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Admissions

2021-01-16

Medical School Requirements and Selection Process Explained

Estimated reading time ≈ 7 minutes

Key takeaways:

  • Only around 25% of medicine applicants are successful, learn how to stand out from the crowd.
  • Find out how to ace your interview, wow with your personal statement, and get the score you need in the UCAT/BMAT.
'...there are students would make brilliant doctors but feel in the dark about what they need in order to apply...may never have considered their talent for medicine...Medical schools want to find the best candidates and believe they can come from any background.'
Dr Paul Garrud – Chair of Medical Schools Council Selection Alliance
To get into medical school, you need to meet the academic requirements, take the UCAT or BMAT, prepare a personal statement and sit an interview.

1. Is medicine right for me? 

So you’re thinking about becoming a doctor. You vividly imagine helping people and doing a meaningful job, but do you know what the medical path looks like? It’s not a straightforward decision, so we’ve listed some of the key considerations below.

Becoming a doctor is hard work

There aren’t many places at medical schools in the UK, around 7,000 per 24,000 applicants, making them some of the most competitive courses out there.

After 5-6 years in medical school, you will take an internship, as well as spending up to 8 years in further training depending on your chosen speciality.

Even after you become a fully trained doctor, you will need to keep up-to-date with the latest practices and knowledge. Ask yourself if you have the determination and commitment for lifelong learning.

It’s not just one career

You don’t have to choose just between being a GP in a local surgery, or a surgeon. There are an incredible number of specialties within medicine. Do you have a specific interest in an area of medicine? You don’t need to figure it out now, but perhaps you’re considering one of the following areas of expertise:

  • Anaesthesia
  • Clinical oncology
  • Clinical radiology
  • Community sexual health and reproductive health
  • Emergency medicine
  • General practice
  • Intensive Care Medicine
  • Medicine
  • Obstetrics and gynaecology
  • Occupational medicine
  • Ophthalmology
  • Paediatrics
  • Pathology
  • Psychiatry
  • Public health
  • Surgery

Do you have the empathy to become a doctor? 

A doctor’s role is not limited to technical diagnosis and treatment of a disease, but looking after patients’ overall health and well-being in a patient-centred manner. A well-developed sense of empathy is a must in addition to academic excellence and other interpersonal skills. 

According to a 2012 study published in the British Journal of General Practice, 'Empathy lowers patients’ anxiety and distress and delivers significantly better clinical outcomes.'

Medical schools will look for evidence of empathy during your interview and in your personal statement. Don’t be dismayed if you don't think you are a particularly empathetic person. Research has shown that empathy is not a fixed quality, and can be developed.

2. Medical school requirements

A roadmap outlining preparation for admission to medicine from year 11 to 13.

Each university has its own requirements, but broadly speaking you need to: 

  • Excel in the sciences at GCSE and A-Level
  • Have relevant extracurricular activities
  • Get relevant work experience
  • Get a high score in the UCAT/BMAT exams
  • Write a brilliant personal statement
  • Prepare for the interview

Every aspect of your application process is covered by Medify. Our team of medical experts has created a platform to take the stress out of the medical application process. You can find everything from personal statement assistance, work placements to UCAT and BMAT e-learning platform.

‘My choice of science-heavy subjects for my A levels were driven by my decision to pursue a career in medicine. I volunteered to teach English to child refugees during my AS year and followed it up with work experience on a busy labour ward during the summer holidays between AS and A2.’
Andrea – University of Aberdeen

3. Meeting academic requirements

Make no mistake, to be a doctor you need to excel academically. One way to achieve academic success is to spend time working on your actual study skills - not just learning the syllabus, but learning how to learn.

Sally Pickin, a GP in training. describes how she opened her A-level results to discover 3 As and 2 Bs. For some, these would be considered good grades, but for Sally the B grade in Biology meant she had failed to get into Bristol to study medicine. 

Getting into Med School normally means getting AAA grades at A-level.

Sally went through clearing and studied biomedical science at the University of Sheffield, the closest subject to medicine she could find. 'I felt numb,' she described, saying people described her at university as a 'failed medic'.

This setback was not the end for Sally. She graduated with First Class Honours, which got her a place to study medicine at Bristol the following year. 

'I can see that the failure I experienced all those years ago, and the unknown situation it forced me in to, enabled me to build resilience – the kind that is vital to work as a doctor under pressure in our NHS.'

4. Entrance Tests

The UCAT and/or BMAT are yet another hurdle to getting into medical school. These exams test more than just academic skills, but are an overall assessment of your suitability for medicine.

