My life-and-death drama in Ply­mouth

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Medicine is not only one of the most com­pet­i­tive of all de­gree sub­jects, but it also has its own dis­tinc­tive ap­pli­ca­tion process.

While the ma­jor­ity of sixth-for­m­ers have un­til Jan­uary 15 to sub­mit their univer­sity ap­pli­ca­tions, as­pir­ing doc­tors must have theirs in by Oc­to­ber 15. And while most ap­pli­cants can ap­ply for up to five cour­ses or uni­ver­si­ties, for med­i­cal schools that choice is limited to four.

In ad­di­tion, un­like most other cour­ses where late ap­pli­ca­tions are of­ten al­lowed, if ap­pli­cants for med­i­cal school miss the dead­line then they have no op­tion but to wait un­til the fol­low­ing year.

Th­ese stric­tures — which also ap­ply to ap­pli­cants hop­ing to study ve­teri­nary science or den­tistry — re­flect the pop­u­lar­ity of the cour­ses. Ac­cord­ing to Ucas there were 24,347 ap­pli­ca­tions for medicine and den­tistry last year, of which 9,078 were ac­cepted.

The com­pe­ti­tion ac­counts for the early dead­line, says Aku Atubra, ad­mis­sions team leader at Ex­eter Univer­sity’s med­i­cal school. Un­like for many other sub­jects, most can­di­dates for med­i­cal schools will be in­ter­viewed, and the Oc­to­ber dead­line is needed so in­ter­views can be car­ried out be­fore Ucas’s of­fer dead­line in March, she adds.

Aca­demic re­quire­ments are typ­i­cally a min­i­mum of three As at A-level, al­though some uni­ver­si­ties will ask for one or more A* grades. Within th­ese pa­ram­e­ters, there can be quite wide variation. At Ex­eter, for ex­am­ple, th­ese should in­clude at least two science sub­jects, one of which should be chem­istry, while New­cas­tle Univer­sity asks for ei­ther bi­ol­ogy or chem­istry.

At­ti­tudes to GCSEs also vary: Ex­eter has no min­i­mum GCSE re­quire­ment, other than English lan­guage and maths at C or above. “Our pri­mary fo­cus is on AS and A-lev­els,” says Atubra. Manch­ester, on the other hand, looks for five A or A* grades, ac­cord­ing to Prof Tony Freemont, head of its med­i­cal school.

Most med­i­cal schools will also ask can­di­dates to com­plete an on­line test of their suit­abil­ity for a med­i­cal ca­reer. The most com­mon, the UK clin­i­cal ap­ti­tude test (UKCAT), as­sesses skills in­clud­ing prob­lem-solv­ing, non- ver­bal and quan­ti­ta­tive rea­son­ing, and is taken on­line be­fore the ap­pli­ca­tion is sub­mit­ted. The re­sults can be cru­cial.

But in­ter­view­ers are look­ing for more than just high test scores and pre­dicted A-level grades, says Prof Roger Bar­ton, di­rec­tor of med­i­cal stud­ies at New­cas­tle Univer­sity. Among the ar­eas as­sessed at in­ter­view are com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in­ter­per­sonal skills, knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of the health ser­vice and a com­mit­ment to help­ing oth­ers, he says. “Lots of peo­ple can achieve aca­dem­i­cally, but you are look­ing for a more rounded in­di­vid­ual.”

Ev­i­dence of a car­ing per­son­al­ity is also im­por­tant. This could take the form of vol­un­tary work in a health­care set­ting. Ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties such as Duke of Ed­in­burgh awards are also use­ful.

“We’re try­ing to an­a­lyse whether they have the per­sonal skills that are re­quired to be a doc­tor,” Prof Freemont says. “It is about be­ing able to make de­ci­sions, tak­ing the lead in pa­tient man­age­ment and work­ing in a team.”

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