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15. November 2017 Le Thu Tran

My journey of getting into a Medical School

“Why will you only know your A Levels results in August?” “Did you have to take any special tests?” “What even is a “personal statement” and what do you write in it?” Over the past year my friends and family kept asking me questions about the application process of getting into a Medical School. The UK system differs from the Czech one significantly and thus, I decided to share my story with you as well.

To start with, I need to tell you a bit about myself so everything makes more sense. I studied last 2 years of high school in England where I completed A Levels in June 2017 in 4 subjects: Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and German. I applied to 4 medical schools and one biomedical school (you are only allowed to apply to 4 medical schools in the UK).

And now let me start explaining each term:

UKCAT is an assessment test required by most of the medical schools in the UK. It serves as an IQ test meaning no scientific knowledge is needed and that is also a reason why this test is so challenging because you cannot fully prepare for it. I started practising for it at the beginning of the summer holidays before my final high school year. I bought official UKCAT guides and practise books, did available online tests and took the UKCAT at the end of the summer at an information centre in Prague. I received my results straight after taking the test and was very pleased about them.

IELTS is a language test. Every university and every course has a different IELTS requirement and for medicine itself, it is generally higher than for the other courses. Personally, I was not scared of taking the IELTS at all, I undertook an intensive 2 weeks course at the British Council in Prague and took the exam during the summer before my final year.

Personal statement and what to write about
Personal statement (PS) is an essay about yourself – you write about why this course, your achievements or team and leadership opportunities. One of the most important things is describing any type of volunteering or work activities relevant to medicine that you did and explain in detail what it taught you. Which volunteering experience did I do? I visited a care home on a weekly basis for a whole year (during my penultimate year of high school), helped out at a youth club for a few days and became an Ambassador for this charity at my school and then volunteered at one of the hospitals in Prague during the summer holidays. It is certainly worth mentioning any of your hobbies and other extracurricular activities since that shows involvement and ways to cope with stress. In my case, I wrote about my trio ensemble, piano lessons and competitions and being a badminton captain at my last school. I started writing my PS during the summer holidays already and then asked about 10 people to proof read it for me.

After sending off your UCAS application, you just need to wait to hear back from your university choices. If you get an interview, congratulations! Not many candidates even get an interview! The most common type of a medical interview is MMI aka multiple mini-interviews with many stations each with a different task or question – e.g. why this university, recent news in the medical field or discussing ethical issues like assisted suicide etc. Broadly speaking, interviews only test for your communication skills and common sense. I had 2 interviews, one at The University of Glasgow and the other one at The University of Sheffield. Whereas my interview in Scotland lasted for less than 30 minutes and consisted of only 2 stations (one being about myself and the other one was a role play), my Sheffield one was a proper MMI with 8 stations, each lasting for about 5 minutes and the most memorable thing was the station where we met a real patient and had to have a general chat with him about his disease! I definitely recommend reading your PS and Tomorrow’s Doctors by the GMC just before your interview because they often refer to those!

My story
Honestly, applying to a medical school in England itself is such an intense experience. Not only you have an earlier deadline than anyone else, compulsory tests and interviews to attend, months or even years of work and volunteering experience but the worst thing about it all is the waiting. My deadline was in October, received my first offer in November to a biomedical school in London, attended an interview in Glasgow in December, had an interview in Sheffield in January and then watched being rejected from all my medical choices – Dundee, Birmingham, Glasgow and actually, even Sheffield. Sheffield then wrote me a separate email saying they are keeping me on their reserved list and if I were to receive 3 A’s from my A Levels, I shall contact them later. Since I took 4 A Levels which is rather atypical since most students only take 3, my exam period was longer than the usual – running from late April until late June and I can reassure you that A Levels was the most stressful time of my life so far. A Levels results only get released in the end of August and if you have a “conditional offer”, you have to wait until Results Day to know whether you made it to your First-choice university or not. On that day, I unfortunately did not get my 3 A’s and was very disappointed… however, there was a plot twist! Sheffield called me on Results Day to tell me they still want me even when I did not meet their original offer! I did not know whether to laugh or cry, I went through Clearing, was calling Sheffield and London all day long and then in the evening, I finally saw my effort paying off when I logged onto UCAS and a beautiful sign welcomed me: “Congratulations! Your place at The University of Sheffield to study Medicine is now confirmed.” My emotional and stress level roller coasters were so crazy that day I fell ill for the next week. But well, you can take me as an example that you should never give up (even when you got rejected from all your medical choices) and just carry on doing your best (in your exams to prove them all you can do it) and miracles will happen to you – all it takes is to believe in yourself.

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