Every year, thousands of students wonder how to get into medical school in the UK. The vast majority of medical schools in the UK are state-funded as part of the NHS (National Health Service) and have national quotas for the number of seats available in medicine. Even though the NHS has been on a mission to increase the number of seats available in medicine by creating new medical schools, institutions are still getting 2-3 times as many applicants as seats available. In other words, the competition to get into medical schools in the UK is quite high, and to stand out, you will need a lot more than just good grades. This blog covers everything you need to know about the admissions process for medical schools in the UK. From the minimum grades required to the Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI) at the end of the process. 


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The road to becoming a medical doctor in the UK is lengthy and quite complex. Everyone’s journey is different and the length of medical programs in the UK varies from school to school, but students can expect to follow the general timeline below:

Step 1: A bachelor's in medicine (4 - 5 years)

Before you become a doctor in the UK, you need to obtain a degree in medicine from a medical school recognized by the General Medical Council.

This step usually involves 2 years doing pre-clinical work, followed by 2 to 3 years of clinical experience at a teaching hospital or in the community.

Step 2: Foundation Programme (2 years)

After graduation, you will obtain a temporary license to practice medicine while completing the first year of your foundation program. Full license registration is awarded after year one.

Step 3: Doctor in training

This would be the equivalent of becoming a resident doctor in North America. Students can pursue further training as a General Practitioner (around 3 years) or take on a specialty (which can take 5-8 years).

The very first step in the process is to get a bachelor’s degree in medicine from an accredited medical school. The issue is that getting into medical school is not that simple. There is quite a bit of information that you need to know if you want to get into medical school in the UK, and that’s what we will be discussing in this blog. 

How competitive is medical school in the UK?

It is no secret that admission to medical school is competitive. Whether you are trying to get into medical school in Canada, the United States, or the UK, you need to have a strong academic background and a compelling application to beat the competition. There is an added layer of competition in the UK because, as mentioned earlier, most medical schools have a quota that the NHS enforces. This means that there is a fixed number of positions (or places) available at each school. 

On average, the applicant to places ratio for medical schools in the UK is 1:4. In addition to the high number of applicants, students also have to face the challenging admission requirements that every school sets. Applicants are expected to have top grades from secondary school, competitive scores on standardized exams, an impressive list of extracurricular activities and experiences for their medical school resume, and a knock-out personal statement.

To summarize, medical school in the UK is highly competitive, but do not let that discourage you. After all, there are students who manage to claim one of those limited places every year. With enough information, the right strategies, and some guidance, you too can get admitted to a medical school in the UK. 

UK Medical School Applications: Entry Options

Students begin medical school right after secondary education in the UK, unlike in the United States and Canada, where a bachelor's degree is often acquired before applying to medical school. Although students do still have the option of getting an undergraduate or graduate degree to boost med school chances, this is typically referred to as the graduate entry option, and it is not offered by all the medical schools in the UK.

A few different entry options are available to applicants depending on their academic background, and social and environmental context. Let's explore them: 

Standard entry medicine

This is the most common entry option. It starts right after secondary school and usually includes five years of education before the foundation program and further training. At the end of the five years, students graduate with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) or Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae (MBChB). Different schools use different variations of the name, but ultimately it is a bachelor's degree in medicine that allows you to go on and train according to your chosen specialization.

Graduate entry medicine

If you have completed a bachelor's degree in a non-medical field and decide to pursue medicine afterward, you may be eligible for Graduate Entry Medicine or Graduate Entry Programme. This is more akin to medical school in the US and Canada, where a bachelor's degree is usually secured before moving on to medical school at the graduate level. 

In most cases, this will be a 4-year accelerated degree, followed by the same Foundation Programme and training, but some schools may require five years of education. 

Medicine with a preliminary year

If you excelled in your A-Levels but did not complete the science courses required by medical schools in the UK, you may still be able to pursue medicine, but you will need to take a Preliminary Year. You can add a year to your degree or complete a standalone preliminary program that also lasts a year, during which you would catch up on the required science courses. 

So, if you did well in your secondary education and A-Levels, but didn't complete science prerequisites and are serious about a career in medicine, this option gives you some flexibility.

Medicine with a preliminary year

If you excelled in your A-Levels but did not complete the science courses required by medical schools in the UK, you may still be able to pursue medicine, but you will need to take a Preliminary Year. You can add a year to your degree or complete a standalone preliminary program that also lasts a year, during which you would catch up on the required science courses.

So, if you did well in your secondary education and A-Levels, but didn't complete science prerequisites and are serious about a career in medicine, this option gives you some flexibility.

