UCAS. One of the top words in the vocabulary of 17 year olds everywhere yet an acronym that, to this day, I’m still not sure what it stands for. With the deadline for Medicine applications fast approaching, anxieties are sure to be high. Thoughts may include: “should I have a fifth choice?”; “surely the University of Nottingham is too close to home?”; “will I enjoy PBL?” With the beauty of hindsight, I can hopefully offer some guidance in this post on making your choices.
Selecting a fifth choice on UCAS tends to split pre-med students. Some say that by putting another course down, like say biochemistry, pharmacology or neuroscience, it introduces the idea of accepting defeat. Others argue that it is a smart and strategic move. As someone who did have an alternative option, I don’t feel like you will be losing anything by stating your backup plan. You can decline any offer from a university and being the first offer I received, it actually gave me comfort to know I had the tangible option of going to university.
The obvious issue is in writing a personal statement for medicine and biomedical sciences – though there is overlap they are seemingly different careers. Many biomedical schools however, are aware that a lot of their students would have plans to pursue a healthcare profession career and do offer opportunities (albeit competitive) to change to medicine or dentistry. Also, there are many transferable points to write about when expressing your interest in the DEGREE as opposed to the career. If the fear is that you are prolonging the time you graduate then I would advise that you cast this fear away. The range of ages in each cohort is probably more vast than most courses, with many students including graduates, gap year(s) enthusiasts and those who had an epiphanic urge to change their career. It is certainly not a race to be a 22 year old doctor and alternative routes offer experiences which can’t be matched with entering straight from school. For example, with doing a different undergraduate degree even just for a year, you learn how to study, you have longer to adjust to university life and you get general life experience with every year. Having said this, if you feel like you couldn’t possibly see yourself studying anything but medicine, then maybe don’t go to university for the sake of “freshers week” – you could use that year more wisely and keep yourself focused.
When selecting universities, you have to be strategic. If you have a strong UKCAT score, there are plenty of universities out there which favour a high UKCAT score. There are medical schools which lay emphasis on research and academics and so a collection of A*s and a personal statement highlighting your hardcore love for medicine as a degree and high ambition may put you in good stead. As obvious as these pointers may seem, I often meet students who are set on a certain medical school experience and put all their eggs in one UCAS-shaped basket. With competition being fierce and as few as 10% of applicants receiving offers, one needs to give oneself as much chance as possible. Universities can’t predict how good a doctor you will be so statistics, scores and standardised aptitude tests are what must be assessed to at least get you through to the interview stage, hence, it is so important to “show off” your best features to the the medical schools you apply to, just to try and get one offer.
Don’t be over-anxious
My overarching advice would be to not be over-anxious about university applications. Understandably this is easy to say from my position however it is advice recommended by many. Unlike other careers, the university you go to won’t largely affect your ability to get a job at the end. Medical school being what is (essentially a sub-university) a lot of energy and resources are put into giving medics the best experience for 5-6 years. Bearing this in mind, you might as well look forward to getting an offer to study medicine rather than worry about “being three hours away from home”. Every year 8000 new doctors from all areas of the country with a variety of experiences are seen equally as GMC-regulated junior doctors and assessed on their competency. Not many other careers have as standardised a curriculum and your peers with other aspirations have to search for the “good universities” to give them the best career opportunities in the future.
Hopefully, my photo is a testament that no matter where you go, you will have fun with other medics and enjoy university.