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How to get into medical school

Wondering how to get into medical school? The process of becoming a doctor is a long path, requiring a lot of commitment and perseverance. Before you jump in, you need to be sure that it's right for you. Medicine is a highly demanding career, and from as early as the application process! That's why in this article, we'll be guiding you through the requirements to be a doctor, along with the research and decision-making considerations you'll need to take into account.  

  1. Being a doctor: Is it the right job for you?
    1. Understand the requirements to be a doctor 
    2. Undertake work experience in a medical setting
  2. Preparing your medical school application
    1. Academic requirements
    2. Extracurricular requirements
    3. Personal statement
  3. What to expect from your interview
  4. Highlights
  5. Sources
+ Show all

Being a doctor: Is it the right job for you?

Some people will have a unique reason for their interest in studying medicine, for example an experience that they had as a child, or an illness they suffer/have suffered from. In order to separate yourself from the crowd, you need to celebrate this reason, and be aware of its role in driving you towards this career.

On the other hand, it is very common for many candidates to be applying for medicine purely for academic reasons. They were gifted at school, and they want to challenge themselves in a difficult degree. This approach can certainly create an excellent clinician, but also presents significant pitfalls. Medicine is about so much more than being clever. You have to visualize and practice medicine as both a science and an art.

In the next section, we'll look at what it takes to be a doctor, including some important research and preparatory steps you'll need to undertake before applying to medical school. 

Understand the requirements to be a doctor 

Make sure you understand what being a doctor means for you and your life. Read newspaper articles, online pieces, and get hold of any other forms of media that can give you an insight. Once you are completely sure that medicine is the right career for you, you can start thinking about your application.

At school age, it is very easy to forget the importance of exams such as GCSEs, A levels, international baccalaureate and so on. Preparing for the medical school application process begins as early as high school. The grades you achieve in homework, projects, coursework, and examinations during this period will form an enormous component of whether you get a place to study medicine. One should not take their knowledge for granted, as examinations can always go worse than we expect. Preparation through studying and taking practice exams seriously is one way to help ensure success in exams.

Sometimes the communication between a healthcare provider and their patient requires overcoming different barriers. Download our free communication cards for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to have them at hand.

You'll also need to gather information about the universities you'd like to apply to. You should understand the basic structure of their curricula, their teaching and examination formats, and any distinct features of the course. For example, if they have cadaveric dissection as part of their syllabus, or whether they offer the opportunity to complete student projects.

If your application is strong, it is likely that you will be invited for an interview. In it, you will almost certainly be asked about why you have applied to this particular university, why you want to attend it over others, and why being a doctor is important to you. 

Undertake work experience in a medical setting

Another way to find out whether medicine is the right course for you is to gain work experience in some sort of medical environment, and seize the opportunity to observe the way doctors communicate with patients and other staff. Work experience in a medical setting is also a requirement for your medical school application. 

Work experience in a hospital gives you the opportunity to see medicine practiced in its classical form. You will see all grades of doctors working as a team, as well as the way they interact with other professions. Work experience in a clinic or at a general practitioner’s office is also potentially useful, as you'll be able to observe appropriate methods of medical communication. However, it offers little in the way of demonstrating multidisciplinary teamwork experience.

Try and get a taste of a range of medical environments before applying to medical school. Hospices, hospitals, community clinics, and nursing homes are all useful places to gain experience.

Apart from working in a medical institution, it is also advisable to take the time to speak to somebody in the medical profession, and get their views on what their career has meant for them.

Hands-on experience will definitely help you to compile a competitive application. If you do not know what being a doctor actually involves, it will be difficult to make your application convincing.

Preparing your medical school application

So how do you actually get into medical school? Not everyone who applies gets accepted. In order to maximize your chances of winning a place to study medicine, you need to ensure your application is as competitive as possible. This includes:

  • writing an excellent personal statement/essay
  • obtaining a strong set of academic results
  • having letters of recommendation from appropriate sources
  • taking part in numerous extracurricular, volunteering, and charity activities

In the next paragraphs, we'll look at each of these elements in more detail.