Medicine with a gateway year

Last but certainly not least, this entry option is specifically for high-achieving students with situational and environmental factors that impact their learning (e.g., social or economic disparity). It is a relatively new entry option designed to widen participation and access to medical education, including students from groups historically underrepresented in the field.

Medical schools have different names for this program. The most common ones include the Gateway year Programme, Widening Participation, Widening Access, and Contextual Admissions.

Check out more tips on acing your UK medical school application:

UK Medical School Application process: UCAS

All university and college applications in the UK are completed through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Though the application format is standardized, medical schools still have several unique requirements that vary from one institution to another. Additionally, the way in which each school evaluates the information provided varies considerably, as well.

First, some notes on the application itself: Students are able to select up to 5 schools to which their applications will be sent. For medicine applicants, only four applications can be sent to medical schools for each applicant. The 5th spot can be left blank, or it can be used to apply to a discipline outside medicine.

The deadline for medical school applications is also different from that of most of the other undergraduate and graduate programs. Because of the large number of applicants and the unique rigors of reviewing medical school applications, students applying to medical school in the UK must submit their completed UCAS application much earlier than others. Typically, the deadline for other programs is in January, but medical school candidates have to submit their applications by the 15th of October. Please note that these dates are subject to change, so it is always a good idea to verify the UCAS website regularly to ensure that you are working with the most up-to-date UCAS timeline.

We recommend that you start preparing your application the year before you intend to submit it so that you have plenty of time to prepare all your written components, your UCAS reference letters, personal details, academic history, etc. If you want a better chance of landing a coveted spot in your chosen medical program, make sure you have everything ready when the UCAS portal opens in September so that you can submit your application as soon as possible.

Once you have submitted your application, the school will evaluate your various components based on their admission policy. A few schools use the UCAS Tariff Points, which is a system whereby specific points are allocated based on your courses, scores, experiences, and so on. However, not every medical school uses this point system. Some use a different point system that they explain in their admission policy, and others do not use one at all. In other words, you should not rely on your UCAS score to evaluate your suitability for a program.

Instead, you should thoroughly read the admission policy of your chosen schools to understand their requirements and what they do with the information you provide to ensure your application is as competitive as possible.

UK Medical School Selection Factors

Academic background

Secondary school in the UK is divided into two. Upon completing year 11 ( the 5th year of secondary school), students receive the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). Medical school hopefuls and students who intend to pursue higher education in general then complete Advanced level (A-level) studies that take two additional years. If you recall, we mentioned earlier that traditional UK students go from secondary school to medical school. Because of this, the courses you choose to take during your GCSEs and A-level are just as important as your grades when it comes to the medical school admissions process.

So if you are wondering when the best time to start your med school application is, the answer is in year 11 while finishing your GCSEs. It may seem early, but this will allow you to plan for medical school adequately. First, for your GCSEs, you must ensure that your grades are high, especially in the core subjects like English, Maths, and the sciences. Most schools do not have specific requirements for the classes you take at this stage of your education, but they will look at your grades to get a better picture of your academic background.

Furthermore, most UK medical schools require A-Level Chemistry and Biology classes and a third science or subject. This last one varies greatly from one school to another. Even those who do not mention classes by name in their entry requirements expect you to have a strong science background.

It is important to verify the admissions information of the schools you are interested in to make sure that you are enrolling in the A-level courses they require and not courses that the school will not accept. For example, Critical Thinking and General Studies are typically not acceptable A-Levels for most UK medical school applications. However, each university has its own requirements, and these can vary considerably, so always double-check. If you want to be a competitive applicant, you should aim for A* grades in all of your A-level subjects.

Entrance Exams

There are a few entrance exams that aspiring med students in the UK may need to study for and complete, depending on their academic background and status at the time of application, as well as the requirements of the schools to which they are applying.

UCAT

The most common admissions test used in the UK is the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT), formerly UKCAT) which is often used for both dental and medical programs in the UK. This exam is not intended to test scholastic knowledge or academic achievement, but rather your critical reasoning skills and other professional traits.

There are five sections on the UCAT:

This test must be completed the year prior to submitting your UCAS application, and your score must be reported on the application. A few medical schools, like the University of Warwick, have a pre-set threshold for the UCAT score that students need to meet to be considered for admission. However, most schools do not have a set minimum score. Instead, they rank the scores of the different applicants every year, and only the top scorers are invited for medical school interviews.

Due to the challenging nature of this exam, we recommend that you start preparing for it at least six months before the exam day to give yourself a better chance of getting the highest score possible. If you want to go the extra mile and ensure that you are getting the most out of your UCAT prep, you can reach out to a medical school application tutor for assistance.

