Medicine as a Second Degree

A common reason for studying medicine is the desire to help people, but this comes at a price. Whilst curing patients is fulfilling and rewarding, not all can be cured and not all will be easy to deal with, particularly if they are anxious and unwell. On this basis some of the essential personal qualities of a doctor include compassion, resourcefulness, energy and perseverance.

In light of the above, it is essential that you convince yourself (and a prospective medical school) that you know what you are letting yourself in for and can demonstrate you have the necessary skills and attributes.

Investigate what the work is really like by talking to professionals, for example: junior doctors and GPs. Ask them about the rewards of the work, their working hours, life-style, and the pressures that they face. Also speak to other graduates studying medicine to find out how they are getting on.

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Applications to medical schools are made through UCAS and the closing date is mid-October for entry the following autumn.

When investigating which medical schools to apply to, there are a number of factors to take into consideration. Medical schools vary in entry requirements (most fast track courses have admission tests), in the number of places for graduates and in fees. To have a reasonable chance of success you would usually have to meet the following criteria: minimum 2:1 with good academic references, written guarantee of your ability to fund yourself through the training (via various methods outlined below), relevant personal qualities, evidence of motivation and knowledge of medicine (preferably with relevant work experience) and an understanding of the demands of the course.

Fast track graduate courses

With an overall shortage of doctors, some medical schools offer four-year fast track training specifically for graduates which are listed below. Check out whether specific science A'levels are required (see also FAQs below) and be sure to look for other entry requirements, for example, Birmingham only accept applications from students who have already graduated.

For scientists (mainly biology-related subjects)

Cardiff University also run a graduate entry course but it is only available to applicants who are currently enrolled on one of Cardiff University’s officiated feeder courses.

Some medical schools also require specific subjects at A-Level; check individual websites.

For any degree discipline

Some of these courses still require you to have some science A-Levels. Most of these medical schools arrange open days, which are an excellent way to find out more about the course and meet current graduate medical students. Visit their websites for information.

Conventional medical courses

Apart from the fast track courses, you can choose an undergraduate medical course and most of these are for five years. The majority of medical schools look for three good A-Level results, including chemistry and one other science (this could be maths). Some medical schools (e.g. Cardiff, Dundee, Manchester and Nottingham) offer a one-year pre-medical course which gives non-science graduates a way into the medicine degree course as an alternative to taking additional science A-Levels.

Medical schools vary considerably in their ethos, atmosphere and also in the structure of their course, e.g. some incorporate clinical teaching in the early years. It is essential that you research courses thoroughly and check your eligibility to apply. Most medical schools are happy to respond to informed queries.

Most of the graduate medical schools use standardised tests as part of their application process and the ones you will come across are listed below. Please note that medical schools do occasionally change which admissions tests they use so do make sure you check their websites for the most up-to-date information.

GAMSAT

The Graduate Australian Medical Admissions Test is used by St George’s, Nottingham, Swansea, Liverpool (for both 5 year and graduate programmes), St Andrews/Dundee and Cardiff (for its 5 year course). The Peninsula School at Plymouth University and the University of Exeter also use it for graduate admissions to their undergraduate medical course. Application is online. There are two test dates each year, in March (application deadline is usually the beginning of February) and in September (application deadline is typically in July). The fee is in the region of £260. Online practice papers can be purchased from the GAMSAT website, where you can also download the GAMSAT information booklet.

BMAT

The Biomedical Admissions Test is used by Oxford and is also used for graduate admissions to the undergraduate medical courses at Cambridge, Imperial College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Oxford, University College London and Brighton and Sussex Medical School. Sample questions and further information can be found online. You can sit the test in September (more expensive at £85 but you get the results prior to the UCAS deadline) or November (£49) - full details of test centres can be found on the BMAT website). Please note that not all institutions accept the September test so check the BMAT website first.

UCAT (formerly known as UKCAT)

The University Clinical Aptitude Test is used by Birmingham, King’s, Newcastle, Queen Mary’s and Warwick for their fast track courses and most medical schools use it for entry to their standard five year medical degrees. The UKCAT consists of a series of aptitude tests and the cost is £65 (2019 fees) if taken by the end of August and more thereafter (higher fees for tests taken outside the EU). Usually you can register to take the test from May although with the coronavirus pandemic registrations have not yet opened (as of May 2020) and it is likely that testing will start later than the usual July start. The registration deadline is normally mid-September; you must have taken the test before early October. A sample paper of the test can be found on the UKCAT website.

Preparing for the tests

Remember that you are under time pressure in the exams, so take this into consideration when you practise. Try and network with current graduate medical students and ask them for advice about preparing for admissions tests. Likewise, you may find other student’s opinions helpful on some of the medical discussion forum websites (see 'External resources'). Oxford students preparing for the UCAT often feedback that they have found practice tests from Medify very helpful. The UCAS website also has additional information on admissions tests.

