In choosing which Medical Schools to apply to, your students probably do what every pupil does: go online to look at rankings and league tables to see which schools are highly placed. After that, they typically engage with the applicant events and open days to learn more about the schools they’re thinking of applying to.
Pre pandemic, visiting Medical School was a key event – but applicants can still get a feel for what an institution is like from the remote events that have, of necessity, replaced them.
If you want to help your students get ahead, it’s helpful to encourage them to approach this process a little differently.
First and foremost, it’s vital that you support your students in their school subjects. That’s because school grades provide the basis for their academic score, which is one of the principal planks of selection.
Second, if they meet the subject requirements, you can give them the space to pursue other subjects that they enjoy and are good at. Many Medical Schools (including Dundee) still require Chemistry at least to Scottish Higher (or equivalent) level, as well as one other science (which can be Biology, Physics, Maths).
There is a common misconception that the more sciences offered, the stronger the application. That’s not true – we get lots of applicants offering all of these subjects. In fact, if our subject requirements are met, we in Dundee do not have a view on which other subjects an applicant offers – so if someone excels at Music, Art, etc – then let them pursue it.
Finally, it helps to give them some practice in whichever aptitude test is required (one of the other key elements of the selection process). Most UK Medical Schools require the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) and there are lots of practice UCAT questions out there. A practical tip: if they’re preparing for UCAT, they should do practice tests in a time-limited setting – the time pressure is one of the main challenges doing UCAT.
Some others require BMAT, which happens later in the year and means it’s possible to help them practice this other test, too.
Pupils should be encouraged to choose a place where they will enjoy studying. The University of Dundee tries very hard to make sure that the student experience is a positive one.
It’s important that they choose somewhere they think they’ll be happy for five or six years, so thinking about the balance between studying and down time is vital.
Applicants should also consider course structures and what is most suited to them. For example, using Dundee as a case study, it’s a small Medical School (fewer than 160 students per year compared with over 400 in the biggest), and this makes it easier for students and staff to get to know each other. This makes for a friendly and responsive learning environment.
However, perhaps the single most important aspect of teaching that distinguishes Dundee’s Medicine Course is the early training (from year one) in clinical clerking (history-taking and physical examination). Most schools only start this in the third year.
Clerking is one of the most challenging things to learn as a Medical Student; the learning curve is steep, whenever you start. Given this, it makes a lot of sense to start early – it means that by the time that students get to third and fourth year, they’re already some way up this curve and significantly more ‘polished’ in their clerking skills.
It also gets them thinking like Doctors much earlier in their curriculum – they’re much better placed to learn independently in their fourth and final years, where learning is self-directed and largely focused around seeing patients.
The most convincing validation of this approach is the annual GMC survey of just-qualified Doctors. In response to the question “Do you feel adequately prepared for your job as a Junior Doctor?” Dundee is always at or close to the top of this survey in terms of positive responses. The fact that Dundee Medical School is top of two of the key league tables provides further external confirmation that our approach works. This kind of research is key and if you can pass on which Medical Schools offer which kind of courses, this will undoubtedly help your students decide where to apply.
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