Getting into medical school

Whether it’s being part of a respected profession or wanting to be of service to your community and to save lives that attracts you, medicine offers a wide range of varied opportunities.

The majority of doctors work within hospitals or general practice, and others work in areas such as industry, the armed forces, academic medicine and full-time research. You should want to make a real difference and have a concern for the welfare of others plus good communication and teamwork skills. Work as a doctor is very demanding and requires you to be able to cope with pressure every day.

The training is intellectually and emotionally challenging too, so you will need a lot of drive and self-motivation. It is important at the outset to consider what you are letting yourself in for.

In light of the above, it is essential that you convince yourself (and a prospective medical school) that you know what you are facing and can demonstrate you have the necessary skills and attributes.

Investigate what the work is really like by talking to professionals, for example: junior doctors and GPs. Ask them about the rewards of the work, their working hours, life-style, and the pressures that they face. Speak to graduates studying medicine to find out how they are getting on.

How can I apply to study medicine as a graduate?

Applications to medical schools are made through UCAS and the closing date is mid-October for entry the following autumn.

There are three options for graduates:

  • A shortened graduate entry course (GEM) – usually four years. Designed specifically for graduates. Some are only open to graduates with a science degree and others are open to graduates of any degree discipline.  Some medical schools also require specific subjects at A-Level so visit their websites to find out more.
UniversityApproximate number of placesRequired aptitude test
Barts (QMUL) 40 UKCAT
Birmingham 60 None
Cambridge 41 BMAT (if applying to standard course as well.  Otherwise, none
Cardiff N/A - Places are only available for those currently on a Feeder Stream course  
Dundee/St Andrews 55 UKCAT - Situational Judgement Test
Imperial 45 BMAT
King's College London 28

UKCAT

Liverpool 29

GAMSAT

Newcastle 25

UKCAT

Nottingham 93 GAMSAT
Oxford 30 BMAT
Southampton 48 UKCAT
St George's  50-70 GAMSAT
Swansea 70 GAMSAT
Warwick 193 UKCAT
  • A standard undergraduate course – usually five years. Designed for school leavers but open to graduates with any degree background and the required science A-levels. 
  • A standard undergraduate course with foundation year – usually six years. Designed for school leavers or graduates without the required science background.

For details of all Medical School courses go to the UCAS website.

Medical schools vary in entry requirements (most fast track courses have admission tests), in the number of places for graduates and have variations in fees. To have a reasonable chance of success you would usually have to meet the following criteria: minimum 2:1 with good academic references, written guarantee of your ability to fund yourself through the training (via various methods outlined below), relevant personal qualities, evidence of motivation and knowledge of medicine (preferably with relevant work experience) and an understanding of the demands of the course.

Medical schools vary considerably in their ethos, atmosphere and also in the structure of their course, e.g. some incorporate clinical teaching in the early years. It is, therefore, recommended that you research courses carefully as well as checking your eligibility to apply. Most medical schools are happy to respond to informed queries and most offer open days, which are an excellent way to find out more about the course and meet current graduate medical students. 

Things to consider when choosing a course

  • Entry requirements: Check entry requirements early and identify any gaps so that you can work to acquire the skills, experience and knowledge needed.
  • Location: This is not just about the physical location of the medical school but also about the type of experience you might get. Training in a London hospital is likely to be very different for example to training in a less urban environment. To some extent your choice may come down to personal preferences but be clear about what each of your choices can offer you. You may need to justify your choice.
  • Course structure: Check each institution to see how the course is structured and what will be expected of you as your progress through the course. It is likely that you will be exposed to a range of different teaching methods ranging from problem based learning (PBL), lectures, clinical placements, tutorials, practical sessions, projects, to e-learning and skills training but the mix and emphasis may be different in different institutions.
  • Competition for places: Some courses may have more applications than others. You may wish to apply to a range of schools at different levels of competition.
  • Experiences: Consider the catchment area of each medical school. Are there specialist hospitals which might enable you to gain experience not on offer elsewhere? Does the medical school have any unique facilities or research foci? 

Pre-entry tests

Most of the graduate medical schools use standardised tests as part of their application process.  There are three main tests: GAMSAT, UKCAT and BMAT. Check with each medical school which test they require you to sit. These tests are designed to test aptitude rather than educational achievement.

GAMSAT

UKCAT

BMAT

These tests are taken under time constraints so take this into consideration when you practise. Try and network with current graduate medical students and ask them for advice about preparing for admissions tests. Likewise, you may find other student’s opinions helpful on some of the medical discussion forum websites (see Forums and applications resources below). The UCAS website also has additional information on admissions tests.