The UCAT covers:

Verbal reasoning
Verbal Reasoning
Critically evaluating written material
44 questions in 21 minutes
Decision making
Decision Making
Making appropriate decisions in complex situations
29 questions in 31 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning
Assess and evaluate numerical information
36 questions in 24 minutes
Abstract Reasoning
Using both convergent and divergent thinking styles
55 questions in 13 minutes
Situational Judgement
Testing your reasoning against real-life situations
69 questions in 13 minutes

The BMAT consists of:

BMAT Section 1: Critical thinking and problem solving
Section 1
Critical thinking and problem solving
32 questions in 60 minutes
BMAT Section 2: Biology, chemistry, physics and maths
Section 2
Biology, chemistry, physics and maths27 questions in 30 minutes
BMAT Section 3: Writing skills
Section 3
Writing skills
One essay in 30 minutes

Our Online UCAT Course and Online BMAT Course have helped 97% of our students improve their grades in these exams by exposing them to realistic situations, where they can monitor their progress and watch the improvement over time.

5. Gaining medical work experience

Getting exposure to real-life medical situations is necessary for medical school applicants. This can be a major roadblock. You may not have connections in the medical industry and could be left at a disadvantage.

At Medify, we are committed to widening access to medical education, to help you get into medical school regardless of your background or connections. Check out our work experience app to help you get those all-important glimpses into life as a doctor. 

Medify's work experience locator map
You can search for opportunities close to home using our interactive map.

Some universities have specific requirements, so please check with your chosen universities before applying for work experience.

Useful articles on work experience:

6. Extracurricular activities

Being well-rounded isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have. Good grades are fundamental, but so is showing that you can handle one of the toughest careers out there. When it comes to choosing activities, it’s best to select them strategically. 

The Times Higher Education recommends that you ‘transfer your skills to medicine’. 

What does that mean? 

Not just looking for new medically-relevant skills, but finding out what you’ve done already that will help your application. If your hobbies include working in a team, or communicating with a range of people, these are just the skills universities are looking for. 

What type of extracurricular activities help get into medical school?

Leadership: Become captain of a team or society

Volunteering: Offer your time to your community

Science: Take part in science-based competitions/societies

7. UCAS Medicine Personal Statement 

You will need to write a 4,000-word personal statement as part of your UCAS application. Here are top tips:

  1. Avoid hyperbole and poetic language. That doesn’t mean you can’t make it personal. Many students frame their applications around family circumstances, for example.
  1. Getting into medical school requires a lot of empathy, make sure you show it…
  1. Intrinsic motivation! That means showing how all your interests, passions and abilities make medicine the obvious choice for you.
  1. Go to our Personal Statement Writer and get it right, first time.
  1. Get to the point and avoid cliches. The introduction should be around 5 lines (again, use the app…).

Want to learn more? Check out our blogs on the art of Personal Statement writing.

8. Medical School Interview

One of the major purposes of the interview is to assess your stress response. 

Unexpected questions are to be...expected, as the admissions team wants to see how you cope under this pressure.

It is absolutely essential to come prepared. Various techniques and problem-solving strategies will be required, and your logical thinking will be tested. Ever heard of the P.E.E approach? What about S.T.A.R or I.P.A.R? These are the tools that can make you stand out from the rest. Find out more on our Medical Interviews page

Need more information? Visit our Interview Information page to find key facts about specific medical schools’ interview arrangements.

9. UCAS Reference

Prepare for your UCAS reference in advance. Here are some of the ways:

  • Get to know your referee
  • Don’t surprise the referee with your request - do it early!
  • Use the reference to account for any weaknesses in your application (such as resitting exams)

Check out our blog to make sure you get an amazing reference (it’s one more way you can distinguish yourself from the rest).

10. Summary

  • You need to understand your motivations for pursuing medicine, as these will give you focus on the long journey to become a doctor.
  • Medical school requirements vary from university to university.
  • You need to plan your strategy as early as possible to position yourself well to get into medical school.

Medical School FAQs

How to get into medical school?

There is more than one way to get in. You can apply to study medicine straight after school, at 18 years old, or go for graduate entry medicine after your first degree. Strong grades, a good UCAT/BMAT score, a great personal statement and an interview are all important. You can also consider taking a gap year and applying again, as well as studying medicine overseas.

How hard is it to get into medical school?

The applicants to places ratio is around 1:4. This means medical school admission is extremely competitive. Most students who apply have already got very high grades and have achieved most of the medical school requirements before considering their application.

Should I aim for graduate entry medicine?

If you don’t feel you are ready for a medicine degree after school, broaden your knowledge with a first science-related degree, before committing yourself to medicine. You will need top honours in your first degree.

How long does it take to become a doctor?

It can take up to 15 years to become a fully trained specialist, depending on your speciality. However, after four to six years of your medical degree, you do start earning an income as a junior doctor.

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