Advice for parents about the career options for their children

Applying to study Medicine in the UK

Applying to study Medicine can be incredibly daunting for both you and your child. This page will give you a helpful overview of the medical school application process so you can support your son or daughter throughout their application.

Understanding the UCAS Application Process

As your child is studying Medicine, this will mean they are able to select and apply to four universities (for most other subjects, students can pick five). Their school will guide them through their application, but it may help you to have an understanding of the University and Colleges Applications Service (UCAS) process to support your child at each stage.

To apply to university, your child will firstly need to make a UCAS account. This is done online and schools will usually guide students through this. This involves submitting their personal details, qualifications (GCSE and A-Level grades) and their four university choices. The next stage is the Personal Statement (again, your child's school will prepare them for this) - a written statement of 4,000 characters detailing why they want to study Medicine, any medical work experience they've had and why they'd be a good fit for their course. UCAS also charges an application fee - this is usually £23 - and once this is paid, the application is sent off.

It's also important to remember that the UCAS deadline for Medicine is earlier than other subjects - usually around October, while all others are in January - so your child will need to begin work on their application much earlier than most of their friends.

Medicine Entry Requirements

If your son or daughter is interested in Medicine, the chances are that they'll be great at - and will enjoy - Biology and Chemistry, and these are the two subjects most commonly required at A-Level by medical schools in the UK.

The requirements for different universities differ, so encourage your child to double check the requirements on a school's website before applying, but generally speaking, most universities require the aforementioned Biology (or Human Biology) and Chemistry, and some encourage students to pair this with Maths or another science-based subject, like Physics. In terms of A-Level subjects not accepted, medical schools do not tend to allow General Studies or Critical Thinking - so encourage your child to steer clear of those if they want to apply to Medicine.

As your son or daughter will likely already know, medical school in the UK is incredibly competitive, and entry requirements to study Medicine are high. For example, many require at least an A grade in Biology and Chemistry. If your child is unsure of a school's entry requirements, it's best to check on the university's website or prospectus.

Choosing a Medical School

This is an important part on the journey to studying Medicine. There are currently 34 medical schools in the UK, but only four allowed on their UCAS application, so it's important that they choose wisely. It's also important to note that while your child will need your support when discussing options and visiting universities, it's crucial that they choose the school for themselves.

There are many ways you can support your son or daughter while they are looking at different universities. You could make a list of open days and mark a few on the calendar to visit - visiting in person can be very useful for your child to decide if the university is the right one for them.

It's also a good idea to talk to your child about their options. Do they have the correct entry requirements? Does the learning style of the course particularly appeal to them? Would they prefer to stay close to home, or study in London? These are all important questions for your son or daughter to consider before selecting a medical school - make sure you're there for them to talk these options through.

You may also want to point them to this Medical School Comparison Tool, which allows students to compare the entry requirements, application statistics and interview formats of each UK medical school.

BMAT

If your child is applying to Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Imperial, Brighton and Sussex, Leeds or Lancaster, they'll need to take the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT). When it comes to applying to medical schools, it's generally recommended that students apply to no more than two or three BMAT universities in the event that their BMAT score is low.

To take the test, your child needs to be registered by a centre - this may be their school, but if they're unsure they can ask their teachers. The BMAT is designed to examine aptitude, scientific knowledge and mathematical skills. It has three sections: Section 1 assesses problem-solving and maths skills; Section 2 focuses on scientific knowledge and Section 3 is a written essay usually requiring students to explore a quote.

You can support your son or daughter in their revision by asking them to make flashcards and then testing them on the range of science topics that may appear in Section 2 (this is under the Admissions Testing Service's Assumed Subject Knowledge Guide) - or even ask them to tally up the cost of the shopping to practice their mental maths! A good way of preparing for Section 3 of the exam is to go through BMAT past papers and mark schemes with your child to help them understand how the essay is examined. From here, they could plan answers to essays in bullet points - this will make this process much easier (and quicker!) in the exam itself.

UKCAT

Currently, 26 medical schools in the UK require the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT), so the chances are that your son or daughter will need to sit this exam.