BMAT

Some medical schools in the UK use the other main admissions test- the BioMedical Admissions Test(BMAT). A few medical schools, including Cambridge and UCL (University College of London), require this test instead of the UCAT. Many students find this particular exam a bit easier, but it also requires preparation.

The BMT only has three sections, one testing your problem solving and critical thinking skills, the second testing scientific knowledge, and the last section is an essay based on an issue of medical or scientific importance.

If you are applying to schools that require the BMAT, you must be registered to take it before submitting your application, but you do not need to have taken the exam yet. There are two sittings for the BMAT, one before the UCAS deadline and one after. We highly recommend taking the earlier examination, as it allows you to decide where to apply based on your scores.

GAMSAT

The Graduate Medical School Admissions Test( GAMSAT) is an admissions test some schools require of students entering medical school at the graduate level, having already completed a bachelor's degree. If you're familiar with GEMSAS and the process of applying to medical schools in Australia, then this exam is likely familiar to you as it is also used by Australian medical schools.

Applicants must register to take the GAMSAT prior to submitting their medical school application (generally in the last or second-to-last year of their undergraduate degree). Medical schools with graduate-entry programs will typically consider your GAMSAT score and performance in undergrad to see if you meet their GPA requirements. 

Much like the other entrance exams, GAMSAT is not a test of knowledge but rather a reasoning ability test. However, some foundational knowledge in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences is necessary to do well on this exam.

MCAT

Last but certainly not least, there are a few medical schools in the UK that accept the MCAT as an entrance exam for international applicants. Especially students who are coming from North America. So if you intend to study in the UK as an international student, you should verify the admission requirements for international students well before you start preparing your application in case you need to study for the MCAT.

Work Experience (UCAS)

Now that we’ve reviewed the grades and exams that must be considered prior to completing the UCAS, we can now draw our focus back to two key sections of this application: Work Experience and the Personal Statement essay. Starting with the former.

This section of UCAS works like a medical school resume. It is supposed to include the details of your relevant work experiences. For the purposes of applying to medical school, “Work Experience” refers to any work done, volunteer or paid, in the 2 years prior to applying to medical school. This experience can be gained through a hospital or in the community, and both healthcare-related service and general service positions are relevant to your application.

There are 2 categories of work experience in the UCAS:

  1. Working with other people in a caring or service role
  2. Direct observation of healthcare

Work experience is not a necessary application component for all medical schools, but if you want to be a competitive applicant, we strongly advise that you participate in a few activities. Getting relevant work experience in the UK can be difficult because of the limited number of spaces but you should not let that deter you. Use the medical school council’s guide to finding relevant work experience for medical school and look for virtual opportunities online.

For example, shadowing tends to be encouraged for aspiring medical school students, though it is not required, as it is a great way to gain valuable knowledge about clinical settings and the day-to-day duties of a physician. Virtual shadowing opportunities are more accessible than before, so take advantage of that. You can also look for experiences that show your commitment to learning and the field of medicine, such as clinical research opportunities for premedical students.

Applicants are encouraged to try to get a range of experiences rather than repeating the same experience or kind of experience over and over. For example, hundreds of hours of shadowing multiple doctors, with no experiences that give you direct interactions with patients or that demonstrate your work in a caring or service capacity, will likely not benefit your application. While having a combination of shadowing hours, volunteer experience, and research experience would definitely make you a more attractive candidate.

Ultimately, what is most important about your experiences is how you draw on them in the personal statement and during your interview. This brings us to our next section...

Personal Statement (UCAS)

Composing an admissions essay for any degree is a challenge, but medical school personal statements can be especially difficult because they require you to highlight your academic prowess and work experiences without sounding overconfident while illustrating a genuine passion and fascination for the medical profession.

UCAS describes the personal statement as "your opportunity to sell yourself to your prospective school, college or training provider." This is a tall order, especially because you are only given 4,000 characters (which roughly equates to 500 words) to do it. That said, when done correctly, your personal statement can take your application from good to great! It can even support your application if your exam score is not as competitive or if you feel like you did not have the best grades in your A-levels.

According to the Medical Schools Council, these are the core values and attributes needed to study medicine:

No personal statement can convey every one of these qualities, of course. Still, we do recommend that you take some time to review this list and use some introspection to reflect on those qualities that apply to you and that you can effectively demonstrate through your interests, experiences, and education so far.

