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25 July 2022

Options Open - Careers in Medicine, Dentistry and Vet Science

Options Open - Careers in Medicine, Dentistry and Vet Science

For those students who are interested in studying Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science, the hard work must start long before the UCAS deadline for these courses, which is 15th October in Year 13.

Essential for the most successful candidates for these courses is a genuine interest in the field. These candidates stand out during the application and interview process, as well as excelling in their Biology and Chemistry A levels, because they have a voracious desire to learn about their chosen field. These candidates will be those who follow the news as part of their general intellectual curiosity, therefore absorbing information about issues facing the NHS and healthcare innovations with ease. They will read around the subject in their science subjects, developing a broad range of knowledge. They are also likely to be students who thrive on challenge and have a real desire to give back, and they are therefore likely to be members of the Student Council, mentors, and participants in sports teams and voluntary work. A student who decides that they would like to be a doctor at the end of Year 12 is unlikely to succeed.

If you are in Years 10-12 and you are considering making a future application to one of these courses, here are some factors to bear in mind.

Your GCSE’s count! Entry requirements may specify, for example, A*AA, and a university may also specify that you need grade 6 or above in certain GCSE subjects. However, you are realistically unlikely to be successful with grade 6’s, unless you have very compelling mitigating circumstances. These courses are so competitive that many applicants have a clean sweep of grades 8 and 9.

Your A level choices also count. Chemistry, Biology and Maths are the most common subjects chosen, with Chemistry and Biology being a requirement for almost all  - but, contrary to popular belief, not quite all) medical schools (https://www.themedicportal.com/application-guide/choosing-a-medical-school/what-a-levels-do-you-need-to-be-a-doctor/)

Maths is the most common third A level but, interestingly, Brighton and Sussex actually welcome an alternative third subject as they feel that it broadens your horizons

The most important academic goal is to achieve your A/A* grades at A level, and nothing can be allowed to detract from this. However, for those who are able to take on an extra academic commitment, an EPQ, while never asked for as part of the entry requirement, is a great idea to demonstrate your ability to conduct university level research into a medically related topic. It also gives you lots of material to discuss in your personal statement and interview

Ensure you register on time for the appropriate tests, the BMAT and/or the UCAT

Take all assistance offered. At EIC, applicants are offered weekly interview practice sessions with the Vice Principal, and are also offered unlimited additional sessions as requested. We also offer to review an unlimited number of drafts of your personal statement. You can also access paid help for test preparation and interview practice, and the Medic Portal is a great resource for this.

Ensure you have a breadth and depth of work experience. For example, a medicine candidate may have time in a hospital, with a GP and in a pharmacy. A vet candidate may spend some time with a farm vet and a small animal practice. Be prepared to explain what you have learned from these experiences in your personal statement and at interview

Reading, reading and more reading! You need to demonstrate your academic prowess in your personal statement as well as being aware of current medical issues for your interview. Read newspapers and journals like the BMJ as well as books, and also consider podcasts, MOOCS and university lectures. Don’t know where to start? Check out the reading lists for universities. For example, here is one for Medicine at Oxford - https://www.medsci.ox.ac.uk/study/medicine/pre-clinical/applying/reading. This doesn’t mean that this list will only be useful for those applying to that particular university - it gives a useful sample of the sort of current books which may be of interest to any applicant

Success in your A levels must come first. However, applicants to these courses are all high achievers, so what makes you stand out among the other candidates who have all been predicted A and A* grades? A successful doctor, dentist or vet will be a hard-working, community-minded person with a lot of energy and stamina and the ability to lead. Demonstrate these qualities by taking on additional responsibilities outside of your studies. This could be voluntary work, leadership roles in college, membership of sports teams or even a paid job. Some people have to work their way through Sixth Form, and this can be turned to your advantage, as a paid job can show your willingness to work hard, work with a wide range of people from different backgrounds, show patience when dealing with customers and muck in with unpleasant jobs. All of these can help you in your application.

A good example of a success story at EIC is that of Lara. Lara had a clearly defined goal by the end of Year 9 - that she would secure a place within the medical profession - and worked very hard to make that happen. Enjoying superb GCSE results, whilst supporting her fellow students through revision classes, she was nominated for the Whitbread Memorial Prize, and gained a place on the Roll of Honour for 2020. Following an EPQ investigating the effects of the pandemic on air travel, and strong BMAT results, Lara meticulously planned and executed her personal statement, successfully securing not one but two offers to study Medicine. That she managed this in a year which was the most competitive ever is testament to her tremendous approach.

So, what if you aren’t successful via the traditional route? There are also other ways you can achieve your goals:

  • It may be possible to transfer via an alternative degree course, for example Biomedical Science. A list of universities which allow this is here - https://www.themedicportal.com/application-guide/graduate-entry-medicine/medicine-transfer-schemes/. There are also opportunities to transfer to Dentistry, for example at Newcastle University https://www.ncl.ac.uk/bns/study-with-us/transfer-to-medicine-dentistry/
  • Consider graduate entry. This is when you complete another related degree and then undertake an accelerated course (usually 4 years). These courses are available for Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science
  • Consider studying abroad, as entry requirements are often lower. Do check to make sure that your degree will allow you to practice in the UK after graduation though
  • Some universities offer a Foundation course, allowing you to build up your knowledge of science if your A levels didn’t make the grade. However, check the criteria carefully, as these courses may have strict requirements and may not be open to all students

One our final piece of advice. Be very persistent - these are incredibly competitive courses, and you are competing against the very top students all over the world. However, do be flexible. If you know that your GCSE grades aren’t strong or you are struggling with your A levels, you may have to consider either retakes (although do check that your universities of choice will consider retakes - not all do for these courses), or else trying one of the alternative methods above. Alternatively, there are other allied professions which might be for you, for example Pharmacy or Vet Nursing. The route into becoming a doctor, dentist or vet is definitely not for the faint-hearted, but is well worth it for those with the ability and a real vocation.

Four former College students have managed to get there in a myriad of ways, and sharing their stories here can give hope to the many excellent students who don't quite manage to make it at the first attempt.

Thanu is a good example of how being open to studying abroad can pay dividends. She moved to Malta to enrol in Queen Mary University of London’s five year Medicine course and has excelled. Of course, this is no surprise. She was always a very talented and outgoing student at the College who enhanced her application with extensive extra-curricular activities like Student Council or Model UN debating.

Michelle is someone who had to persevere, and work through several pathways to get her chance. Having retaken her A Levels at the College, and improved her results to A grades across the board, she first studied Biomedical Sciences at Newcastle, then followed this with a Masters in Cancer Biology at Kingston. These experiences have made her a more reflective and knowledgeable individual - and will no doubt make her a better doctor when she completes her current medical degree.

Michelle came to the College as a mature student in her early twenties. Keen to gain access to a course in veterinary science, she knew she had to improve her A Level grades, and did so comprehensively during an Intensive course in Biology, Chemistry and Philosophy. Having first studied Bioveterinary science at the University of Surrey, she now studies at the Royal Veterinary College. Michelle was a tremendous influence on many other students while at EIC, helping to bring out the very best in those around her.

Another influential student during her time here was Haya. Now studying Medicine at St George’s in London, Haya had to go through knockbacks during her first attempt. Not giving up on her dream, Haya reapplied the following year, enhancing her personal statement with further experience, whilst learning the lessons learned the year previously to perform superbly in interviews. 

Sometimes one just has to wait until the time is right to make things happen, particularly where a challenge as great as medical study is at stake. Disappointment is a temporary feeling, which can lead to the greater resilience required for this career.

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