A beginner’s guide to medical school applications
So you’re sitting in a dusty old hall at your school and you’re being given the UCAS talk, or what I like to call the “start-thinking-about-what-you-want-to-do-with-the-rest-of-your-life” talk. It’s scary. You thought you had it all figured out: you were going to ace all your exams, get into a great university and become a doctor – it was all sorted out…right? Then they start throwing around words like ‘personal statement’, ‘interview’, ‘work experience’, ‘UCAS points’ and you’re thinking “oh boy”.
I don’t know about you but when I was sitting in that seat three years ago, nervously shaking my leg, I was dreading what was the start of endless personal statement drafts, fingernail-biting, stress-inducing entrance exams and interviews. If you haven’t guessed already (or looked at the title), I am indeed talking about…medical school applications. (DANDANDAN)
For most people this whole process is probably the most stressful thing you’ll have done up to this point in your life and it may feel like there are endless hoops to jump through to get to your final goal. But let me tell you this, the end is worth the struggle (cliché, I know). Looking back at the whole application process, there is (in my opinion anyway) a very simple two-step approach to medical school applications. Yes, only TWO steps! (Don’t get excited just yet).
The way I see it, medical schools want to know two things: 1) Why do you want to do medicine? 2) What makes you a good candidate to do medicine? If you can demonstrate these two things well, then you are in good stead for the whole application process. I know what you’re thinking…that can’t be it?! Ok you got me, there is more to it, but these two questions provide a good framework for thinking about your application.
The first question, ‘why do you want to do medicine?’ is the all-important question that you will be asked over and over again by your teachers, friends, through your personal statement, at your interview, by random people on the street (you’d be surprised). I would even go as far as saying this question is the bane of every aspiring medical students life. But it is an important question to ask yourself even before you begin thinking about applications.
As I’m sure you’ve heard many times, medicine is hard and unfortunately the hard work starts from before you even get into medical school and doesn’t stop until well, ever (DANDANDAN). But don’t let that put you off in the slightest because yes, medicine is demanding, difficult and requires a lot of time and effort but it is also extremely rewarding and satisfying. You could say it’s kind of like parenting…or not. Either way, for all those reasons, medical schools need to know that a) you are passionate about medicine and motivated for the right reasons, i.e. you’re not in it for the money, power, initials at the end of your name kind-of-thing, and b) that you know what you’re getting yourself into. Therefore, you need to demonstrate that you have thought through your decision. And no, I don’t just mean you’ve sat in silence in your room for 5 minutes thinking, yep medicine sounds good. You need to show that you have a good understanding of the career that you hope to spend the rest of your life doing. So, do as much work experience as you can and preferably in a variety of different medical fields. Even try work experience in a field other than medicine just to be sure. This will help you get a feel of the everyday life of a doctor and hopefully reassure you that you are making the right choice. Also, you can show your passion for medicine through your interest in science; perhaps you’ve read some scientific articles that have grabbed your attention or carried out a research project, or you can demonstrate your passion for helping people through volunteering and other things.
So, you’re half way there. You know you want to do medicine (good start) and you’ve kind of figured out why, you’ve shadowed a bunch of doctors so you know what the career is like and this hasn’t put you off (it’s looking good!). Next, you need to think about what attributes and experience you have that will make you a good doctor. Some of you may be getting excited at this point thinking, wahey get the pen and notepad out this may take a while, whereas others may have quite as much to write. But really, this second part is easy. You want to demonstrate qualities that medical schools would like to see in a doctor; compassion, competence, good communication skills, leadership, teamwork, commitment etc. Whether you’ve got a million and one things to write about or just a few does not matter. It’s not a competition of who can fit in the most into their personal statement or who’s done the most things. It’s more about what you’ve gained from your experiences (or at least how well you can articulate this).
There you have it, a brief not-quite-two-step guide. Hopefully this gives you a kick in the right direction in your quest to conquer the brutal medical school application!