4 surprisingly easy tips that get you into medical school
Getting a place at medical school is a highly competitive process and not for the easy going individuals! The average medical applicant has excellent grades, is a well-rounded person, and offers a great deal. This makes the selection process very difficult.
In order to even be considered seriously for admission, you must show you have a strong academic record, are a well-rounded, sociable person, who has taken steps to learn about what medicine is like. Simply being intelligent may not be enough (it is in some cases!). When you apply for medical school, you must ensure that all elements of your application are as strong as possible. You will not succeed if you have a glaring flaw in a specific area. Strength across all areas of your application is essential.
This can be described as your opportunity to write about yourself, why you are a good choice for medicine, and what steps you have taken to get an idea of what medicine involves. This is not your chance to describe why medicine is brilliant. The admission staff will be well aware of this. You must sell yourself as a candidate, and convincingly put forward a case for your place at medical school. Do not apply without making this essay/statement as good as it can be.
All the elements of a good candidate should be shown in a personal statement. You should highlight your work experiences, your sporting and extracurricular activity, any outstanding achievements you feel are relevant (Head prefect etc). Do not be shy about showcasing what you are good at. It can be difficult for the shy among us, but the opportunity is fleeting, and letting it pass by downplaying what you have done up to this point will not put you in a strong position going forwards.
Remember, admission staff will be reading hundreds if not thousands of these statements. Make your statement stand out. Personalize it, and reflect on specific events/experiences you had during your work like experience in a hospital or healthcare setting etc. When someone reads your statement, they should get a clear idea of you. What makes you a great applicant, and why they should offer you a place. You can start off with something eye catching. This will make you memorable to the admissions staffs e.g. write the opening sentence from the perspective of a patient you saw in hospital. This will immediately capture the attention of the reader.
You must also take the time to write about what makes you tick. If you have a particular passion for sport, won anything then mention it. Every sentence should be a concise and specific example of why you are great for medical school. Do not use flowery language, or make your sentences long. Short, specific words, with clear descriptions are best. Always finish strong, with why you want to be a doctor, what you can offer etc. Things such as ‘I want to help people’ and ‘I enjoy science’ simply will be washed away in a sea of other applications.
In terms of your interview, you should know your statement inside and out. You should be able to talk freely about anything you have mentioned in it, and it is likely that you will be asked about an area or areas of it.
Try and gain experience in a variety of healthcare settings. Instead of going from hospital to hospital, try experiencing a nursing home, a community clinic, a hospice etc. This shows that you have really taken the time to get grips with healthcare, and its various elements. Write down all the experiences you have had in a healthcare settings. This may be in a nursing home, in a clinic, in a hospital or in a hospice. After each experience, write down how long you were at this place, and then what you saw, learnt and experienced.
It is always best to write about specific thing you gained whilst at your work experience. Simple writing ‘I shadowed some doctors’ or ‘I watched a surgery’ is not good enough. What surgery did you watch? What happened? Did you learn something? When you remember what you learnt, this is not only what you learnt about the mechanics/science of the procedure but also about the communication, teamwork and leadership you saw. You will have many years at medical school to learn all the scientific and clinical content!
The same principle applies when you are speaking about your work experience at interview. Specific experiences are always best, to showcase your interest and cement yourself as a viable candidate. If you wish, you can list the experiences, and then what you gained from it. That way, the interview keeps moving and you can get through a great deal in a shorter period of time.
Entrance exams are also a part of almost all medical schools. The key to these is preparation. Some will say that you cannot prepare, as the questions are so variable. This is completely false. You can prepare for any entrance exam. Get hold of past papers and practice books and questions. Work through as many questions as you can and practice timed exams as well. The more practice you have the higher a score you can achieve.
Some entrance exams will test your scientific knowledge. Others are more like IQ tests, and will test your mathematical, abstract reasoning and reading skills. Speak to people who have sat the entrance exam before and ask them about their experiences. What did they learn from it? Did they find it easy or difficult? What kinds of questions were there? This kind of first hand knowledge will be of great benefit to you when it is your turn to sit the exam.
Another key with any entrance exam is to stay calm. When you start to panic, or remember the mistakes you made earlier in the paper, the errors collect and our marks drop. Work through the entire paper first, and answer every question (very few medical schools have a negative marking scheme on their admission tests). You can mark or flag each question you want to go back to. This will ensure you do not miss the easy marks before the time is over.
Familiarize yourself with the kind of interview you are going for. It may a traditional panel interview, a multiple mini interviews stations or even a team- based interview. The topics on which they may pose you questions may range from your work experience, your academic record, your desire to do medicine, your extracurricular work, your admission essay/personal statement or general questions about yourself.
There are 5 essential components that you must have in place for any interview. Make sure that you have all these in place well in advance of your interview date:
- Arrive on time
- Dress smart
- Stay calm: This is perhaps the most important point of advice I can give you. Nerves are the main reason people underperform at interview.
- Speak Clearly: Some applicants mumble, have deep voices, or speak quietly. This advice point goes out to you specifically! DO NOT FALL INTO THIS CATEGORY. If the interviewers cannot understand you, they will not offer you a place. If you speak too quickly, you will look nervous and worried (not characteristics they want in applicants).
- Remember to smile
- Open body language: Sit up straight in the chair. Do not slouch, cross your arms or lean forwards too much.
If you want to learn more about the interview preparation, you can also read our article on ‘How to face medical school questions’.
You can get in if you apply yourself, work hard, and work smart. The advice I have enclosed is general advice for a general medicine application. The institutions you apply to may vary in their selection policy and may place more emphasis on some areas over others. Educate yourself, and read about each university as well as their selection policy.