Journal of Health Policy & Opinions
n Oxford Medical Student’s top tips for getting into medical school
Triya Chakravorty BA(Oxon)
School of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, UK
Key words
Medical school, entrance
Cite as: Chakravorty T. n Oxford Medical Student’s Top Tips for getting into Medical School͘
Sushruta 2020 (Mar) vol13(1): 33-34 epub: 27.03.20
Part 1: Is Medicine for you?
the question that all applicants fear. When I was
applying to medical school this was one of the
most difficult questions I had to prepare for. I
When I was a child, I wanted to be an astronaut.
remember recording myself saying my answer out
However, when I realised that this job requires
loud, then cringing when I heard it back. I also
rigorous physical exertion, I changed my ambition
remember thinking that it was so hard to come up
to astrobiologist (aliens were definitely my thing).
with an original answer - surely there are only a
As I explored my love for biology through reading,
few reasons why people want to become doctors?
I discovered that what really interested me was a
In one of my interviews at Oxford, I was asked a
little closer to home - think planet Earth, think
variation of the dreaded question. They asked:
humans. So, at age thirteen I finally decided that I
Why should we ask the question: why do you
wanted to be a doctor.
want to study medicine”?
Between the ages of fourteen and seventeen I
As it happens, this raises an important point.
focussed single-mindedly on one thing: gaining a
Answering the question:
“why medicine?”
place in medical school at Oxford or Cambridge. I
shouldn’t be a performance͘ fter all, you’re
pursued this dream so meticulously that by the
applying to be a doctor, not an actor. This question
end of my school career, I had essentially become
should be one that you ask yourself. Getting a
a professional at getting into medical school͘ I’d
place at medical school is not easy. Also, getting
read all the books, watched all the videos and read
through medical school is not easy either. Your
all the articles. Without tooting my own trumpet
time will consist of long hours in the library,
too much, let me play you a piece. This series will
laboratory and ward͘ You may feel like you’re
tackle the ins and outs of the application process,
working much more than your non-medic friends,
including topics such as: personal statements,
and you’ll be held to a different standard too͘
work experience, examinations, interviews and
extra-curricular activities.
The reason I mention all this is not to scare you,
but instead to demonstrate a point. The lengthy
Why do you want to study medicine?
application process itself is a good test of your
Four years into medical school and hearing those
desire to study the subject. In my opinion, the
seven words still send shivers down my spine. It is
most important thing when embarking on the
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Journal of Health Policy & Opinions
journey to medical school is to figure out if you
experience can sometimes take months to
truly want to do this, and whether that motivation
organise, and if you’re not well connected, you
enough to get you through years of hard work. So,
may not have enough time before the application
how do you do that?
deadline. So, if you think you are even somewhat
inclined to medicine, there are some things that
Firstly, it’s important to ask yourself whether you
you can do to make sure that you’re on the right
know what a doctor actually does, and how the UK
medical system works. As much as we may wish
that being a doctor is like being on House MD, but
1. Keep up to date with health and science
sadly that is not the case. In my opinion, the best
way to figure this out is by talking to doctors you
meet during your work experience about their
It’s important to keep well informed, not just for
jobs, watching videos made by medics and reading
your personal benefit, but for your application too.
personal essays. It is important to use your work
Having a general understanding of current affairs
experience time to actually assess whether you
will be useful for your interviews, your personal
enjoy the working environment, and whether you
statement and even for your Biomedical
think you may fit in. Work experience is not just a
Admissions Test (BMAT). I recommend building a
box ticking exercise, and can actually be very
habit by reading the news at a certain time each
valuable to you.
day. This is a great habit that you could even
maintain into your adult years. When I was in
school, I wrote particularly important or
When is too early to start preparing?
interesting news headlines down in a journal, so
Whenever students or parents ask me this
that I could look back at it during interview
question, I always give the same response. In my
opinion, it’s never too early to start doing
something. It’s a lot easier to get off the path to
2. Choose the right A Levels
medical school then to get on it at a later date.
For the University of Oxford and several other
Let’s say that you are fourteen years old and you
medical schools, it is compulsory to take Chemistry
decide you want to be a doctor. So, you sign up for
and one other Science A Level. If you are
some volunteering sessions, you spend a week
contemplating medicine, it is critical to have these,
shadowing some doctors and you read a few
or else you’ll be stuck at the first hurdle͘ It’s my
science books. Fast forward three years and you
personal view that Biology A Level should also be
decide that medicine is no longer for you͘ You’ve
compulsory for medicine, because in my four years
not really lost anything having given up some of
at medical school I have relied a lot more on the
your time to volunteering, in fact, you’ve probably
knowledge and skills gained during Biology A Level
gained some life experiences and helped people
than those I gained from Chemistry. However, the
out in the process. Having read those books will
theory is that it is possible to catch up the Biology
just have helped you become a more well-rounded
syllabus in your own time, whereas with Chemistry
person, and you’re now free to focus on what you
it may not be.
really want to do.
3. Start volunteering
Let us now consider the opposite scenario. At age
fourteen you aren’t really sure about medicine,
Not only does a long-term commitment to
but at seventeen inspiration has struck and you
something this look great on your application, it
realise that medicine is your calling. To your
will also help you to become more comfortable
dismay, you haven’t taken the right Levels or
with interacting with people of different ages,
managed to do any work experience. Work
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backgrounds and abilities. I recommend reaching
out to a local care home or nursery.
4. Hone your extracurricular activities
If you can, try to take on some leadership and
teamwork roles at school. This could include
joining a sports team, running a club or editing for
the school’s magazine͘ It doesn’t really matter
what activity you do, as long as it is something you
enjoy. Leadership and teamwork are qualities that
will come in extremely useful when working in a
team in a healthcare
environment. Also, managing extracurricular
activities on top of your academic demands is
good practice for maintaining a work-life balance
in university and in the workplace.
5. Read some science and medicine books
Regardless of whether or not you include them in
your personal statement, reading around the
subject is an important part of the application
process. Not only will it give you something to talk
about at interviews, but it may also give you an
insight into the profession and ignite your interest
in a particular topic. There are several good books
out there, and many recommended reading lists to
browse. Three books that I recommend are:
Also Human: The Inner Lives of Doctors by
Caroline Elton
Life at the Extremes: The Science of
Survival by Frances Ashcroft
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
In part two we will tackle how to: choose a medical
school, write a personal statement, ace the
admissions tests and make the most out of your
work experience.
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