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How to get into U.K. medical school, part 2. March 17, 2016

Posted by drolarn in Uncategorized.

In this section I will give hopefully useful advice for prospective medical students and although this will be aimed primarily at high school students in Thailand, much will probably be applicable to any candidate anywhere.

A long time has passed since I entered the medical school at Edinburgh University. Although much has changed, medical schools are still looking for bright students who will become good doctors. Their methodology in the selection process may have advanced, but they are still looking for very much the same qualities.

The first, although not the most important quality, is academic ability. This is also the easiest criterion for the medical school to judge as all that is needed are your predicted IB scores or A level grades. IGCSE scores are also important but not vitally so. You can find out what the medical school typically requires in terms of grades from the medical school websites. These typical offers are never absolute and if your predicted result falls a little short, you should still apply especially if you make up the shortfall with your other qualities.

What other qualities are these? Different schools will look for different things or ascribe different weightings to the various traits they want to see in a candidate. Almost every school look for passion for the subject, communication skills, capacity of empathy, team-player, leadership quality. Other highly valued traits include creativity, critical thinking skills, self-discipline and mental toughness. It is a challenge for the schools to assess these traits and qualities as it is a challenge for the candidate to demonstrate them. On their websites the school will list clearly if they require the BMAT or UKCAT test. They will of course scrutinise you personal statement and your teacher’s reference. If they like your application you will be invited for an interview or interviews and this may take various forms including the MMI.

All these things: your personal statement, teacher’s reference and interview performance are absolutely crucial and will determine your chance of success even more than your predicted grades. Remember the schools have no shortage of academically brilliant candidates. Getting 40+ points in your IB or A*A*A will almost guarantee your admission into any course but not medicine.

In your personal statement you will need to sell yourself without appearing too boastful arrogant and pompous. You really should not write your personal statement without help or guidance from your teacher or other sources. There are a lot of resources on the internet on how to write a good personal statement. Some medical school websites will even give you extensive tips on what they like to see in a personal statement so you should take advantage of all these resources but in the end make sure your personal statement is indeed personal. If it appears plagiarised your personal statement may be discarded out of hand.


If you find you are lacking several of the qualities and traits desirable in a doctor, have no fear! You can cultivate most of them. You only need to apply yourself. Really none of us are perfect. If you know yourself, you know what your deficiencies are, you can work on them.

Passion for Medicine

You will need to demonstrate your passion for the profession on your personal statement and at interview. Here are some ways you can do this. The best is probably to volunteer at a health care institution. Use your initiative here and find out what government health care facilities are near enough for you to go once or twice a week and write to them or go visit them. They will find something useful for you to do, even if it is only to chat to some lonely old folks. Or during your school vacation try going further afield. One example I can give is the McKean Rehabilitation Center in Chiangmai, which used to be a leper colony. You can learn a lot from places like this, you will learn that medicine is not just about prescribing the right pills or cutting off the right bits. This kind of actual exposure is now pretty much compulsory in your application. You will be a serious disadvantage if you cannot claim any experience in health care environment at all. Your application is likely to go nowhere. Some schools will insist that your work experience is verifiable and documented. They mostly do no specify how many hours you need, but a rough guide would be 70 hours. What is vital is you must be able to say how the work experience has benefited you. You are advised to keep detailed logs of what you have done and learned.

Shadowing a doctor is also really useful. Start with your family doctor if you know no-one else. Medical schools want to see that you know what life is really like for a doctor.

You also need to be aware of the health issues in your country and the world. Find out about health care provision in this country and compare it to the UK. Think about how health can be improved for the ordinary people. Is it more hospitals doctors and drugs or is it clean water and nutritional education? Acquaint yourself with the world’s pressing health issues, like the rise of antibiotic resistance, the threat of the superbug, the lack of vaccines for killers like malaria, and the rise of the anti-vaxers, people who believe vaccines are an evil invention. Some global news organisations like the BBC helpfully provide regular health related news and is a great starting point for further reading. Medscape provides doctors with much useful health news and although you will not have full access to Medscape articles, you can learn a lot just from the headlines and do more research on hot topics, like the Zika virus for example. You may be very well be asked at interview about community or world health issues and although you may not know all the facts, you should be able to demonstrate some awareness and make thoughtful comments on the topics.