The application process for Medical School

  • Applications are made through UCAS and the closing date is 15 October each year for courses beginning the following autumn.
  • You choose no more than four courses. The course code for most of the GEM courses is A101. It is possible to have a mix of undergraduate and GEM courses within your choices. You should apply through UCAS as an ‘Individual’.
  • Make sure you allow sufficient time (at least two weeks) for your references to be submitted by the deadline. You should contact your referees to help them provide a relevant reference.
  • Your personal statement should explain your reasons for wanting to study the course and why you think that you would make a good doctor. You'll need to be able to demonstrate that you fully grasp what a medical career involves, and are aware of current developments.
  • You are expected to demonstrate that you understand what it would be like to work as a doctor. You should try to gain experience in a healthcare setting – this does not have to be in a hospital working with doctors, as medical schools recognise that this opportunity may not be available to all applicants.You will also be expected to have an insight into medicine and healthcare gained from general reading. It might be useful to attend medical careers conferences, or to talk to doctors or current medical students. Be aware of current issues relating to medicine.
  • It is essential that you are able to demonstrate good communication skills with the ability to explain complex information simply and coherently.
  • You will need to have a logical mind, so that you will be able to formulate questions and solve problems.
  • You will need to be self-motivated with the ability to set your own goals and show independence of thought. However, you will also need to be able to work well in a team.
  • You'll need to have a strong interest in human affairs, and a concern for the welfare of others. Can you reassure people, in order to put them at their ease?Be prepared to share what you do in your spare time – not as a list but as a way of highlighting your relevant skills and attributes. You need to be able to communicate, empathise and work well with others. Having interests which help you wind down can demonstrate resilience.
  • Doctors must demonstrate a high standard of professional responsibility. You should show that you are a reliable and conscientious person.

The interview process for Medical School 

The type of interview structure varies between medical schools. You may experience a traditional panel interview or a Multi Mini Interview (MMI) format which is being adopted by more and more UK medical schools.

Panel interviews

You may be interviewed by a panel of academics, clinicians and lay people. You may experience more than one interview and the length of it can vary from 20 minutes to an hour.

Multi-mini interviews

This format involves a series of stations or rooms in which you will find either a scenario or an interviewer to assess a specific attribute. Each station lasts a very short amount of time (often five minutes). All will expect you to cover your motivation for medicine, your commitment, your previous caring experience and your ability to reason around an ethical/social issue.

Some medical schools will ask you to work with other interviewees on a group task as part of the selection process.  A range of your personal attributes relevant to studying medicine will be assessed by means of different tasks.

Types of tasks include: 

  • A short interview around your motivation to be a doctor
  • An interactive task or role play
  • Data interpretation, for example interpreting a graph or explaining a numerical concept
  • Debate task
  • A group task  - you may be asked to work with other interviewees 

Funding 

The funding for the three types of courses differs significantly. In summary, UK graduate students are currently eligible for much more financial support if entering a specific graduate entry programme rather than an undergraduate programme which makes these course very competitive.

Shortened graduate entry course

  • In year one, graduate entry students have to self-fund the first third towards their tuition costs and a Student Finance England* loan will be available to cover the remaining costs to a maximum charge of £9,250.
  • In years two to four, the NHS Bursary pays the first third towards tuition costs with a loan from Student Finance England to bridge the remaining costs.
  • Graduates are eligible to apply to Student Finance England for a full maintenance loan in their first year.
  • In the remaining years of the course, you can apply to the NHS Student Bursaries Unit or a means-tested NHS bursary to cover maintenance costs and students can apply for a reduced maintenance loan from Student Finance England. 

Undergraduate standard entry course (with or without foundation)

  • Graduate students are not eligible to receive a tuition fee loan or maintenance grant regardless of whether or not they have previously received funding.
  • Students may be able to apply to Student Finance England* for a full, income based, maintenance loan.
  • From year five onwards, tuition fees will be paid by the NHS Bursary Scheme.
  • Students will be eligible to apply for a means-tested NHS bursary to cover maintenance costs from the NHS Student Bursaries Unit, and a reduced maintenance loan from Student Finance England (equivalent to approximately half the full rate).

*Information based on Student Finance England; Wales and Scotland have their own funding arrangements.

The information here is a guide only. You should seek up-to-date information relevant to your particular circumstances from the sources listed below and check your eligibility against the criteria for bursaries and loans.

Useful resources

Entrance tests

Funding

Careers information

Organisations

Forums and application resources

  • The Medic Portal - advice and resources for everyone interested in a career in medicine
  • MedStudent – medical discussion forum
  • Student BMJ – a monthly medical journal
  • Med School Success – includes free UKCAT sample questions
  • Medify – includes free UKCAT and BMAT sample questions and tips for getting into medical school
  • The Student Room – includes forums on medical schools and medicine