Choosing the right medical school for you

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Students prepare to see an operation at the hospital during their medical work experience with Gap Medics Medical degrees are notoriously longer in length than any other standard undergraduate degree and with this in mind you will be spending a sizeable chunk of your life at medical school, not only studying there but living there too. In light of this, considerable thought should go into the four institutions you choose to apply to.

There are several factors that you should take into consideration when making your choices. These should help you ensure that you are applying for a course and university that suits your needs right from the outset.

Entry requirements

Pay close attention to each medical schools specific entry requirements as these vary across the board. It is quite common for them to request specific A Level subjects as a requirement and often request certain grades in specific GCSE subjects as well. So don’t let lack of research catch you out! Be sure that you have attained and/or are capable of achieving the required grades in the requested subjects.

You should also consider admissions tests UKCAT and BMAT, or whether they even require you to sit an admissions test at all. If you have undergone either of these tests and not performed particularly well, perhaps you should be considering applying to one or more medical schools that do not request these as an entry requirement, such as Bristol, Liverpool or Lancaster.

 

Competition ratios

As I am sure you are already aware, applying to study medicine is a highly competitive business. Researching ratios of applicants to entrants across UK medical schools will give you a good understanding of what you are up against. It will also help you to be more rational and realistic in making your four choices. Applying to a medical school that has lower competition for places may well be a good idea in making sure that you cover all bases and give yourself the best chance of getting into medical school. If you are thinking about applying this methodology, don’t just consider the previous years application statistics. Look over the past few years to identify which ones have consistently lower competition for places.

 

Delivery of course

UK medical schools typically adhere to one of three teaching methods; problem based learning (PBL), integrated or traditional. All medical schools will indicate on their website which method is used in the delivery of their course. This decision comes down to personal preference and is a particularly important thing to consider as it will likely determine the level of enjoyment you get from your studies. Problem based learning will see you spending a lot of time working in small group situations on specific set scenarios. An integrated degree will include clinical practice alongside study from the beginning of your degree which is in contrast with the traditional method, as this is very much lecture based. Spend some time considering which method is likely to suit you best and look into course modules and content in depth.

 

Length of course

Medical degrees can vary in length in the UK, commonly five or six years for undergraduates and four for graduates. This variation in undergraduate course length occurs as some medical schools include a foundation year or offer an intercalated degree. Some will offer the intercalated degree as an option; others may well deem it compulsory. Each of these will extend your time at medical school and should be carefully considered in making your medical school choices – after all, the prospect of six years of undergraduate study may not be everyone’s cup of tea! 

Having said that, an intercalated degree will give you invaluable research experience and the added advantage of an additional BSc, BMedSci, BA or MMedSec qualification. Your intercalated year would occur at some point in the middle of your degree, requiring a break from your MBBS studies. This year will give you the opportunity to familiarise yourself with research methods and scientific techniques through more in depth topic studies. Think about this option carefully and consider how this will impact your plans after medical school, as the intercalated degree can be particularly beneficial to those who are thinking of pursuing a career in medical education or academia.

 

Reputation

A lot of students will spend time considering a medical schools position in league tables. In doing so however, it is important to bear in mind that the UK General Medical Council (GMC) has no involvement with these at all. As all UK medical schools follow a syllabus sent by the GMC, all qualifications, regardless of institution, are considered to be equal. However, league tables can be useful in determining how satisfied past students have been with certain aspects of their course. These league tables are generally compiled using sources such as The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the National Student Survey (NSS).

 

Facilities 

A typical ward, with the all-important mosquito nets! You could look to compare medical schools in terms of what facilities they have to offer. Are they in partnership with a teaching hospital? What clinical practice facilities do they have on campus? How modern and up to date is the teaching environment? 

As well as thinking about facilities in terms of your medical learning, you should also consider things like whether or not it is a campus or city university. Would you be happy at a medical school where everything is on campus or would you prefer a city centre university where accommodation and facilities are dispersed across the city? You should weigh up the pros and cons of each option in choosing a medical school that you can be sure you will be happy at.

 

Location 

Last but definitely not least, as mentioned earlier, you will be spending a significant amount of time at medical school, studying and living in your chosen location. You should do extensive research into what it would be like to live in the different locations. Consider the cost of living and whether it is feasible to live there for as long as six years. What does the location have to offer that matches your interests? Is it in proximity to home that you would be comfortable with? What are the transport links like – would it be easy to visit home when you want to?

TIP: An important step in helping you to choose a medical school will be attending open days, always visit before you commit to your four choices!

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