Fast-track graduate courses

Those who embark on a fast track graduate course will find that there is some funding available, which is mainly why these courses are so competitive. The typical funding arrangements are as follows: in the first year students will have to pay £3,465 tuition costs and there will be a loan available for eligible students from Student Finance England to cover the difference between £3,465 and the tuition costs of the university, to a maximum charge of £9,250.

From years 2-4 eligible students will receive the NHS Bursary of £3,715 per year towards tuition and again, the shortfall can be met by a loan from Student Finance England. Any (inflationary) rise in tuition may result in an increase in fees. A full maintenance loan (income assessed) is available for year 1, and a reduced rate maintenance loan for years 2-4.

There are also a number of allocated means-tested NHS bursaries which students can apply for once they are in year 2 of a fast track graduate course, as well as a non means tested grant of £1,000. For further details see the NHS Business Services Authority.

The issue of funding, including eligibility and the application process, can appear complex but there is a comprehensive leaflet produced by Queen Mary, University of London.‎

Conventional medical courses

Graduate medical students on standard medical courses rarely receive any financial support and this will be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. In years 1-4 students pay the full tuition fees (no tuition fee loan) although a full maintenance loan (income assessed) is available. There is some help available for eligible students from year 5, and this includes tuition fees paid by the NHS, a means tested NHS bursary, a reduced rate maintenance loan and a non means tested grant of £1,000. Apart from meeting the tuition fees you will also need to meet your living costs throughout your training, and this may be a factor when deciding where to study.

Additional Funding

Some graduates deliberately work for a couple of years to raise some capital and, indeed, a previous employer may be able to offer holiday/part-time work during your course to supplement your living costs. Remember that working part-time during your training is easier in the pre-clinical years of a standard five-year medical course but becomes more or less impossible in the later years of the course, or during fast track courses, due to the intensity of the work.

Various trusts and charities exist to help self-financing students (see The Grants Register, and Directory of Grant Making Trusts which you can find at our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road) but not many give more than a few hundred pounds. However, the further along in your medical degree, the greater your chances of getting money, so keep applying to the same charities. Also search Turn2Us, for possible charitable grants and the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund (which also provides further ideas about managing your finances). Some universities have small numbers of scholarship funds. The British Medical Association, has an online student finance guide which has details of bursaries, loans or trust funds available to those wishing to enter the profession.

Overall, though, you are likely to face a considerable financial burden during your training and it is worth talking to other graduates studying medicine to find out how they cope financially - they may also be able to give you advice if they have been successful in raising money.

What sort of work experience should I look for?

It is essential to have a realistic idea of what medicine involves and work shadowing can provide a good insight. You might like to ask a junior doctor and a GP if it would be possible to shadow them, or at least talk in-depth about the realities of the work. Try gaining some work experience in a caring role where you will be dealing with people, e.g. as a care assistant in a nursing home or a healthcare assistant in a hospital. The latter will give you good exposure to life on a ward and the healthcare team within a hospital. You could approach the HR department directly regarding vacancies, or use websites such as  NHS JobsNHS Professionals or Mental Health Jobs. It is worth checking the opportunities on our website through CareerConnect and searching by the job function ‘Health and Social Care’.

The coronavirus pandemic in Spring/Summer 2020 has made it difficult to obtain work experience so Brighton & Sussex Medical School has organised virtual work experience to enable prospective medical students to gain insights into the work of a doctor.

Insight into Medicine is run by the Careers Service and provides an opportunity to spend a day with a hospital consultant in Oxford. The programme is especially designed for current students at Oxford University who are finding it difficult to arrange medical work shadowing. It runs twice each academic year (in 9th week of the relevant terms) and will be advertised in the Events Calendar on CareerConnect. The programme was unable to run in Hilary and Trinity Terms 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but as soon as it is feasibly possible to re-run it then it will be publicised in our weekly e-newsletter and on our website.

Students have reported that it can be difficult to get a healthcare assistant post in some hospitals without prior experience. In these situations you could apply for auxiliary nursing jobs instead, or look for voluntary work, e.g. contact the Voluntary Service Manager at your local hospital or search a volunteering website such as Do It. Some students have gained reception work at a GP surgery, which can also provide an insight into medical care and dealing with patients.

Is there a set number of hours of work experience that I need before applying?

A few medical schools do specify a particular amount of work experience, for example Warwick looks for 70 hours, but this is unusual. It is more typical that they want students who have reflected on their medical experience and articulated this in their personal statement and at interview.

How competitive is it to get on a medical course and how important are the admissions tests over the personal statement?

Even with the increase in numbers of courses offering medical places there is still a lot of competition. You can find out how competitive individual courses are by contacting the medical schools directly and asking them for the application statistics. The threshold that medical schools set with regard to their admissions tests can vary year on year but it is worth checking their websites as some give information about this. The Medical Schools Council has a guide on entry requirements which helps applicants identify how individual medical schools weight different aspects of the application.

I need science A-levels: how can I find out about courses?