Your UCAS personal statement should always be a narrative account that attempts to answer the core question, "Why do you want to be a doctor?" Your authentic response to this question, and the anecdotes or examples you draw on to support it, should be the core of your response. You want to highlight your motivations, and one of the best ways of doing this is to show the actions you've taken to support those motivations. Pondering and considering are important reflective tendencies, but they must be extended into reality by actions.

In composing your personal statement around such qualities and experiences, you should attempt to "show" some of the qualities listed through your experiences (rather than just "telling" the reader that you have those qualities). Instead of simply stating that you work well with others in a team environment, recount a time when you operated as an effective team member. You should review medical personal statement examples for inspiration or work with a medical school advisor if you are not sure how to effectively communicate all of this information in 500 words.

Finally, on top of the qualities above, it's always a good idea to look at the mission statements, curricula, and selection criteria of the schools to which you are applying. These will help you understand what kinds of people and students those schools hope to attract. Use that information to determine which skills, abilities, and experiences to highlight in your personal statement. As well, such information will be immensely useful if you are invited to interview since demonstrating that you are a "good fit" for the program is essential at that stage of the admissions process.

Looking for personal statement examples? Check out our video:

Interviews

Medical schools in the UK typically review your application components, academic profile, and entrance exam scores, and if you are a good fit for their program, you are invited for an interview. This will either be a traditional/panel interview, a video interview, or the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI).

Traditional/Panel Interview: The traditional/panel interview format consists of you, the interviewee, with either one interviewer (Traditional), or a group of interviewers (Panel), asking you specific questions over an extended period of time. The biggest difference between individual and panel interviews is the number of interviewers you will speak with. If you’re sitting down for a one-on-one interview, the interviewer will generally be there on behalf of the admissions committee and will likely have a background that is at least related to medicine.

You can often expect a wider range of interviewers from various academic backgrounds on a panel. There will undoubtedly be those with a background in medicine, but others may be educators, students, or other community members. This is a semi-personalized type of interview, so interviewers will likely want to discuss details from your personal statement and work experiences that you included on UCAS. You want to ensure you have a good grasp of the events you recounted and be prepared to discuss them further.

In this type of interview, you can expect to answer common medical school interview questions such as “What is your greatest weakness?” or the dreaded “Tell me about yourself.”

Looking for some tips to ace your interview? Check this out:

Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)

The Multiple Mini Interview is an interview format developed at McMaster University in Canada. In this interview type, interviewees go through multiple timed interview stations, meeting briefly with several individual interviewers over the course of the day. Typically, MMI stations are between 6-8 minutes, with 6-12 total stations in the circuit, and interviewees are given a prompt or question to respond to at each station within that limited span of time.

In terms of content, some of the common medical school interview questions noted above may arise. However, there are many different types of MMI questions, so you will want to be prepared for those specifically. Like situational judgment tests, MMI prompts can include scenarios to which you must respond or policies that you will be asked to evaluate.

Regardless of the interview format that your chosen school uses, it is critical that you prepare for your interviews well in advance. You can choose to prepare on your own by practicing responses to sample medical school interview questions, but if you want to maximize your chances of impressing the interviewees, then you may want to consider a medicine interview prep course that includes mock medical school interviews.

FAQs

1. How competitive is medical school in the UK?

It is quite competitive. On average, only about 25% of medical school applicants are successful. So you will need an impressive application if you want to be in that category. 


2. How long does it take to become a doctor in the UK?

It can take anywhere from 8 to 16 years to be a fully licensed, independent doctor in the UK. Scroll up and check out the timeline for more information. 

3. Can I still start medical school if I have a degree in something else?

Yes, you can. There are many different entry options for medical schools in the UK, and one of them is for candidates who already have a bachelor's degree. 

4. What can I do to make my personal statement stand out?

Take some time to research the school you are applying to and reflect on the list of qualities that we discussed earlier in the blog. Then use specific examples to show the reader that you embody those qualities valued by the Medical School Council and their institution. 

5. Should I study for the UCAT, BMAT or GAMSAT?

The UCAT is the most common entrance exam, but the one you will need to write depends on your status and the school that you are applying to, so you should verify the admission information for the schools you are applying to. 


6. What grades do I need to get into medical school in the UK?

You need stellar grades to get into medical school. Most universities require at least 3 As on your A-levels to be considered for admission. 


7. Do UK medical schools accept international students?

Yes, many medical schools in the UK welcome international students. Make sure you check the admission requirements specifically for the country that you are from, as they do vary depending on the school. 

8. How can I prepare for MMI?

You can prepare for Multiple Mini Interviews by enrolling in a prep course, participating in mock interviews, and practicing your answers to the different MMI question types. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting 

Image Credit: David Jakab

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