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How to get in to medical school in the U.K., advice for students applying from Thailand March 8, 2016

Posted by drolarn in Uncategorized.

So you want to be a doctor, and you want to go to a U.K. medical school, and eventually come back to Thailand to work? My advice can be summed up in just one word: don’t. I will tell you why you should not do this. I will also tell you later why you should do it and give advice on how you may achieve this but it is important to start by telling you the many reasons why you should not put yourself through the process.

Firstly, it’s extremely competitive. If you were a UK home student it would be very hard. As an international applicant it will be extremely hard. Medicine AFAIK, is the only course in UK university where international student places are strictly limited because the UK does not produce enough doctors for its domestic needs with many vacant jobs (the UK has to rely on many doctors from the EU and south Asia) . International students have to pay more tuition fee than home students and there is no possibility of a student loan, but even then the medical schools do not make a profit from international students. This mean there are major disincentives for UK medical schools to take on foreign student. . You will be competing against many candidates from all over the world, all of whom are capable of getting excellent exam grades. According to the Edinburgh university medical school website, the odds for an oversea student getting in is about 1 in 40. But it’s far from being all about academic excellence. Even if you are capable of getting the most extraordinary exam result your school has ever seen, you may find yourself with no offer from any of the 5 med schools you are allowed to apply to through UCAS. So the odds are very much against you and you must ask yourself if you are willing to do all that it takes (and it takes A LOT) to get in, and if you will be able to handle the disappointment if you fail.

If you do get in, you will be in for 5 or 6 years of hard graft. Medical students have very much less time than other students to enjoy university life. The hard work starts in year one and gets progressively harder. You will be staying in 6 nights of every week to study. In the last 2-3 years of med school you will not even have any end of term holidays. You will need much self-discipline and mental toughness to get through the course.

Once graduated you will spend some time working in the UK as a junior doctor. Recently junior doctors in the UK went on strike because they are forced to work long hours and weekends are unfairly compensated. If your heart is not truly in medicine, you will have a very miserable time as a junior doctor. There is a significant risk of burn-out. In the US by some estimates 50% of all hospital doctors will experience burn-out.

After getting some experience under your belt, or may be even some post graduate qualifications, you then return to Thailand, you will find that your hard won degree does not allow you to practice in Thailand. You must take a licencing exam. It has long been the strategy of the Thai Medical Council to make it really hard for foreign medical graduates to work in Thailand. The Thai licencing exam is designed to fail most foreign graduates because the TMC wants to screen out Thai doctors who could not get into a Thai medical school and got their degree from less than prestigious schools in neighbouring countries. If I understand correctly, the pass rate is well under 50%. You will be examined on every medical school subject including all the basic medical sciences you learned in year 1, up to all the clinical subjects. That is all the knowledge that you took 5+ years to learn will be examined at once.

And then there is the question of why do you want to be a doctor at all? Is it for the approbation of your parents? Is it for the bragging rights because only the cleverest people get into med school? Is it the promise of a secure, well paid job? These are all very bad reasons for becoming a doctor. First of all if you parents are wise, they would not push you into spending your life doing a job you don’t like. 5++ years of your life you would sacrifice to please your parents so mommy can tell auntie and all her friends that she has a doctor son (or daughter)? That would be foolish indeed. While it’s true that as a doctor you will probably always have a job it doesn’t always pay that well. Given the brains that you have chances are you will make more money in life as a business person. Be honest with yourself, look deep into your soul, do you really see a doctor there? A good doctor? Because there is no point in aiming to be anything less.

Then there is the very considerable risk that no matter how good of a doctor  you are, you will be sued by a patient. You don’t even have to make a mistake to be sued (although we all make mistakes). If outcome is anything less than perfect, some clever lawyer can persuade your patient to sue you, after all lawyers get paid win or lose. Being sued by your patient can be soul-destroying. Many doctors have their spirit broken from being sued, even when they don’t lose. In the US a very large chunk of your income may be even half, will be spent on malpractice insurance. It is not as bad as that in Thailand, but it is definitely heading that way. There are all too many examples of doctors in this country who are burned out, only going to work for the income, and all the while wishing they had got an MBA instead of an MD degree.

You should be very sure that medicine is what you want to do. It is ok if you are not sure that you have the abilities to become a doctor but you should be sure that you want to become a doctor. Try talking to any doctor that you know, may be even ask if you can shadow them for a day or two. Try to get a real feel of what life is like as a doctor in Thailand. Many Thai doctors will tell you they regret their decision to go into medicine, and how their lives would be much better now if only they had gone business school instead.

Medicine is a vocation. If you feel it in your heart that this is what you want to do then all the negative things I have talked about so far will not put you off. If helping people recover from sickness, helping them avoid getting sick, saving lives even, if these are the things that gives you satisfaction, and gives you meaning in your life, then I urge you to do what it takes to become a doctor. The world needs more good doctors, every country needs more good doctors. Given determination and requisite academic ability, you can win through. You might not get into your dream medical school, you may have to  look elsewhere other than the UK, but you can win through and I wish you all the best and I hope the sections to follow may be of some help to you in achieving your dream.





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