Please Mind the Platform Gap: Studying Medicine in the UK

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Celine Ng (16A01A), Karen Cuison (16A01D) and Louisa Li (16A13A)

Raffles Press presents a handy guide for students who wish to study medicine in the UK, featuring words of wisdom from three seniors currently studying medicine in the UK – Amanda Choo and Samantha Chan of Cambridge, as well as Jaclyn Tan of University College London.

First things first – How to pick which university to apply to

The common thread of advice given was, of course, to do research on the individual school and find one which would best suit you. Specifically, here are some things the interviewees had to say about their choices:

Amanda: I chose Cambridge for academic and personal reasons. I was drawn to the course’s emphasis on building a firm scientific foundation in pre-clinical years, the use of cadaveric dissections along with prosections (with a good student to cadaver ratio), strong research background and my college’s good supervisor to student ratio for supervisions. Personally, I was amazed by Cambridge’s long history and historic alumni, the beautiful city (to be fair I hadn’t visited UK prior to my offer), and wanted the opportunity to challenge myself living abroad and doing a rigorous course.

Samantha: Personally, I wouldn’t recommend an open application as you might get put into a college you don’t like (like an all girls college or one that is far from the city centre). Looking at past application to offer ratios might help, after shortlisting some criteria for your college such as size, location, college culture, number of international students, student welfare etc. College websites and student prospectuses give an idea of these factors. The probability of getting accepted with an open application isn’t higher (and likewise a college wouldn’t know if you applied to them directly or via an open application), so might as well pick a college you wouldn’t mind being in. Most people end up loving their college anyway!

Jaclyn: Try to find out about the teaching styles offered (lecture­ based, practical­ based learning, or combined) and see what suits you best. As you will be spending 5/6 years of your life there, make sure you’re comfortable in the immediate environment and neighborhood. When researching on schools, do not just look at the prospectuses and websites. Talk to seniors studying there to get differing opinions but make sure to take things with a pinch of salt. Finally, don’t be afraid to consider deferring your entry into university.

What to expect from applications

All three emphasised the fact that different universities can have vastly different application processes, so it’s always best to do research on their admission criteria. Specifically, one ought to look out for:

  • The possibility of an interview
  • The weightages of various sections – BMAT/UKCAT scores, interview scores, essays or personal statements, for instance
  • Selection/ Elimination processes – rating students on a total score, for instance

Individual research aside, students are of course encouraged to get in touch with admissions offices whenever in doubt, with Samantha noting that “Cambridge colleges tend to be quite obliging on information if you ask. [sic]”

How to prepare for your applications

Once again, all three interviewees were unanimous in their advice, emphasising the need to start early. Specifically, interested applicants ought to

  • Start their personal statements around 3-4 months in advance
  • Start their BMAT preparation a few months in advance: they should practice writing essays weekly, go through BMAT 400 assessment books, and attempt past-year Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ) under timed conditions to get a sense of what will be demanded of them

For the Cambridge interview segment, both Amanda and Samantha noted the strong emphasis on demonstrating intellectual rigour, with Amanda saying that “The interview is mainly academic, although other questions about your application (e.g. reasons why you chose medicine, questions about your personal statement) are possible”. They also noted its emphasis on demonstrating the quality of your thought -in Amanda’s words, “It is not meant to be a trivia quiz or an interrogation but is meant to allow the interviewer to see how you think and investigate problems”. Those fretting over the interview are advised to

  • Approach their science teachers or seniors studying medicine to give them mock interviews so they can practice answering questions
  • Practice articulating and explaining their reasoning thoroughly
  • Ensure that their knowledge of A-level Biology “and possibly Chemistry” is solid
  • Form groups and discuss relevant hot topics
  • Read up on the latest medical advancements and news (E.g. articles in Scientific American and New Scientist), be ready to discuss common ethical scenarios. It might be helpful to summarise useful articles in order to aid comprehension and recall of key points

For the UCL interview segment, Jaclyn noted the importance of being familiar with what you’d written for your BMAT essay, which the interview panel would have a copy of.

Additional tips

Amanda: (On the interview)  It is perfectly okay to not know an answer or to get something wrong but it’s preferable to show a calm thinking/troubleshooting process if you’re in a bind. Basically, they’re looking for someone that they themselves want to teach, so be a positive student!

Samantha: Ultimately, a lot of it is down to luck, and try not to be too obsessed over the outcome. Take each step in your stride and enjoy the process (like interview prep), and good luck!

Jacyln: Even if it’s tempting to apply to all the BMAT schools, diversify your choices. You won’t get your BMAT score until you send in your applications!

In conclusion, the main ideas were to:

  1. Do your research and be sensitive to the different requirements of each school
  2. Start preparations early and work hard at them
  3. Demonstrate intellectual ability beyond content knowledge.

Raffles Press wishes all applicants the very best!

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