Five tips for applying to medical school

Society member Seb Shaw is probably not your typical medical student. Currently studying for a Masters degree at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, he’s keen to dispel myths and give a little insight into the real world of medicine. Here are his five top tips for applying to med school….

1. Apply to medical schools that teach you in the best way for you!

Not all medical schools teach, support and test their students in the same – or even similar – ways. For that reason, it’s so important that you research the different options available before applying.

You need to be asking yourself things like:

  • Do I prefer being taught or learning things on my own steam (e.g. from books)?
  • Do I prefer modular tests or end-of-year exams?
  • Do I thrive in smaller groups or larger year sizes?

Many people seem to think of entry to medicine as “take any offer you get”. But I am a strong believer in finding a course that you actually want to study – right from the application period.

2. Don’t be told you can’t get the grades!

As it says on the tin, you’ll need to get the grades in order to get into any medical school. But, that doesn’t mean you should count yourself out just because you think you’re unlikely to achieve them. After poor results at the end of my first year of A-Levels – BBBE – I was told not to apply to medical school. On the back of persistent convincing and a reasonable UKCAT score, I was eventually allowed to apply – against my college’s best advice. Where am I now? Studying an intercalated MSc between my third and fourth year of medical school!

As somebody who retook retakes of retakes (determined – I know!) to get the grades I needed, I never considered myself as somebody who was stereotypically intelligent. Once I arrived at medical school, I found out that I was dyslexic – something that I can now say with pride. No, not pride at my difficulties, but pride at my achievements and my compensatory strengths in communication skills and abstract thinking.

To this day, I argue that creativity and an eager spirit are worth so much more within this profession than any degree of traditional intelligence.

3. Work experience, work experience, work experience!

To really make yourself stand out, you’ll need to get the widest range of work experience possible. Yes, it would be ideal if this was all medical, but don’t fret if you struggle finding it. Your personal statement should focus more on what you have learnt from your experiences than what they involved. I might therefore argue that working a busy shift in a coffee shop is just as good as anything medical for learning to work under pressure, for example.

When I interviewed for my medical school, it was far more impressive to see applications explaining skills learnt through non-medical experience than purely descriptive accounts of medical experiences.

My work experiences included:

  1. Volunteering in a primary school – learnt how to talk to children.
  2. Volunteering as a ward assistant – learnt the inner working of a busy ward.
  3. Volunteering in a medical centre – learnt how every member of staff is equally important to the smooth running of the practice.

4. Be a well rounded human being

Make sure you don’t get too bogged down with working towards your grades. It really stands out to see a personal statement where someone can also discuss what they do for fun and how it might also have prepared them for medical school or life as a doctor. For example, I was an Army Cadet. This taught me team-working skills and the ability to take charge and lead others when necessary.

5. Don’t think you’re not ‘normal’ enough to apply!

Medical school –a  mysterious land of deity-like human beings with impeccable taste, superhuman levels of intelligence and rich, upper-middle class backgrounds. Sounds ridiculous? That’s because it is… to those of us who know better, through insider experience! But, to school students, this may still be how they feel – my experiences certainly highlight this. I used the Big Bang Fair South East as an opportunity to ask students about medical school and their aspirations. I was sad, if not surprised, to hear that they would love to go to medical school but didn’t think of themselves as worthy – due to their less-privileged backgrounds.

I am – let’s say – not what you might consider a typical medical student. I don’t come from a rich background, I didn’t go to a private school, and… I didn’t grow up with my parents. I am what might be classed as a “Care Leaver”. For these reasons, I am passionate about Widening Access to medical school – especially through the use of Outreach Programmes. What better way to dispel these myths of perfection than to give students a peak into the real world of medicine? To display it for all of its diversity and its perfect imperfections.

As I write this, I have just gotten home from teaching Army Cadets – having driven through my City in full army uniform, with the windows down, singing One Direction at the top of my voice. Routine, yes. Normal, perhaps not… But, hey, what is ‘normal’ anyway?

Seb Shaw

MSc (Medical Education) Student, Brighton and Sussex Medical School

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