What Are Medical Schools Looking For?
Applying to study medicine at university can be an
understandably stressful time. On top of being expected to have top grades throughout school, completing
extra entrance exams, and a reasonable amount of relevant work experience, interviewers and admissions
staff will be looking for more. More about you, your personality, and the type of person you will
become. So what are they expecting on top of your interest in science and work experience? And how can
you show them you have those qualities?
House, the enigmatic,
bold and adventurous M.D. that thrills TV screens around the world, is perhaps my favourite
doctor. I can’t help but be amazed at his encyclopaedic knowledge, as episode after episode,
against all odds he always gets the diagnosis. Unfortunately, I will never be House.
And that’s because medicine of today and the future does not rely on super men and women,
but super teams of talented individuals, in order to deliver the best possible healthcare.
When you embark on your career in medicine, you will always have to be part of a team:
sharing your cadaver in dissection classes, working with your firm on clinical rotations,
and, further down the road, working with nurses, physiotherapists, and doctors from other
specialities, all to make sure your patient gets the best care.
This said, a leaderless team
is often an ineffective team, and leadership is an important aspect of working as a team. Doctors
are the managers and leaders of their clinical teams, and have to ensure everyone in the team is
working for the patient, that no aspect of the patient’s care is being overlooked, and ultimately
that they are able to make the hard decision. This trait of leadership would appear to come more
naturally to some than others, but it is a skill that can be worked on and improved.
Leaders aren’t born; they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And
that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal. —Vince Lombardi
From here on in,
timekeeping and making the most of your time is vital. At university, your timetable will likely be
the busiest, you will likely be set the most work outside of lectures, and yet you will still want
to make the most of university and what it offers. Looking even further ahead, doctors are given
long hours, unfavourable shifts and on-call work, and are expected to organise that around their
family and social lives. For many people, including me, organisation is not a skill that comes
naturally, but organising your time effectively is paramount to succeeding in such a busy and
demanding career path.
It goes without saying that
applying to study medicine is a huge commitment on your part. Not only are you committing to a
degree that lasts 2 or 3 years longer than most other courses, you’re committing to a career that
demands lifelong studying and working in potentially stressful conditions, whether you’re doing
night shifts or having to explain to someone that they or their loved one is not going to survive.
You never arrive at an end point; every successful consultant and surgeon needs to constantly
keep up to date with new developments and strive to improve their skills. It’s a big decision to be
making so early on in life, but if you’re serious, you have to be able to show it.
- Communication and empathy
Lastly, and I
think most importantly, is communication. Communication and empathy, for me, are the most critical
skills a doctor needs. It underpins many of the skills already covered – you cannot expect to have
good team-working or leadership skills unless you can communicate – and is the central aspect of
patient care. You can order as many MRIs as you like, or be the best in the world at picking up
murmurs with your stethoscope, but it means nothing if you can’t effectively communicate with and
understand your patient. This is probably most obvious when you’re doing your work experience, but
examples of using your communication skills and empathy crops up throughout life: think of times
when you’ve had a difficult conversation, and why, or when someone has misunderstood you, and why
that might have been.
So how do you go about showing you have these attributes? Thankfully, this is the easy part. You will
already have had experience of using these skills in lessons at school, in extracurricular activities
such as sports teams or work experience, and in other aspects of day-to-day life. When writing a
personal statement or thinking how to address questions in interviews, make sure to effuse about these
experiences, and how they have shaped you, and how they show you to be the best candidate.
And the best thing is: it’s never too late to start developing these skills. Take the opportunity to
contribute more often in class, take responsibility of reading the map in Duke of Edinburgh, or take on
a new hobby or activity. The NHS nowadays wants to foster a culture of learning throughout the
organisation, making it clear there is always room for improvement. No one interviewing or assessing you
will expect you to be ready to be dropped into a ward and start treating patients, but they will look
for people who can adapt and have a keenness to learn and develop the key skills every doctor needs.
Medicine is demanding and difficult, but at the same time an exciting and rewarding career!
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