Thinking back to my own medical school applications I remember it all being a very confusing time. Having never been much further than an hour around where I lived, suddenly having to make the decision to potentially go and live on the other side of the country in a place I’d never visited felt like a very daunting experience and one where I felt undeniably clueless. There is no denying that there is pressure on choosing the right medical school for you, you will be spending at least the next 5 years at this university so there is a lot to consider. In this blog I have tried my best to narrow down some of the key points to consider when choosing the right medical school for you, encompassing the academic, social and personal traits which must be considered to help you make a more informed choice.
Course Entry Requirements
Although typically very similar, different medical schools will have different requirements for entry to their course and also for interview consideration. Typically the A level requirements are around AAA/A*AA however this can differ from university to university. Not only this but access schemes and courses can also have a significant impact on the A level expectation. It is important to have a realistic idea of your best chances of securing your place and having a clear understanding of your strengths and weaknesses will help your application.
Medical schools will typically focus on your GCSEs and your UKCAT/BMAT score when selecting for interview though one is typically more weighted than the other and these differ across universities. Applying strategically based on your results will increase your chance for an interview. Referring to a university's previous cut-off scores for an interview can be really useful for comparison and taking a guesstimate approach to your application.
2. Teaching Style
Most Medical schools will follow one of three teaching styles, these are traditional, Project based learning or integrated. Traditional follows the concept of pre-clinical and clinical years where pre-clinical years will be almost entirely lecture-based with little patient interaction and the advantage of your clinical years being almost entirely patient based is that you have learnt the knowledge for this experience previously. Project based learning (PBL) is very patient centred and patient interaction is acquired very early on. Typically students are given medical cases to resolve and learn from in groups and play an active role in their learning. Integrated courses are typically a blend of both the previous learning styles.
When researching medical schools you are interested in it may be useful to have an understanding of what learning style you find most beneficial/interesting and seeing if your chosen medical school will suit your needs.
3. Length of Course
Medical school is typically 5 years minimum, some however can be longer and many give the option to take time out of your medical studies to pursue another degree, or have this included in their course time. Though not in my opinion something to think about as intently, it may be something to consider if you have particular passions or interests.
4. Hospital locations
Most medical schools will have an array of teaching hospitals, which you may be assigned to. Travel distance can vary depending on self/public transport, and some may provide you accommodation whilst you are assigned there. It may be of interest to you to see the teaching hospitals attached to your medical school.
Distance from home
Medicine is an intense course, there is no denying it, and typically we get much shorter holidays than our non-medical peers. This may make it harder to travel home to family and friends during term time and non-term time. Distance from your medical school to home and travel methods and time may be something you wish to research. For example you may wish to be able to travel back home on weekends, or you may be happy only coming home during school holidays.
As much as starting your medical course is for your qualification, you will want to be happy with the academic side of university, it is important to consider you will be spending at least 5 years living in the city around your university. Considering if you will be happy living there for that time is equally important to all the academic pro’s and con’s. If possible visit the city and the surrounding area of your university beforehand to get a better idea.
Similar to being happy with the location it is important to get a feel of the social environment of your chosen city/ university and see if it suits you. For example, are there lots of shops/bars/clubs that you may be interested in? Do you prefer a quieter area? Perhaps there is a hobby you love that you will be able to continue through a university society. Having a work- life balance is very important at medical school and being able to do things you enjoy through your university or in the city will make this much more attainable.
In conclusion there are loads of micro-points I could probably suggest for applying for your medical school but in all honesty they weren't true to what I used. Truthfully a “trust your gut” approach to your application can be just as reliable. For me I felt a strong passion for my university on my open day. It can vary from person to person but apply for where YOU feel most strongly passionate about and don't let anyone else sway your decision. Trying to choose a medical school can seem mind-boggling but just remember no matter what medical school you go to, you'll still be a doctor in the end and that's the goal for all of us, right?
By Leah Brooks.