In this series of articles, medical students from across the UK speak about their personal journey to medicine. Louis is an undergraduate medical student at Leeds University
Applying to medicine is no easy decision. The number of hoops you need to jump through in each stage of the application process can seem very daunting - but with a little bit of determination, courage and most importantly, strategy, the medical school application process doesn’t need to be as scary as it seems.
GCSEs & Year 12
After doing well in my GCSE’s (999, 7A*, 1A for those interested) I did feel like medicine was a feasible - I met most academic requirements. But this alone was insufficient reasoning to apply to medicine, so I spent a lot of year 12 exploring various different aspects of medicine through career workshops, university open days, and work experience throughout the summer. I was lucky enough to secure GP work experience and also, after a lot of pestering, doctor shadowing. The reason I did this is because I wanted to know what it was really like before my application, so I had authenticity in my choice to study medicine, as I could see what things were like first-hand. I would encourage anyone applying to get some sort of work experience – no, it doesn’t matter really how long the work experience is as its more what you learned from it and how you can reflect on it.
Summer of Year 12
Now, year 12 summer for me wasn’t really a summer because that was when I did the majority of my work experience, and of course the dreaded UKCAT (or UCAT now as its commonly known!). This was horrible. Genuinely the worst thing I have ever done, and I empathise completely with those of you who have to do this incredibly difficult exam (especially due to how little time you have to answer each question!). Some days, I really wanted to go out with my friends, but I made myself stay inside. I didn’t leave my house for a whole week the week before my UKCAT, and I was stressed to my absolute limits, thinking that my entire future depended on this one exam…
This was not healthy.
A week before the exam I was averaging around 670 or so on medify. But the night before the exam I got unbelievably stressed, broke down, and only had around 2 hours sleep. Big mistake.
I ended up getting a below average score for my UKCAT in the very low 600s. I thought it was all over for me and I genuinely considered just giving up on medicine completely, because clearly, I wasn’t good enough. But for whatever reason, I decided to continue my application irrespective, but I’d be very careful which medical schools I applied to, playing to my strengths. Thus, I started to research every single medical school’s application process.
I decided to apply to Cardiff and Queen’s Belfast medical school, because of their strong emphasis on academics and weaker emphasis on UKCAT. For both, I exceeded the levels of points required for interview irrespective of how bad my UKCAT went because of my above average GCSE performance compensating for it. I also decided to do the BMAT and applied to Leeds (again because of strong emphasis on academics which could compensate for a low BMAT score if achieved) and Brighton & Sussex Medical School. BSMS was an incredibly risky choice as they select for interview entirely off your BMAT, which I could only take after sending my application. However, for these universities, my UKCAT wouldn’t matter (ideal), provided I did well on my BMAT. This is a risk I had to take.
Because I had done so badly on my UKCAT, I knew the BMAT was my last chance. But I told myself I would chill out more, go out more, and try to not stress too much because that’s why I did bad on the UKCAT. And this worked! With doing less revision, I ended up getting in the 5s for section 1 &2 and a 4A essay on my BMAT which I was incredibly happy with and a very strong score. So somehow, I had managed to turn the train wreck of the UKCAT back around! So my tip for aptitude tests is, honestly, yes revise, but don’t revise too much because otherwise you’ll stress yourself out and flop it. The reason I did better on the BMAT is probably because I relaxed more about it rather than stressing and not sleeping.
Next came the interviews. I just read this interview book that was in the library in my school and made answers to some common questions. I would practice at least once a day, trying to answer them in front of friends and family to make sure not just the content, but my body language and the way I said it, was relaxed and confident. Somehow, I was lucky enough to receive 4/4 interviews.
My first interview was at BSMS. I was incredibly nervous, sweaty and worried. A couple of weeks later I travelled to Cardiff, then Belfast, and then finally, Leeds, for my interviews. This is an exhausting process and difficult to balance with school, but unfortunately this was unavoidable. For interviews, however, my main tips are:
Be YOURSELF - literally, in each of my interviews I laughed at least once with one interviewer. They’re not looking for robots, they’re looking for human beings.
DON’T MEMORISE ANSWERS – it has to come from the heart
Learn about the local geography. Honestly. If you learn about specific medical issues that the city your medical school is in faces, you can throw those facts at the interviewer and it shows you’ve done your research!
In one boring evening in year 13, I saw on the student room thread people were getting offers for BSMS. Then I looked at my UCAS…
“They’re probably sending them out in batches!”, one user said but I’d convinced myself I hadn’t gotten one.
Then all of a sudden, the next evening I saw an update on UCAS: “Congratulations! BSMS have offered you a place to study medicine, subject to conditions.”. I screamed! I couldn’t believe it! Now all I had to do was focus on my A-Levels.
Then 2 weeks later, “Congratulations, Cardiff University has offered you a place”. 2 offers I thought? What on earth? Is this a dream?
2 weeks after that, “Congratulations, Leeds University has offered you a place to study medicine” and my jaw dropped. Leeds was my favourite university too, I couldn’t quite believe it.
Then around a month later, “Congratulations, Queen’s university Belfast has offered you a place to study medicine”.
4 offers. I honestly didn’t think I was capable of that especially with how bad my UKCAT went - I was ready to give up and to get 4 offers was a massive U turn. I firmed Leeds because it was my favourite university from the ones I applied to.
Then I just revised, revised, revised for A levels. Chemistry didn’t come easily to me, so I revised that one the most. In the end, I achieved A* EPQ, A* Geography, A Biology and an A in chemistry.
Moral of the Story
Moral of the story is don’t give up. But also, do not apply wherever you want. Medicine unfortunately doesn’t have that luxury and had I applied to UKCAT heavy universities I might have received 0 offers. But because I was careful with what universities I applied to, I managed to receive 4 offers. It’s all about playing to your strengths and using strategy, with skill, to maximise the amount of interview you can get and therefore maximising the chance of getting an offer - because in the end, if your dream is to study medicine, it shouldn’t matter which University you go to.