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First of all, I'm going to start by congratulating you—this is most definitely not a career for the lighthearted. Being a doctor takes passion, motivation... you've probably heard all this before! But the important question is, just how do you get there? This article is going to break down exactly that—from revision methods, to interview techniques, to the essential experience needed—so, without further ado, let's get started!
1) Be different.
Without a doubt, the most important thing is to show that you can provide an edge, a different quality that other applicants don't possess. You didn't want to do medicine since you were four? Put that in your personal statement! You wanted to gain experience in a care home rather than shadowing in a hospital? Tell them! Remember, universities and interviewers receive what are essentially "carbon copy" candidates. Even if you don't think it's "what they want to hear," I guarantee you it'll make you a much more memorable applicant than others. As long as you can back up your statements and/or choices with relevant links to medicine, you will greatly impress. The more creative, the better!
2) Experience, experience, experience!
It's all very well to say you have A*A*A* at A Level, however the majority of candidates will also have stellar academics, meaning that you need something else to make you stand out. I recommend as much hands on experience as possible! Try to accumulate a variety of volunteer work; for example, you could help out with dementia care home patients, but you could also offer your services at a soup kitchen, or even hold down a job that demonstrates qualities transferable to medicine (such as communication). The key is commitment—whatever you do, stick to it for as long as you can. This proves that you can cope with responsibility, as well as showing your dedication to selflessly caring for others. Also, being able to explain why you chose to volunteer/work at a certain place is very important—show what these experiences taught you, and how you've grown from being able to participate in them.
3) Review for your UKCAT.
In the UK, the UKCAT is the exam medicine applicants have to undertake, as another way for universities to differentiate between candidates. It is essential for you to review about one to two months before your exam for an hour or two a day. I recommend Medify, as well as the "1000 questions" books that you can buy from Amazon. Honestly, the only way to ace this exam is practice, as each section follows the same format—once you can nail it in practice, the real thing will be easy as pie.
4) Interview Prep
Whether you have an interview with a board of people, or multiple mini interviews, the process can be utterly terrifying. But not to fear! Here are some key tips for keeping your cool under the pressure:
- If you don't know what to say, take a deep breath and say "Hmmm," or look into the distance and frown for a second. This sounds ridiculous, I know, but not only does it give you chance to calm down and think, it also proves to the interviewer that you are actually considering the question, rather than rambling out of pure panic. This tip really has to be my best one, as when you take a moment to actually consider the question, you realise you really do have a valid answer, as opposed to the waffle-y guess of what you think they want to hear.
- Remind yourself that they want you. You're in that interview for a reason—you've impressed them. Take that fact, and utilise it to bring you the confidence you need to get through. If you need to, go to the bathroom beforehand, look in the mirror, and stand tall, with your shoulders open—this has been proven to boost confidence, even if you have to fake it to begin with. And it'll convince your interviewers, too.
- I hate to say it, but you really do have to revise. While there's going to be some questions you can't prep for, there are some commonly asked questions topics, such as the qualities of a doctor and medicine in current affairs—stuff you ought to have a vague idea of. There is one thing I will stress, however: Definitely don't prepare paragraphs and regurgitate them to the interviewer; unfortunately, it's very obvious and unnatural (AKA not something that'll get you brownie points).
I'll finish with something that I'm sure a lot of medicine applicants would rather not think about: The backup plan. I know many others that have gone down this route, with some ending up in medicine and others realising it wasn't for them. Either way, if you don't get in on the first time, it really isn't the end of the world. You have so much time to get to where you want to be, and so many ways to get there! It's all about your dedication to medicine and helping others (which can most definitely be done without a medical degree). So here are some ideas to get you started...
Route 1: Doing a degree that allows you to transfer credits after your first year to medicine (e.g. biomedical sciences). While this adds another year and is highly competitive, it could give you the chance to discover another area of science that you might be perfectly happy with, or further cement your belief that medicine is for you.
Route 2: Doing a post-graduate medical degree. Again, a long and lengthy process, but this route doesn't always demand a scientific degree, meaning that you could experience another passion of yours before settling down to do medicine. Also, it's important to consider expenses—this definitely isn't cheap, unless you can get your hands on a scholarship/bursary.
Route 3: Look into a physician's associate/nursing/midwife degree, etc. Yes, this isn't a doctor, but it is helping people, which should be your main motivation rather than money—obviously, it's a bonus, but it won't buy happiness in the long-term. If having a work-life balance appeals to you more than waking up in the middle of the night for a shift (as work IS a doctor's life), this may be the option for you.
Congrats, you made it to the end! As you can see, there's an awful lot that goes into this process (comparable to jumping through flaming hoops wearing roller skates). Though what I've forgotten to mention is that medicine is an extremely rewarding, diverse, and commendable career—and if you want to achieve this dream, GO FOR IT! Believe you can do it, and you will.