Some medical schools require applicants to have some science A-Levels and students often take a gap year after graduating to acquire the relevant A-Level(s). An internet search will help you identify relevant providers such as colleges, tutors or online courses. Feedback from students suggests it is worth contacting your secondary school about the possibility of taking science A-levels through them, which can prove to be a very cost-effective option.

Answers to common UCAS form queries

  • You are allowed four choices of medical schools and you can apply to a combination of fast track and undergraduate courses. Unlike school-leavers, you can apply to both Oxford and Cambridge Universities.
  • You do not have to include an examination centre for your degree, just write Oxford University as the awarding body.
  • You apply as an individual, not through your college/university.
  • Personal statement: this is a crucial part of your application form so give yourself plenty of time to draft it. Use a format similar to that of a cover letter for a job, i.e. why you would like to become a doctor and why you would be a suitable applicant. Within your motivations you can talk about the work experience/shadowing you’ve undertaken to confirm your career choice and expand on what you have learnt about being a doctor. When showing you would be suitable you want to not only draw on your strong academic ability (remember most courses look for a minimum 2:1 degree), but also your extra-curricular activities/ responsibilities and work experience. Think about what skills are essential in a doctor and then give evidence to show you have these, e.g. communication skills, ability to get on well with people and motivation, to name but a few. Remember you can always bring in your draft to a Careers Adviser before sending it off and we have a file of sample copies of medical personal statements for you to look at.
  • Give your referee enough notice before the UCAS deadline; discuss the key skills required to make a good doctor and demonstrate how you have developed these as it will help your referee to support your application and comment not just on your academic ability but also on your other relevant strengths.
  • UCAS provides full explanatory notes, but if you still have a question then you can ring up their helpline on 0371 468 0468.

Graduate Medicine Support Group

This is run by the Careers Service and meetings are organised termly and provide Oxford University students and alumni an opportunity to share ideas and advice about applying for medicine. Email updates are also sent out to the group. Contact claire.chesworth@careers.ox.ac.uk for more information.

Books

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • Graduate Entry Medicine UK 2017-2018, Dibah Jiva
  • Medical School Interviews, Olivier Picard, George Lee
  • Medicine Uncovered, Paul Greer
  • Making Sense of Your Medical Career, Riaz Agha
  • Succeed in your Medical School Interviews, Dr Christopher See
  • How to Survive in Medicine, Jenny Firth-Cozens
  • So You Want to be a Brain Surgeon?, Chris Ward, Simon Eccles
  • Get into Medical School – 600 UKCAT Practice Questions, Oliver Pickard, Laetitia Tighlit, David Phillips, Sammy Tighlit
  • Getting that Medical Job, Colin J Mumford & Suvankar Pal
  • Preparing the Perfect Medical CV, Helen Douglas, Vivek Sivarajan, Matt Green
  • Management Essentials for Doctors, Rory Shaw, Vino Ramachandra, Nuala Lucas, Neville Robinson
  • Medical Career Choice: A Gender Study, Luiz Roberto Millan
  • Situational Judgement Tests for Foundation Programme Entry, S Shelmerdine, A Verma
  • Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine, Heidi George Moawad
  • Physicians' Pathways to Non-Traditional Careers and Leadership Opportunities, Richard D Urman, Jesse M Ethrenfeld

In addition, students have kindly donated the following books which are available for loan:

  • Getting into Medical School – 2014 entry, Simon Horner
  • Getting into Medical School - 2006 entry, James Burnett, Joe Rushton
  • Get into Medical School – 600 UKCAT Practice Questions, Oliver Pickard, Laetitia Tighlit, David Phillips, Sammy Tighlit
  • UKCAT for Dummies, Dr Chris Chopdar, Dr Neel Burton
  • Passing the UKCAT & BMAT, Rosalie Hutton, Glenn Hutton, Felicity Taylor
  • How to Master the BMAT, Chris Tyreman
  • Preparing for the BMAT – the official guide to the BioMedical Admissions Tests, John Butterworth, Dr Geoff Thwaites, Richard Shewry, Dr William James
  • Get into Medical School – 400 BMAT Practice Questions, Lydia Campbell, Olivier Picard
  • Medical School Interviews, Olivier Picard, George Lee
  • Medical School Interviews All You Need To Know - The Knowledge, Dr Mona Kooner
  • Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI) for Medical School, Dawn Sellars
  • Success in Medicine: Score Higher on the UKCAT, Brian Holmes, Mariana Parker, Katie Hunt
  • UKCAT - Understanding Test Day (2014 ed), Kaplan Test Preparation (Course Book)

Periodically we receive feedback from students applying to medical school regarding books that they have found useful, and we have included them below:

  • A Very Short Introduction to Medical Ethics, Tony Hope
  • Trust Me I’m a Junior Doctor, Max Pemberton
  • The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine, James Le Fanu
  • Do No Harm, Henry Marsh
  • Being Mortal, Atul Gawande
  • The House of God, Samuel Shem
  • When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
  • This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay
  • The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee

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