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Advising on medicine, dentistry and veterinary routes

Your most academically-able, thoughtful and determined pupils may have an ambition to be a doctor, a dentist or a vet. Today in our Dear Headteacher series, we present the advice given at Sherborne School, so that pupils are under no illusions about the demands that will be made upon them if they want to pursue a career in medicine.

Though the UCAS deadline for these subjects is 15 October, the school insists that all applicants, (including former students) must submit a paper copy of their UCAS form to the Careers Department by 30 September, as it has many forms to follow.

Getting into Medicine

Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine are among the most competitive of vocational subjects for university entry (e.g. Edinburgh had 2068 applicants for 199 places in Medicine in 2012-3). The selection procedure at all medical/dental/vet schools is rigorous. Students are allowed to apply to only four schools, but may apply for a different subject as their fifth choice.

Nearly all medical/dental/vet schools will interview a short list of applicants as part of their selection process. The interviewers will review both your academic and personal qualities. Interviews might be of a traditional format or Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI): a series of 6-10 stations of perhaps eight minutes each, ranging from questions on videos to role play. MMIs test resilience.

Academic qualities

  • A history of consistently strong academic performance is important, and A level predictions of AAA will be required as a starting point. A* grades are now starting to be introduced into offers as well.
  • Medical/dental/vet schools may have specific GCSE or A level requirements, and the up-to-date picture must be fully researched before applying. If there are any queries, do not hesitate to contact the medical school directly, by telephone or email.
  • Do not be fooled by bland statements of GCSE entry requirements – many applicants will have eight or more A* grades!
  • Medical schools will mainly screen applicants firstly by their academic track record plus admissions tests, and secondly by their UCAS Personal Statement.

Personal qualities

Personal qualities sought include:

  • vocation/commitment, and empathy (based on relevant work experience)
  • resilience (to withstand the long training programme)
  • personal management skills (to cope with the volume of work)
  • good stress control
  • willingness to take responsibility
  • good problem-solving abilities
  • IT skills
  • broad interests, with pro-social attitudes
  • enthusiasm for independent learning.
  • The student must also be healthy and physically capable of fulfilling the role of a doctor. Disability of any sort is a challenging issue and, if there is any doubt, advice should be sought early. Poor hearing and poor vision are problems which would prevent a person becoming a doctor. Disclosure on the UCAS application is important: to withhold information (e.g. dyslexia) would be regarded as deception (applicants with a dyslexia diagnosis should make direct contact with the Medical School to inquire what support is available).
  • Integrity is essential, and, after a formal offer has been made by a Medical School, enhanced clearance through the Criminal Records Bureau will be required (this will reveal cautions, warnings, and offences). Any offence involving assault, or a record of drug-related incidents, would be likely to prejudice an application.

Work experience

This is extremely important. As well as being a test of your commitment, it will show you the critical significance of good communication (interpersonal) skills.

For Veterinary Medicine there may be a minimum requirement: e.g. Nottingham looks for at least six weeks’ animal-related work experience before application. For Medics, work experience does not necessarily have to be in hospitals or GPs’ surgeries (which can be difficult to achieve because of issues of Health and Safety and patient confidentiality). Experience with people, however, is very important indeed, and could include working with the elderly or disabled. You are encouraged to talk to a variety of people employed in the NHS, to be fully aware of what is involved. A long list of work experience is much less useful than perceptive and reflective commentary on it in the Personal Statement.

Admissions tests

All applicants to Medicine/Dentistry/Veterinary Medicine are high-achievers and admissions tests will provide additional information on the applicants, thus helping to discriminate between them. These tests, BMAT and UKCAT, are challenging even for those who will achieve the highest grades at A level.

  • BMAT (the BioMedical Admissions Test): Some med/vet schools will require the BMAT test. This test is taken at school early in November in Year 13, and entries are made through the school examinations office in September. See www.admissionstests.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/adt.
  • UKCAT (the UK Clinical Aptitude Test): Most medical and dental schools now require this. Applicants must themselves register (and pay) for the test online, from May in Year 12, and arrange to take the online test during the summer. This is the student’s responsibility. See www.ukcat.ac.uk.

Be prepared

It is generally recognised that early applications are often the strongest. Do not delay unnecessarily.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for applicants to have forecasts of AAA and still not receive any interviews or offers. It is in your interests to prepare yourself and your Personal Statement to the best of your ability.
Attend relevant school society meetings regularly and be willing to give talks and ask questions.

Some useful links

  • gov.uk  – Featured section provides very useful background on the health and social care system
  • gmc-uk.org – Visit and click on ‘Education and training’ – General Medical Council website
  • wanttobeadoctor.co.uk – Created by a group of medical students at University of Leeds
  • ucl.ac.uk  – Specific UCL procedure for selecting applicants for interview and offers is particularly clear

And a useful book

Among the many that might be recommended, one stands out for its insight into issues involving patients and colleagues for someone training to be a doctor.

Each chapter could be taken as the basis for a seminar discussion: Gabriel Weston: Direct Red : a Surgeon’s Story, Vintage 2010 (ISBN 9780099520696).


Dear Headteacher

Posted by Dear Headteacher on Tue, 14 Feb 2017



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UniBox's 'Dear Headteacher' series brings together a complete set of guidance articles created by the Director of Higher Education and Careers at Sherborne School, Philip Rogerson, based on his 20 years' experience of helping pupils get the university places they deserve. 'Dear Headteacher' is part call to arms, part hard-headed advice and all good practice. We hope that schools across the UK get some hugely valuable insights out of this 2-week series, especially in terms of supportive advice.

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