanding of what Medicine really involves:
a. Work experience with a doctor – local GP, hospital work experience day, family connections, school connections – you should try to get as much as you can but don’t worry if you can’t because you can make up for it in other areas.
b. Work experience with any health care professional – ask to see what a nurse/ physio/ health care assistant/ phlebotomist/ ward secretary does. Any exposure to the clinical environment will give you an insight into what happens and gives you something to talk about during personal statements and interviews.
c. Caring experience – apply to help out in local care homes, in disabled people’s homes, at charities, look after younger pupils at school. All these sorts of things help to show that you are dedicated, motivated and that you want to help people.
3. Be a fully rounded human being:
a. Medical schools do not want robots! They want students who are smart but who are also able to engage with the common man. So hobbies and interests are a good way of showing that you are more than just a learner.
b. Playing on sports teams allows you to write about how you have developed as a person and helps you develop essential characteristics like team work, fair play, learning to follow commands, learning to think for yourself, hand-eye co-ordination etc. etc. All valuable for a career in medicine.
c. Playing an instrument again shows an ability to learn and the will power to sit and perfect a skill. It also provides you with useful skills that you can use to be sociable and make friends, such as joining student choirs, orchestras and bands or just playing some tunes at a party.
d. Do fun things! Medicine is hard work so you need to be able to do something that will help you relax and allow you to blow off some stress. All work and no play, makes a burnt out wreck!
4. Have a basic knowledge of:
a. The news, especially the health news – Daily Telegraph health section on a Monday, BBC news etc.
b. The career of a doctor – how does it work? How many years of training? What roles would you do? What exams do you need to pass? How many years at medical school?
c. The GMC – know about the “Tomorrow’s Doctor” Document – search google.
d. The BMA
e. The Department of Health and NHS structure – know the basics! GP commissioning bodies, strategic health authorities.
f. What the Medical School you are applying to specialises in, does it do lots of cancer research? Does it do dissection? Does it pride itself on the number of GPs it produces? Does it require extra entry exams or what is the interview process?
These 4 points are very basic and are just a very rough guide to consider for anyone applying to become a medical student. There are many more things you can do and loads of useful little tips that you will pick up along the way. If anyone has any great tips they would like to share then please do leave them as a comment below!
My final thought for this blog is;
READ, READ and READ some more.
I am sure that the reason I got into medical school was because I had read so many inspiring and thought provoking books, I had something to say in interviews and I had already had ideas planted in my head by the books that I could then bring up for discussion with the interview panel when asked about ethical dilemmas or where medicine is going.
Plus reading books about medicine can be so inspiring that they really can push your life in a whole new direction or just give you something to chat about with friends and family. Everyone loves to chat people – how they work, why they are ill, what shapes peoples' personalities etc and these are all a part of medicine that you can read into!
Final Final Thought:
Just go into your local book shop or library and go to the pop-science section and read the first thing that takes your interest! It will almost always give you something to talk about.
If you're not happy with your performance, the most likely culprit is your study strategies. The material presented in medical school is not conceptually more difficult than many rigorous undergraduate courses, but the volume flow rate of information per hour and per day is much greater – it has frequently been described as “drinking from a fire-hose.”
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As part of my post retirement ob & gyn activities, I spent two years in the early nineties, working at the Aga Kahn Medical School in Karachi, Pakistan. That is a most modern facility with excellent staff and resources and great medical students. One can imagine that the majority of obstetricians and gynecologists in a muslim country, like Pakistan, are female and that male ob & gyn might encounter some difficulties It was my distinct impression that often it is not the woman herself who objects to being examined and treated by a male, but rather the husband. An anecdote of a real situation which I encountered will illustrate this.
One day I was sitting in my office next to the labor and delivery suite as one of the more junior female residents came running into my office, quite excited. “Doctor Le Maire, could you please come quickly? One of the laboring patients has some very major drop in the baby’s heartbeat. I am worried but cannot reach her private doctor and the doctor on call is in the operating room.”
I ran over to the delivery suite with the resident and into the patient’s room. She was obviously in much discomfort and her husband was at her side. One of the first things an obstetrician may do when a woman in labor shows signs of some problem with the undelivered baby as evidenced by a drop in the baby’s heart rate, is to examine the woman vaginally. In doing so, the he or she can determine if the baby can be quickly delivered or if there is a reason for the drop in the baby’s heart rate, such as a loop of the umbilical cord being compressed by the head, in which case an immediate C- Section might be necessary.
So I immediately put on a pair of sterile gloves and got ready to examine the woman. She herself was perfectly ready to let me do this, but her husband stopped me and told me that he objected to his wife being examined by a male. This was even in the face of a serious situation with potential for harm to his unborn baby. There was no time to be lost trying to reach one of the female attendings, so I did the next best thing and told the very junior resident to take the patient into the operating room and examine her there and let me know the findings, while I was getting the operating room organized to do a C-Section, if called for.
The strange thing is that the husband would have let me do a C- Section on his wife, but not a vaginal exam. As it turned out, by the time the patient ended up in the operating room, her private doctor had been located and was in attendance. The outcome was good and a healthy baby was delivered soon after. However the situation could have been quite different and catastrophic.
Even stranger to me was that the woman’s husband was not a lay person but actually a chief resident in anesthesiology in the same hospital, with whom I had worked together in the operating room on a number of occasions. I would never have thought that an educated person and a medically educated person at that, would jeopardize the well being of his unborn child and wife, based on cultural and religious beliefs. Later on in the year this same anesthesiology resident came to ask me for a letter of recommendation as he wanted to apply for a specialized fellowship in the USA. I hope that the reader can understand why I politely (perhaps not so politely) refused.
Those interested can read more about my experiences in an e book, entitled "Crosscultural Doctoring. On and Off the Beaten Path." One can down load it for free to the reader device of your choice from Smashwords at: http://smashwords.com/books/view/161522. Or just Google Crooscultural Doctoring.