“Are you crazy?” It’s Boxing Day. My family is sitting in the living room and I have just told them that at the grand age of 27, I am thinking of leaving a successful career to study Medicine. That’s my father’s response. “But you don’t know anything about Biology!” is another (I studied History). “Don’t become a doctor, it’s silly!” rings out in unison, from two retired NHS veterans who spent their entire working lives as medical professionals.
Well, isn’t this going well?
Fast-forward a year and I have received offers from 3 medical schools. I’m headed to a world-class medical school in September, I’ve met some wonderfully supportive people along the way, and those NHS veterans are now convinced that I was born to be a clinician.
I tell this story not to boast, but to reassure all of those non-scientific, humanities students out there harbouring secret dreams of being doctors that although challenging, becoming a medical student is by no means impossible.
In fact, I think you’re actually at an advantage. And here’s why.
Selecting your medical school
You can select up to four medical schools to apply to. But if, like me, the last time you set foot in a lab was at GCSE then choice is only an illusion. There are basically four courses that you can apply to: Warwick, Manchester, Leicester and Newcastle (and a few overseas schools, such as La Sapienza). So almost immediately, you have completed the lengthy process of choosing your medical schools. Congratulations!
Now you can focus your time on more productive areas, such as getting a broad spectrum of work experience, getting in practice for the UKCAT (or GAMSAT if you’re feeling brave), or sitting down and thinking about what this Medicine thing is all about and why you want to give it a go.
The only advice I can give here is to read over the entry requirements for each course in detail. The Medic Portal has a handy tool for doing this. It’s easy to miss something (I did), so don’t store up any nasty surprises and do your research!
The dreaded personal statement
When you start to write your personal statement, you’ll wonder how you ever did this at the age of 18. It feels impossible to get it right. Each draft takes a little bit of your soul. You’ll question whether you even really want to do Medicine at all.
Let me give you some reassurance. Most medical schools won’t even read your personal statement. It is still important to write it well, as some use them in tie-breaker situations to compare you to another candidate. But let’s face it, you’ve written more essays than you’ve had cooked meals. Keep it simple – show enthusiasm and a realistic sense of what being a doctor is about and you’ll be fine.
The UKCAT & interviews
The UKCAT is a stress test. Pretty much anyone is capable of scoring full marks… If you remove the timer. And that’s the point. Be strict with yourself about time (30 seconds for each verbal reasoning question), guess and move on if you can’t get an answer. Remember, you get nil points for questions you don’t answer.
It is ‘Advantage, You’ in the UKCAT as the area most people fall down on is Verbal Reasoning. Your home turf. Practise and be disciplined about time and you will be fine.
Next come the Multi-Mini Interviews (MMIs). You can prepare by reading interview books, but I found these pretty unhelpful. What I did find useful is The Medic Portal’s MMI Sessions. It’s a good approximation of the real thing and an excellent way to familiarise yourself with the structure of the session, what you need to prepare for, how you’ll be scored and what you will feel like at interview.
It’s also ‘Advantage, You’ at interview, as you will likely be one of the few non-BioMed or science-based candidates. Take comfort in the fact that you will offer interviewers a refreshingly alternative view on key issues (such as medical ethics or motivations to study Medicine) and demonstrate different skills to other candidates.
Undergraduate or Graduate Entry Medicine?
When (not if) you receive your offers, you could face a choice between an undergraduate or graduate course. The first thing that will cross your mind will be, “Will I be able to keep up with an accelerated course?”
If you are willing to knuckle down in the first year – yes.
Graduate courses bring people from diverse backgrounds to study Medicine. As a result, the course assumes no prior knowledge. You will be taught everything you need to know. Of course, if you have a PhD in Microbiology you’ll pick up some things more quickly. But if you’re a scientific muggle, you’ll still pick it up using the ancient craft of reading.
I have been told by professors that Arts students are among the highest performers on medical courses. Partly because their inferiority complex makes them work twice as hard. But also because we are more experienced at things that become important later in the course, such as lateral thinking, communication and summarising knowledge.
There are other benefits to being on a graduate course. First of all, the shock of returning to university is lessened because you live and work with people around your age. And second, doctors in your clinical years are more likely to see you as mature adults, rather than young students.
This isn’t to say there are not benefits to taking the undergraduate route. Some of the benefits I have seen include:
Being able to study at your own pace.
Opportunities for intercalation.
I personally believe you will be better prepared to enter medical research (if that’s your intent).
Wider choice of teaching methods.
Not to mention a wider variety of cities (and associated teaching hospitals) to choose from. Don’t underestimate how important it is to choose the place and the university that suits you! You will be living and working there for the next 4 – 6 years (perhaps even longer if you stay for Foundation Training). So make the right choice for you.
It’s all about you
This has been a whistle-stop tour through the application process, because honestly I could write a book about this topic. The main message that I want to convey is that while getting into medical school without any scientific background is hard, it is absolutely achievable.
Being a doctor is about so much more than being a scientific scholar. As an Arts student, remember that you are bringing something fresh and diverse to the profession. You have skills that others do not and you have something important to offer.