Team work

Being a team player is a vital quality that you must demonstrate. You can do this, obviously, by being part of a team or teams, like school sports team, or school orchestra or pop band, or school newspaper team. International schools in Thailand mostly provide you with many opportunities for team work, Thai schools not so much. If you feel your school does not provide you with anything you are interested in taking part in, then create your own group or club. No school newspaper? Start one up!


It is not difficult to imagine why this is a crucially important skill to have. Again this is something you should be able to demonstrate in your personal statement and at interview. If you are blessed already with leadership drive and skills, that’s great, but what if you, like a lot of other people, normally prefer to be told what to do, and are reluctant to take on the responsibility of leadership? It’s certainly not in every person’s nature to be a leader, it’s certainly not in mine, but I am here to tell you that you can cultivate this skill. You can learn how to step up and take charge. You can try to do this by reading books on leadership, I have seen many in bookstores, although I have never read one. The best way learn leadership, I think, is to just do it. So if you are in a sports team, ask, (or even tell!) your team mates that you are going to be the team captain today. If you are in a school music band then select an ensemble piece and get your friends to agree to play it. If you are not in a school band, start one up. Become the editor of your school newspaper, or sub-editor if the editor position is not free. Better yet start up your own school newspaper and get your friends to contribute. If there is something you like but there isn’t already a club at school, for example photography, film, manga drawing (but NOT manga reading), then start one up. If you have several friends all interested in medicine, form a small group and go volunteering together. Really opportunities for leadership abounds, you just have to have the initiative drive.


Creativity is a prized trait in just about for all courses at all universities. Even hard sciences and maths, being creative, and thinking outside the box, can give you a real advantage. Other than the traditional music, art, poetry etc also consider creating internet content like vlog on YouTube.

Time Management

We haven’t even reached the end of the article and you can already see that you have a lot to do to even have a slim chance with your application. You have to work hard at your studies to get the good grades you will need, you have to do the work experience, and you have to do several extra-curricula activities. You also need time to relax. Doctors are always having to juggle work commitments, weekend work, night duties etc and so medical schools wants candidate who can handle do of this without going crazy.

Communication skills/ The Interview

Among many other things you will be judged at interview is your communication skill. Yet another crucially important skill you must have. If you do not have it your must start acquiring it, as soon as possible. Being an introvert is a common thing. Many of us are reluctant to talk to strangers, or are no good at making small talk. But obviously as a doctor you will have to communicate will with your patients and your colleagues. I would say the best way to do this is just to talk to the patients you will see on your voluntary work period. Patients are often all too pleased to talk to someone who is empathetic. Don’t just ask about the symptoms, ask about how the illness has affected their lives. Again write down what you learn.

The medical school interview will be only the first of the interviews in your life that could potentially change your life. It’s natural to feel nervous and the nervousness can cause you to give a poor first impression. If you are a super-candidate all your 4 choices may invite you for interview, and by interview 4 you will probably do much better than at interview 1 because you will learn from experience. The sensible thing to do therefore is have practice interviews before interview 1. I can tell you that it really is possible to improve from being a flustered nervous wreck to a confident and engaging interviewee. You need to practice, and you need to switch off that switch in your head that makes you shy and nervous. Again there are now many resources on the internet to help you with interviews. You can even go on paid courses. It is truly worth investing much time and effort if not also money learning how to be good at being interviewed.

Being a well-rounded person

Medical schools do not want students who are weird or obsessive or too highly strung, no matter how academically brilliant. They know that someone who has no adequate outlet for their stress, does not know how to relax, and does not engage socially with the rest of the world will not become good doctors. Some may not even survive the medical course. I can tell you genuinely that I have seen medical students who got top marks in exams who did not last even a year in medical school because he wasn’t a “real” person and was far too obsessed with study. The stereotypical Asian student who regards the arts, sports, and socialising as wasteful distractions from serious study really does exist. Such character traits might even be a positive boon if you want to become a brilliant scientist, but they will not help you get into medical school. If such is your character trait, consider that you may be able to do much more for the world and for yourself by becoming a top scientist in a field you enjoy than becoming a doctor.

This article is a work in progress, I will add more to it if I think of something else. I will close by saying that you never win if you don’t play the game, so give it your best shot, make it happen. I myself was far from being an ideal med school candidate. I still feel now that medical schools seem to expect seventeen-year olds to have the wisdom of a thirty-year old. I only hope that you will pursue this goal for the right reasons.

Do please leave a comment if you feel this has been helpful or not so helpful, and ask any questions.





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