About this sector
A medicine degree will open up a wide range of career opportunities open to you. Medical school is phase one of your training, if you wish to practise in the UK you then go on to apply to the Foundation Programme. You can follow a path to one of many specialties, from working in a hospital as a surgeon to being based in the community as a GP. Within the practice of medicine itself, there are over 60 different specialties; your medical training will give you the opportunity to discover which appeals to you most. Other areas of work include the armed forces, industry, academic medicine and full-time research.
Explore different medical pathways and training routes using the resources below.
Which medical degrees to apply for
There are three main types:
- Standard Entry Medicine - course is usually five years long, but in some institutions it is six. It can have different abbreviations, such as MBBS or MBChB, but all result in the bachelor’s degree in medicine.
- Graduate Entry Medicine - course is open to those with a previous bachelor’s degree, achieving a minimum of 2.1. The GEM is still an undergraduate degree, not a postgraduate, so you apply through UCAS.
- Medicine with a Preliminary Year - course takes the form of a five-year Standard Entry Medicine with an additional year at the start, making a six-year course. It is also known as Medicine with a Foundation Year, or similar.
The University of St Andrews School of Medicine is the first in Scotland to offer a Scottish Graduate Entry Medicine course (ScotGEM). This graduate entry programme is intended to provide a pathway into Medicine for graduates from an Arts or Science background, and will lead to a Primary Medical Qualification which meets General Medical Council requirements. The programme is run in partnership with NHS Scotland and the universities of St Andrews, Dundee and the Highlands and Islands.
Why study medicine?
Your reasons will be unique to you but could include:
- Practical application of science
- Opportunity to make a positive difference to other people
- Rewards (financial or personal satisfaction)
- Professional job structure
- Challenging work environment
- Academic challenge
As well as being rewarding it is a challenging and demanding profession to follow. These resources will help you consider the pros and cons.
How competitive is it?
- Applications to places ratio: Entry to medicine is extremely competitive, the ratio of places to applicants varies from institution to institution and from year to year. GEM programmes are far more competitive than the other courses and some institutions are more popular. It therefore important to take this information into account in making your UCAS choices, especially if you are not a strong candidate. GEMSs have a far greater ratio of applicants to places than 5 year undergraduate programmes so many graduates include at least one undergraduate course in their UCAS choices.
- Selection criteria: To be successful it is important to be knowledgeable about the different admissions policies of medical schools. Some put an emphasis on work experience while others on degree classification and/or UKCAT score. It is really worth your time studying each institution's admission criteria and applying to the institutions which will look on your individual situation most favourably.
- Healthcare experience: Appropriate experience is important, although several universities will select applicants for interview only on their academic criteria most will use an applicant's experience in the selection process. In most cases any type of substantial work in a caring role can be considered. For more information, refer to the “How to get experience” section.
Most medicine courses you will need to sit a UK Clinical Admissions Test (UKCAT) or in a few cases a Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT) or BMAT (Biomedical Admissions Test). Information on which tests applied to an institution will be on their website. These tests were introduced to assist universities make a more informed choice from amongst the highly qualified applicants.
How to apply
Applications to medical schools are made through UCAS which opens for applications in mid-June and has a closing date of 15 October for entry the following autumn. Visit the UCAS website for more information. The Medic Portal also has useful application information.
- Anatomy of a Personal Statement – University of Oxford, this article provides some useful insight into writing an effective personal statement.
- Medical School Council – applications.
- Referee - ensure you have identified a suitable referee well before 15 October, make your request early and choose a referee who can write about your strengths.
- check admission department at the medical schools you are interested in applying to.
- know the test dates and when you will need to sit the test
- do preparation before the tests, many of admission test websites feature practice questions, make sure you try these.
There are currently three admissions tests in use by different medical schools:
UKCAT - UK Clinical Aptitude Test -the majority of medical schools use this test, which is designed to be a test of aptitude for medicine rather than a test of academic achievement.
GAMSAT– Graduate Medical Schools Admissions Test - is developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in conjunction with the Consortium of Graduate Medical Schools to assist in the selection of students to participate in the graduate-entry programs in Australia, Ireland and the UK. It is designed to assess the capacity to undertake high-level intellectual studies in the medical and health professional programs. Download the GAMSAT Information booklet
BMAT – Biomedical Admissions Test - an admissions test for applicants to Medicine, Biomedical Science and Dentistry courses at certain universities. The exam is only valid for one year therefore you must sit it the year you are applying.
Preparation is the key to success, make sure you have researched the individual school's website to find out the format of the interview.
The structure varies from university to university but they are all looking for similar things in an applicant.
- strong motivation to become a doctor
- knowledge of contemporary medical issues (includes what is happening in the NHS and ethical issues) (update your knowledge by reading newspapers, etc.)
