Having dedicated hours and hours of the past two years of my life in attempt to gather a collection of what I considered worthy achievements for my application to graduate medicine, I can thankfully say that it actually paid off. By no means would I view myself as the perfect candidate and it’s safe to say that the tears of pure happiness that were shed in the silent zone of my university library are a good representation of my relief and surprise at being offered a place at my dream medical school, on a graduate medicine program. Since my success, of which I still have to be reminded on a daily basis that it’s now my reality, I have been asked by quite a few people “so how do I do it?”. Well here are a few tips that I wish I’d been told beforehand!
(Disclaimer: it is worth noting that I only applied to UKCAT universities as I did not sit the BMAT or GAMSAT so apologies if you’re looking for any specific information there!)
- Self-confidence – As mentioned, I would not say that I am the perfect candidate, however this process is gruelling at times and so my first piece of advice would be to believe in yourself throughout and do everything you can to eliminate any self-doubt. This means steering clear of any chat rooms and forums (yes, I know you know the one I’m on about…) and making sure you know when to ‘switch off’ from the process. I found it very easy to live and breathe it when I was enduring it, but just as you’ll need to do as a doctor, keeping a work-life balance is key. It will maintain your sanity throughout the process! I’m aware that I speak in retrospect and trust me, this is much easier said than done but I cannot stress how important this is!
- UKCAT Myth-busting – If you sit the UKCAT…don’t worry about sitting it mega early. There are rumours that if you sit it early on then you score better which is a trend not necessarily a ‘thing’. I sat it in late September before I came back to uni and scored comfortably within the 9th decile (somehow?).
- UKCAT Preparation – I found one resource totally invaluable however due to legal reasons should probably not explicitly mention them. For your benefit however, they’re an online resource to which you must pay a subscription fee; their name begins with an M and ends in a Y. Their preparation allows for the UKCATSEN timings too and their database of questions is accurate, enormous and great value for money!
- UKCAT, again – I must add that I feel it is nonsense when people say you can’t really prepare for this exam. I left 7 weeks (as I have ADHD and dyslexia, it took a bit longer) but preparation is vital. Additionally, don’t worry if things don’t click until the eleventh hour! My exam score was higher than anything I’d got in my mocks and things didn’t really make ‘sense’ (I use that word lightly…) until the final ~4 days!
- Be wise with entrance exams – I had booked to sit the BMAT just after my UKCAT but ended up doing a lot better than expected! Consequently, my choices changed to all UKCAT universities. Although I did have one BMAT uni that I LOVED, sitting the BMAT comes after you have to send your UCAS off… My advice here is to have a think about whether you’re willing to take the gamble with a BMAT choice if you don’t know what your score will be before you send your application. Of course, if your UKCAT didn’t go so well this works in reverse so use the BMAT to your advantage!
- The personal statement – As sad as it is, as a graduate you will find that many medical schools pay little or no attention to the personal statement… or at least they say they don’t. Some will use it at interview and perhaps to distinguish candidates that score very similarly at this stage but the take-home message here is to do your reading and see which of your choices uses this. SAYING THIS, I am aware of two fellow applicants this year with identical UKCAT scores and academic qualifications of which one was invited to interview and the other rejected beforehand. I’d say it is therefore still important not to neglect this element in the slightest. This also brings me on to my next point…
- Personal references – For UCAS you will usually require an academic reference. For me, this was my personal tutor at university. Now to put it simply, I study a degree in pure biology, and my personal tutor was a botanist who had never had a student apply for medicine. As you can imagine, this proved more than difficult. In the end I printed a list of ‘qualities of a doctor’ and explicitly handed it to him before he wrote my reference; it turned out fabulous. The moral of the story here is that people on ‘the outside’ of the medicine bubble often don’t get it and may need some help! Don’t be afraid to push for what you need.
- Selecting your choices – Have a search around as to what each uni is looking for/what they are known for – as unfair as it is there appears to be some unwritten selection criteria for some of the higher ranked universities. It is worth checking freedom of information searches for candidates in previous years that were offered an interview/place! Without mentioning names, although an offer will always be conditional of a 2:1, to get to interview some places will not take candidates without a 1:1. If you have a masters or a PhD however, this is different. Bottom line is – do your digging!
- Check how much is weighted on your academics vs UKCAT/BMAT/GAMSAT – Although I didn’t sit the latter two, it is imperative to check how much weighting is used for these things by universities when deciding who to invite to interview. Some universities ask for a minimum in specific areas e.g. Warwick requires above the national average specifically for verbal reasoning. Barts on the other uses the overall average but weights UKCAT: academics with a 50:50 ratio. They also look at the SJT!
- Putting an undergraduate course down – One of my four was an undergraduate course. I have to hold my hands up here and say that when I applied I thought that it would be my ‘safe’ option however what isn’t posted anywhere is that as a graduate you are NOT always ranked against the undergraduates! You will be scored at interview against the other graduate level applicants applying for the percentage of places allocated to graduates on the undergraduate course. It is very hard to say what the calibre of candidate will be versus graduate entry and you might like to think the competition would be less stiff, but to presume anything in this game is a mistake!
- Don’t make a silly mistake – Sadly, I met several people this year during the process that ended up ‘wasting’ an option. This is really sad as even as a graduate you only get four UCAS choices. Make sure you understand fully what each of your choices ask for in terms of academic background i.e. grades and subjects! Similarly, some universities like Warwick and Nottingham ask you to meet a work experience quota – READ the type of work experience that counts! I have over 60 hours of first aiding which sadly didn’t count this year as they couldn’t tell how many actual ‘patient contact hours’ you had (cry).