Find out what you can expect from a medical degree course in the UK. You can learn about the various names the subject is given, what a typical course covers, and which qualifications and interest will improve your chances of winning a university place. You can also find out which universities have a good reputation in this field, and what prospects are available to graduates.

We are all aware of the ‘mystique’ that surrounds applying for a degree in medicine, but in reality there is no mystery. It is possible to become a successful doctor, but you must be prepared to spend time and effort in planning your application. UCAS statistics for 2006 show that applications for medicine increased by three per cent compared to 2005. In total 19,500 applications were made for 8,000 places, so half of all applications were unsuccessful.

If you are considering medicine as a career you should have at least the two years of your A Level studies in which to prepare your application. You can do this by studying and gaining high grades in the best subjects, by having time to visit medical institutions, by working in care/medical environments and so on.

Qualifications

With few exceptions you will need A level grades of at least AAB, and most medical schools now require a minimum of two science/maths subjects – some will be looking for three. You should be able to offer chemistry and/or biology plus physics or mathematics. It is acceptable to offer a non-science subject for your third or fourth A/AS Level, so if you enjoy an arts or humanities academic subject and will achieve well then this should be a suitable alternative.

Medical schools will also look at your GCSE results and, while not prescriptive, they will be looking for a broad range of subjects at A*/A/B grades.

The International Baccalaureate is acceptable by the medical schools, and you will need a minimum of 35 points with 6,6,5 at higher level including chemistry.

If after choosing your A level subjects you decide you would like to study medicine, but you can’t offer the science subjects, then it is possible to take a one year 1st MB (Bachelor of Medicine) course at university, where you will study for the correct science subjects. You will still need to offer high grades in your original A levels.

Applications

Applications are made through the normal UCAS route, but the closing date is 15 October rather than 15 January, and you are only allowed to apply to four medical schools. What you should do with the remaining two possible application slots is a discussion that you must have with teachers and admissions tutors. If you apply for something other than medicine at the same time that you are applying for medicine, you are making it more difficult to demonstrate that your chief motivation is a career in medicine; but do seek other views. If applying to Oxford or Cambridge, you will need to follow the usual application process for these institutions as well.

As many applicants apply with high A level grades, the universities have sought additional help in seeking to differentiate between students. Most medical schools now require applicants to sit the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). You will do this in the year you are applying through the UCAS system. Further information is available at Mander Portman Woodward: Getting into Medical School. Students applying to Cambridge, Imperial, Manchester, Oxford and University College London (UCL) take the alternative Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT). Further details are available at Cambridge assessment: BMAT BioMedical Admissions Test.

Many universities do interview applicants, but to get on the shortlist for an interview you must make your application form stand out from the others. Do seek advice from your teachers, medical practitioners, and so on, but you should already have many things to write about. These will include: why you want to study medicine, what experiences you have of seeing ‘medicine’ at first hand, your work experience/shadowing, knowledge of topical medical issues, awareness of ethical medical dilemmas, and so on. If you genuinely want medicine to be your career, none of this will be difficult for you to do, and it will show others and yourself that it is the right career for you. Other things to consider are reading medical articles in journals and the broadsheets, attending a first aid course and visiting your local GP or hospital to observe medicine in practice. UCAS run a series of information days for prospective medical students, and these are useful to attend.

You must not expect to be offered a place or an interview at all four of your chosen universities. You are very likely to have two or more rejections, so if you are invited for interview you must be well prepared to make the most of the opportunity. Your school should be able to offer you interview practice, and there are several books available as well as  information on the web. Do take this preparation for your interview seriously, as you may not get another opportunity to apply in this application round.

Medical Study

The General Medical Council (GMC) oversees the content of all medical degrees. What you study will be very similar wherever you attend, but the course structure and teaching methods will vary. Most medical schools now offer an integrated approach, which allows students to be involved with clinical practice from the very beginning of their studies, although a few of the older universities still offer separate clinical and non-clinical study. At many institutions it is possible to take an additional year’s study after the first two years to gain a relevant science degree. Use the published information available each year to help choose the best courses for you and go on as many open days at universities as possible.

Professional Qualifications

Once you have successfully gained your degree in medicine you must still carry on with further study for several years. First you will need to complete a 12-month period of pre-registration at an approved hospital. This is usually spent in two six-month periods in medicine and surgery. After this year you are then fully registered with the GMC and can practice medicine without further supervision.

If you wish to then move into another specialist area of medicine such as general practice, surgery or psychiatry you will need to undertake several more years of study.