The test is split into five sections designed to assess different skills required to become a doctor: Verbal Reasoning requires students to read a short passage of text and answer corresponding questions; Quantitative Reasoning tests numerical and data skills and problem-solving; Abstract Reasoning assesses spatial awareness; Decision Making tests reasoning and logic and Situational Judgement assesses ability to communicate, empathise and teamwork.

You can support your son or daughter in their UKCAT preparation by helping them to go through past UKCAT questions to get a feel for the format of the test and identify any strengths or weaknesses. For example, many students find Verbal Reasoning particularly difficult due to its time constraints (there are 44 questions in 21 minutes), so this may be a good topic to practice. You could help your son or daughter familiarise themselves with reading passages of text quickly and efficiently by practicing past questions - or encouraging them to read the newspaper and summarise an article's arguments to you. Another key part of assisting their BMAT or UKCAT revision is encouraging your child to take a break from studying to stop them feeling overwhelmed - suggest going for a walk or meeting up with their friends. This will not only help them relax but will also make their revision time much more effective.

Unlike the BMAT, students must register for the UKCAT themselves, so remind your child to double check the registration deadlines - this is usually around September of the year before the start date of the course (for example, September 2016 would be the deadline for a 2017 course).

Medicine Interview

This will likely be the most daunting aspect of the medical school application process for your child - so they'll need your support!

There are three main types of medical school interview: Multiple Mini Interview (MMI), traditional or Oxford/Cambridge (Oxbridge). Many of the questions cover similar topics (for example, Medical Ethics, Work Experience, NHS Hot Topics) but in a slightly different format. It may be helpful to understand the basic structure of these interviews so you can support your child and help them to prepare.

In a traditional Medicine interview, your son or daughter will be asked questions on a range of topics, including their motivation for Medicine, their medical work experience, Ethical Scenarios (for example, abortion or euthanasia) and NHS Hot Topics (for example, the 7 Day NHS). An Oxbridge interview will cover many of the same topics, but may involve slightly more creative or challenging questions.

An MMI takes roughly two hours and contains around ten different 'stations' lasting around ten minutes each. At these stations, students may be asked a range of questions: at one station, they may be faced with a professional actor posing as a patient and they may need to break bad news to them. At another station, they may be faced with a variety of objects on a table and asked to explain which items they would take with them on a camping trip. MMIs will also cover the more common interview questions, such as 'why Medicine?' - so it's important for your child not to forget these while practicing for their MMI!

A key thing to remember - and to remind your son or daughter of - is that the medical school interview is often focused on communication skills. Admissions tutors are not looking for students who are confident they know the answer to a question like 'how much does a mountain weigh?', but rather students who are willing to talk through their thought process clearly and logically to reach a conclusion.

You may be wondering how you can help your child prepare for their interview. One of the best ways to do this is to practice with them - ask them questions they may be asked at an interview, for example:

 

  • Why do you want to go to medical school?
  • What is your opinion on the 7 Day NHS?
  • Do you agree with abortion? What are the ethical issues here?
  • What did you learn from your work experience?

You can then help them to practice their answers - for NHS Hot Topics and Medical Ethics, encourage them to think about both sides of the argument. For example, in a Seven Day NHS question, you could discuss the positives and negatives. What are the problems with a Seven Day health service? How would it benefit patients? Encourage them to express their opinions on ethical issues and recent medical news to you - when the interview comes, they'll feel much more comfortable discussing these topics and communicating their thoughts with their interviewers.

You may also find it useful to point them towards this Interview Question Bank, which has a range of questions they may be asked at a Medicine interview - as well as detailed answer guides. Remember that preparing for an interview will be incredibly daunting for them and they may be feeling anxious, so make sure you encourage them to relax and take a break from their preparation to do something fun.

After the interview, your son or daughter will then start receiving offers from different medical schools - then all that's left to do is accept a place!

The information above has been provided by The Medic Portal - a platform created by doctors that engages with 300,000+ aspiring medics and works with hundreds of top schools around the world. It is officially endorsed by the Royal Society of Medicine.

The Medic Portal Parents' Advice page can be found here