- communication skills and relationship building
- understanding of what it entails to be a member of the medical profession (pros and cons)
- ability to present a logical argument to defend your opinions
- awareness of the course and the commitment required to be successful
The interviews are either a panel interview or a Multiple Mini Interview (MMI). The MMI consists of a series of short mini interviews which test candidates' ability to think on their feet.
This is continually changing. Keep up-to-date by referring to the NHS website.
- Contact the university/universities you are planning to apply to in order to find out if the course you are applying to is an approved course and attracts NHS financial support. To be eligible for financial support from the NHS, you must meet certain criteria.
- Money4MedStudents provides practical, unbiased information and advice on sources of funding, managing your money and how to borrow sensibly.
- Some universities have small numbers of scholarship funds, and professional associations (such as the British Medical Association) may have details of bursaries, loans or trust funds available to those wishing to enter the profession. Loans are also available from the Student Loans Company and banks, too, may be willing to lend money through personal or professional loan schemes.
How to gain experience
Relevant work experience and extracurricular activities are important to most medical schools. A mix of medically related and non-medically related experiences are recommended. For non-medical related try to choose ones that show your leadership qualities and ability to take responsibility. In all activities, if you can show a commitment over a stretch of time rather than a short burst this will reflect on your dedication to this vocation.
As a graduate applicant it will be expected that you have more in-depth experience than a school leaver. Your experiences should be over a longer length of time and in them you should have held a degree of responsibility.
Clinical experience - work in a caring role and research experience are all looked upon favourably by admission teams. Clinical experience can be difficult to arrange due to confidentiality but shadowing or even just speaking to a healthcare professional can be beneficial.
Research Experience - it is not essential in the UK as it is for some US medical schools but it still can add an extra dimension to your application as it shows you have an interest in the scientific side of medicine. If there is a research team on St Andrews which interest you could apply to the Laidlaw Undergraduate Internship Programme.
Keep a record of your experiences; especially useful is a reflection journal which records how you felt and developed from your experiences. Also, if there are articles in the media concerning health or medical matters which interest you keep a copy of them. These resources will provide useful backup information in your personal statement and interviews.
Types of experience
- Work Shadowing Programme – the Careers Centre organises a Work Shadowing Programme where alumni, friends and staff of the University offer their time for you to shadow them at their place of work.
- Hospital Placement – Some NHS Trusts have organised work experience placements - contact the HR department by phone. Contact details for English trusts can be found on NHS Choices website and for Scotland the NHS Scotland website. The Student Room website features a work experience directory. Some hospitals stipulate you must live in the area, but not all do. NHS Fife and NHS Tayside offer a few opportunities for a 5 day placement at local hospitals
- Hospital Volunteer - For St Andrews Community Hospital, contact Josie Mitchell (firstname.lastname@example.org). Josie is happy to discuss ward-based volunteering options open to you. There is also the opportunity to shadow more experienced volunteers. There is a wide variety of volunteering opportunities available at Ninewells - refer to their website for more information. You will not be providing care to the patients - it is about befriending and socialising with patients but this provides invaluable experience in building relationships with patients.
- Volunteering- Working with vulnerable people, practical hands-on caring experience, motivating/teaching others, mentoring, volunteering with other healthcare professionals to gain an appreciation of the wider healthcare team. Some useful organisations include:
- First Aider- Consider gaining first aid qualifications and volunteering as a first aider. Organisations such as the British Red Cross offer training.
- Residential and Care Homes - Volunteering long term with the elderly can provide a valuable experience. Contact homes directly to find out if they have any openings, the Care Homes website can help you locate a local home in Fife.
- Experience of healthcare - Support roles including hospital receptionist/porter, care homes, auxiliary nursing/healthcare assistant roles through recruitment agencies. Talk to a variety of healthcare professionals.
- Part time work - not necessarily in a healthcare setting. Roles that involve dealing with people in stressful situations, communicating with a range of people, working as part of a close team.
- Positions of responsibility - committee membership, leadership positions, project management, making a difference.
- Teddy Bear Hospital - a health promotion project in St Andrews running weekly trips to primary schools to teach children about health and healthcare.
Many St Andrews graduates are unsuccessful with their first application but after a year gaining extra relevant experience the success rate for second applications is high. These websites contain helpful information for you to assess your future options.
It may be worth considering alternative careers.
Key Links and Resources
Careers Centre resources
Books - the following books are available on short term loan in the University Library:
- Graduate Entry Medicine
- Medical School Interviews
General medical careers information
- The Medic Portal (TMP) - a leading resource and training provider for anyone interested in a career in medicine
Professional Bodies, Trade Organisations & Journals/Magazines