Knowing your Science

A few tips for getting into top tier medical schools

 Being a doctor doesn’t only require you to be empathetic, but also necessitates a strong grasp of the sciences and their application to human physiology. Everyone, at some stage in their life, will have been in an interview and have heard the question, “so why us?”. The trick to answering this question for medical students, apart from the obvious mention of any interesting hospitals, and curriculum based aspects, is to link this question back to science and research. This is more important at research institutions like Oxbridge, but works at all the top tier medical schools , as it show your engagement with a topic that will form your first two years, if not three, at university.

Oxbridge is known as being an institution that produces world leaders in research, and thus, they want the best scientists. Therefore, unlike other universities, there is very little focus on the ethics, and the ‘softer’ side to medicine in their interviews. So when filling out any specific applications to Oxbridge, like the Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ), remember to focus your answers with this in mind, as your personal statement should have made clear how empathetic a person you are already.

The best method for showing your passion for the sciences, is to cite your interest, in the relevant sections of the questionnaire, for a specific area of research that correlates with your interests. For example, you could mention your interest in Alzheimer’s Disease, and the biochemistry that underlies its pathophysiology. The interviewers at Oxbridge look for the most interesting things in your application, and will try and push you to see how much you actually know. Therein lies the failure of most students. To get the credit for this, you have to invest a couple days learning the state of research concerning the particular field, and the biochemistry of the disease, to a very high level. An example of how far the interviewers may go; during my interview, after discussing the Alzheimer’s extensively, I was asked if I knew the specific mutation of the Tau protein used in the Tau hypothesis. Hopefully, that should serve as a gauge for how far tutor are willing to push the students, but by no means is it the standard to which they should know about the subject. At some point everyone will be asked a question they do not know the answer to, especially when discussing research, and so, when faced with a question to which you do not know the answer, the age old rule applies; think for a moment, and then say that you do not know, but if pushed you would say, and then present your best guess.

Apart from familiarising yourself with research, it is every interviewees best interest to pick up a first year text book and flick through it. Don’t try and learn it! Oxbridge are notorious for asking questions that you are taught the basic principles of during your final years at school, but the explicit link is made while at university. Thus giving rise to the idea of applying what you know, to answer a question that you that you don’t. A first year text book then acts as a conduit to show the application of the knowledge you have already acquired. The trick to not learning the textbook, is to flick through until you see something you recognise, and then reading through that to consolidate what you know and that should help you answer the questions in your interview.

What to take away from this; firstly, acquaint yourself with some research, and make sure that you flag your interest in whatever appropriate locations you have available to you, even if this is during the interview. And secondly, give yourself every advantage by looking at a 1st year medical school textbook, because it will show you how you can re-apply what you already know, to the body, and thus may help with answering the very heavily science based questions you are likely to get at an Oxbridge interview.

Finally, all this advice is still relevant to other top tier institutions, but it is less likely to be explicitly brought up. Other interviews are likely to be more substantially holistic, so pick up a book on medical ethics! The responsibility lies on the students to bring up all the extra work they have done, and so, you have to use a little bit of ingenuity. For example when asked, “why our university?”, throw in any research that they have done, and say you might potentially want to be a clinical scientist. These types of answers both show you to be an interesting candidate because of your knowledge, but also make your answers most interesting as they are no longer just stock answers that the interviewer will hear a hundred times a day.

Knowing your Science was written by a Tavistock Tutor; contact us for help with Medical School Applications 

Additional resources:

Medicine: Not What Can You Do, What Have You Done
Surviving Medical School Exams
The Ins and Outs of Medical School: Surviving the 1st Year

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