Hello there everyone 🙂 My name is Shabita Nandy, and I will be beginning my first year as a Cardiff University medic in September. If you’re thinking of applying for medicine and feel completely overwhelmed by the avalanche of information and challenges it presents, that is completely understandable! So I wrote this article to help break down what your workload looks like into manageable chunks and how you can get through it, which you absolutely can!
There are 3 key components of your application that must be completed before you submit your application: your admissions tests(either UCAT or BMAT), your personal statement, and your IELTS examination.
Let’s talk about these first.
The first step of your application should be to have an idea of which universities you want to apply to so you can determine if you need to sit for one of these 2 tests or both. I chose to apply only to universities that required the UCAT so I did not do the BMAT.
One of the biggest hurdles of the UCAT test is the time crunch, so make sure you learn the on screen shortcuts and calculator functions. For example, I did not know that you could type the numbers on the keyboard instead of having to click them on the screen calculator and this saved me a remarkable amount of time! Besides that, all questions in each section are worth the same number of marks, so do not get distracted by any difficult questions at the start. Capitalise on the flag function by flagging those questions to solve later and complete as many questions as you can first.
The UCAT is an aptitude test, so the answers are 100% based on your interpretation of the question, as opposed to pre-learned content. Your best bet at acing it is to learn and practice the thinking patterns required to derive the correct answers for each section- essentially, building your aptitude! For example, in the abstract reasoning section, it is important to learn how to identify patterns in shape, size and number of lines; and in the verbal reasoning section, to discern between statements that are possibly true and those that are definitively true.
This is why I found that although there were plenty of practice questions online, watching videos and buying UCAT textbooks that provided detailed, step-by-step explanations were much more useful. Most of the tips I mentioned in this article are from these guide books and videos, so you should definitely check them out to find out more! Here are some of them.
Kharma medic is one of my favourite medic youtubers- I religiously watched every single one of his UCAT videos before my exam because they are extremely informative and helpful!
- Personal statement
For medical personal statements, intellect and scientific curiosity are integral, but do not forget to highlight your empathetic, people-friendly side as well, as this is what differentiates doctors from other scientific career paths. Besides that, if you mention any books, experiences or accomplishments, make sure you are able to elaborate and discuss them in critical detail as your personal statement is likely to be brought up in interviews. It is always a good idea to adopt a reflective tone when discussing your interests and experiences, one that shows how they contribute to your understanding of and interest in a career in medicine.
The IELTS examination is not as challenging for fluent English speakers, which you should be after completing your personal statement and UCAT exam, but it is advisable to read the online guidance and complete the practice questions provided by the British Council to acclimatise yourself to the examination format.
However, there are other unofficial feathers in your cap that you are encouraged to have as an aspiring medic such as volunteering experience, work or research experience or reading medical books. While these qualifications are not essential, medicine has become such a competitive field that almost all applicants will have some variation of them as they are a great way to improve your personal statement and interview experience.
- Work experience/volunteering
Ideally, you should get some work experience in a clinical setting to gain some insight into what patient- centred care by a multidisciplinary team and your future workplace environment looks like. You could email hospitals or get in touch with any healthcare professional and request to shadow them for a week or two. If you are unable to secure a placement at a hospital, other healthcare settings you could gain exposure from include kidney dialysis centers, hospice homes or old folks homes. Most universities understand that it is very difficult to secure a work or research placement, but they do expect you to show that you have a sense of empathy and commitment, which you can display through any form of volunteering experience, even if it is not clinical.
Regardless of which route you take, the most crucial factor is being able to build a personal reflection that expresses how this experience has contributed to your passion and fitness for a medical career. For example, I volunteered regularly as a teacher at a refugee center during my A levels. In my personal statement, I discussed how teaching a group of kids aged between 7 and 12(the most hyperactive and excitable ages!) had taught me valuable lessons on commitment during challenging times, patience and empathy, all key qualities of a good doctor;
- Reading medical books
Again, this is not essential to your application, but one of the ways you can show your passion for medicine is by being well-read. If you do opt for this, some authors whose writing I absolutely love are Atul Gawande, Henry Marsh and Paul Kalinithi(Kalinithi wrote a book called ‘When Breath Becomes Air before passing away that inspired my interest in neurology but also left me bawling by the end- a highly recommended read!).
Once you’ve submitted your application, you have one final stage of the selection process to complete and that is your interview. This was the most fun to prepare for me as I got to learn about medical ethics, key medical breakthroughs and reflect on my relationship with medicine, which really deepened my interest in the subject 🙂
Interviews can be challenging because they call for a sense of self-assurance and confidence in our thoughts that many of us struggle to achieve. I was an anxious, incoherent mess when I first began preparing for my interviews, but somehow managed to get all 3 offers from all 3 interviews I attended! So I would highly encourage everyone to start preparing early because although you will never feel completely ready, the more practice, research and preparation you do, the easier it gets to let go of your inhibitions and let your passion and intelligence shine!
There are two main types of interviews:- the Multiple Mini Interview(MMI) and the panel interview.
I attended the MMI interview for Cardiff University and Queen’s University Belfast. For MMI interviews, you get a short period of time( about a minute) to prepare an answer to each question so it is important to practice mentally organizing information and responding quickly. The interviewers usually won’t speak or prompt you with questions while you are delivering your answer, so it is important to practice delivering comprehensive and holistic answers so you can earn as many marks as possible.
I attended the Barts and the London panel interview as well. These are typically much shorter and the environment is slightly more relaxed. For some panel interviews, like the one I attended, you may be given an article to discuss during the interview so make sure you read it thoroughly and can comment extensively on it.
Besides having a good grasp of the 4 pillars of medical ethics, the Good Medical Conduct guide available for doctors online is a really condensed, useful tool that I used in understanding medical ethics, a topic you will almost definitely be asked about. This guide can also help with the Situational Judgement section of your UCAT exam. Also make sure that you thoroughly research the learning style, curriculum and features of each university, as most universities want to be sure that you will thrive in their environment. Lastly, know just one or two news topics or advancements in case you are asked about them. The medic portal is a website that provides really great, easily digestible articles on the latest developments and topics of debate in the medical field for aspiring medics to read.
And once you’ve passed your interview, that marks the end of the application process. Getting into medical school is an enormous feat, but i promise that finally getting your offer is well worth the blood, sweat and tears! I hope you found this article useful, and wish you all the very best 🙂
Shabita Nandy is a bubbly first year medic at Cardiff University that intends to cultivate her dreams of becoming a doctor. When she isn’t studying or taking care of her friends, she spends her time marvelling over the intricacies of slam poetry and jamming out to the soundtrack of Disney movies and musicals (primarily Hamilton!)