Academic requirements

In order to get into medical school, you obviously need to be of a certain intelligence. You don’t need to be an Einstein, but you do need to be getting straight A grades or close to straight A grades. This will make your medical school application a lot easier. This isn't to say that unless you are top of your class medicine isn’t for you, but the more you are struggling with school academic work, and the lower your grades, the more difficult it will be for you to get a place to study medicine.

Some universities may prefer candidates with a certain set of results. Do not apply to these institutions if you do not have the required grades. It will waste both your time and theirs. Be pragmatic. The aim when applying to medical school is not to win a place at a prestigious university. The aim is to win a place to study medicine. Make that your objective.

Extracurricular requirements

Take the time to volunteer at a nursing home or charity shop, or have a part-time job. These activities will show that you are capable of managing more than just an academic career, and also that you have a genuine interest in caring for people. If this is a long-term activity, it will bolster your integrity and may give you an edge in your medical school application. 

Playing sports or being involved in any kind of team activity is also beneficial for your medical school application as it highlights your ability to manage a work/life balance. Medical schools will be looking preferentially for candidates who have demonstrated a clear ability to balance their lives between work and extracurricular activities. The stresses of being a doctor are much more difficult to handle when you have nothing to balance it. Examples of extracurricular activites include playing sports, playing a musical instrument, or even an artistic pursuit like painting or sculpting.  

However, be careful in your choices. One of the favorite questions of a committee is about extracurricular activities, it can be during the application process or during the interview. For instance, if surfing is your favorite activity as well as how you unwind and stay healthy, why would you want to relocate to a medical school in a mountainous area with no access to the ocean? In contrast, the candidate who bikes or runs seems more transplantable. You might think, "well I will just give up surfing for 4+ years", but the deciding committee knows better. They want you to be the right fit and be happy in their program. These are some thoughts to consider when sharing your favorite extracurricular activities.

Personal statement

The medical school personal statement or reflective essay is a core element of most applications and thus should be a showpiece of what you have to offer as an applicant. You need to highlight your qualities, and what makes you a valuable addition to the university.

You must focus on why you would be a great student, and why you should get a place. A lot of candidates become overly focused on why they want to study medicine, or what medicine involves. Don’t make this mistake. Be confident and write about what it is about you that makes you deserving of a place. If you write about an experience, it is important to emphasize what you gained from it and not to retell the story in extensive detail. The university will be interested in what you learnt from each of these experiences and how it relates to being a doctor, but not in which hospital you were, or what you spent every second of the experience doing. 

After completing your personal statement, you must read and reread it many times. Do not send in a statement with spelling errors, or other silly mistakes. Some universities have stated that they throw applications with spelling errors directly into the bin!

What to expect from your interview

If your application is strong enough, you will be invited for an interview. Well done! This is a strong indication that the medical school you have applied for likes your application, and that you have a good chance of winning a place if you perform well in your interview. The medical school interview is the last step before you find out whether you can study medicine.

A lot of students wrongly preempt the medical school interview questions they'll receive. The questions you'll be asked are likely not to find out if you are a future Nobel prize winner. Very few elite universities ask their applicants academic questions as a way of differentiating at the time of the interview. This is, however, not the policy of most universities, who will most likely focus on your personality, your tone, your attitude and your ability to remain composed under pressure.

On the day of the interview arrive early. Do not be late. Aim to arrive at least 30-40 minutes early and make plenty of allowance for horrible traffic, delayed flights, non-running trains and losing your way. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast. Maintain your energy levels and enthusiasm on the day.

In the interview itself, you should be aware of your posture. Don’t slouch, or lean too far forwards. Remember that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so pick your clothing carefully. Men should wear a suit - preferably a dark one - and a tie.. Make sure any facial hair is well groomed, your hair is neat, and your shirt is ironed properly. Women should dress smartly as well. This means no low-cut tops, short skirts or very high heels! You will not be criticized on the day of the interview, but being dressed inappropriately may cost you your place.

In the interview, you need to be positive. Make sure you come across as a positive person. You should project your voice well. Make eye contact with whoever you are speaking to, and do not look away when you’re asked a personal or difficult question. Answer your questions with confidence. Do not mumble or shout. Smile after each answer.

If you follow these steps, it will strongly increase your chances of getting into medical school. Now? It's time to start preparing your application. Good luck!

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