Shadowing a DoctorSeptember 3, 2014
Getting a place at medical school is a competitive business. According to the UK Royal College of Physicians, 21,389 applications to medical school in 2010 led to only 8,009 offers for places to start in September of the same year. If you and your teachers think it is worth your while applying, chances are you are a strong candidate – so if you do not get a coveted place it can be quite a blow. But it doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer the world of medicine. Just that you need to reconsider your game plan. Here we take a look at what to do and what to consider when your path to a medical career is not as smooth as you would hope.
Why did they turn me down?
Feedback on why you were turned down is an essential step in helping you decide how to go forward. If you were turned down by all four of the UK universities to which you applied without securing a single interview, ask for your UCAS score. If you were rejected after interviews, ask the university for feedback. This will give you the best possible indication of how you can improve your chances if you decide to reapply for medical school.
Great grades – but nowhere to go?
If your grades match the requirements of medical schools you are attracted to, but you did not secure a training place, you could decide to take a year out and reapply to enter in the next academic year. The Royal College of Physicians points out that the interview panel will probably expect you to make use of this year to enrich your medical knowledge and experience. The Gap Medics programmes offer excellent ways to do this, but be aware that you may be called for interview at medical school at very short notice, so think ahead about how you would get home for interview – or several interviews – should this happen.
Grades not quite what you hoped?
Your grades might not be good enough for medical school but might well be good enough for a wide range of jobs in the field of medicine. Again, this is a moment when you should ask yourself some tough questions and listen to your instincts. Do you really want to be a doctor? If so, perhaps you should invest another year in school to get the A Level results which will impress interview panels. Or would you in fact be as happy working as a physiotherapist, dietician, or going in to the field of medical research? Only you know the answer to this. Resitting your A Levels will be a small price to pay now if you feel in your heart that you will one day regret not doing everything you could to have the medical career you dreamt of at 18.
Graduate in another subject? Reapply!
If you can’t face another year at school, this may be an option for you. In the UK a total of 16 universities offer a graduate entry programme to medicine. This is an accelerated four year course designed for students who already hold an undergraduate degree in one subject, but now want to be a doctor. The four-year graduate entry programme delivers exactly the same qualification as a five-year undergraduate degree in medicine, but it is only open to graduates. Securing a place on the accelerated course is highly competitive. But if you did not get into medical school this time round and don’t want to resit your A Levels, this might be the option for you. You might want to consider doing a degree which will strongly support a medical degree.
Alternatively you could do an undergraduate degree and then reapply for the usual five-year medical degree – effectively reapplying as an undergraduate.
Gain relevant experience
If you want to reapply for medical school, strengthen your application second time round by gaining some experience to put on your application. Whether resitting your A Levels, taking a year out and reapplying with good enough grades, or doing an undergraduate degree with a view to doing medicine afterwards, be sure to get some good work experience to put on your application. Shadow doctors, volunteer at care homes, do a first aid course. Have a good browse of Gap Medics’ overseas programmes to see how you can boost your practical experience and demonstrate your commitment to medicine.
Make sure you are a rounded character
Medical school academic requirements are so demanding that it can be easy to neglect other areas of your life as you try to get the best grades possible. But medical schools are looking for people who can balance academic demands with social and work responsibilities, as this will allow you to develop the social skills necessary to work in a job which demands good interpersonal skills and sensitivity. If you did not get any interviews, a lack of non-academic experiences may be why. Strengthen your CV with paid employment and some kind of regular sporting or other group commitment. Evidence of some hobby or non-academic commitment is important, because it shows a balanced approach to life and a willingness to switch off from work which are essential for coping with the stresses of medical school.
A career as a doctor offers professional and emotional satisfaction, a good salary, social status and a job which will let you travel the world. But so do many other healthcare professions. If you did not get into medical school it may simply be that you have been unlucky this time – and will succeed next time. But it may be that life as a doctor is not really the healthcare career for you and your experience and academics so far are revealing that – or that interviewers have picked up on it. If this is the case, chances are that a different career in this field may, in fact, be the perfect job for you. Ask yourself what attracts you to the day to day reality of doctoring. Do you fancy the challenge of diagnosing and problem-solving? In that case, perhaps specialising in the pathology of illnesses would satisfy you just as much? Or were you attracted to working closely with individual patients and helping them rebuild their lives after illness or trauma? Perhaps physiotherapy would give you the satisfying career you seek?
If your path to becoming a doctor turns out not to be as smooth as you had hoped it will be a blow – but not necessarily an insurmountable one. The key step is to arm yourself with as much information as you can – such as feedback from interviewers, facts about alternative routes, the relevant work experience which might help you win that coveted place at medical school second time round. The same information might lead you to reconsider altogether. Only you can work out the answer to that. But if you have been attracted to the world of medicine in the first place, chances are that whatever you decide, you can look forward to a satisfying and worthwhile career in the years ahead.