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How To Get Into Medical School (In 7 Steps)

How To Get Into Medical School (In 7 Steps)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
Photo of author
Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

The first hurdle to becoming a doctor in the UK is figuring out how to get into medical school!

We’ve all been there- I’m positive any doctor you speak to will be able to recall the blood, sweat and tears that went into getting that offer.

The seven steps to getting into medical school are:

  1. Decide on medicine as a career
  2. Take the necessary subjects at A-level
  3. Undertake medical work experience
  4. Select your medical schools to apply to
  5. Score highly in the UCAT and/or BMAT
  6. Write a compelling medical personal statement
  7. Showcase yourself at interview

From doing volunteer work to entrance exams and interviews, there’s no denying it takes a lot of hard work. And there’s also a lot more to it than just those seven broad-brush steps!

But that’s why I wanted to put together this guide: it’s a detailed 7 step roadmap on how to get into medical school.

Something you can use to steer you through the process as you get closer and closer to that coveted spot.

1. Do You Actually Want To Go To Medical School?

TimelineIdeally at least a year before applying
Duration3-6 months

Funnily enough, deciding on a career in medicine is the first step to getting into medical school!

You may think it sounds silly, but it’s not a step to be taken lightly.

Before launching into months and even years of hard work you have to be sure it’s what you want.

Not your parents, not your teachers, and not your pet guinea pig.

You have to want to be a doctor.

And going hand in hand with that is the fact you have to actually understand what you’re signing up for!

I’m afraid Scrubs and Dr House aside, do you truly appreciate what your day job might look like ten years from now?

How To Decide If Medicine Is Right For You

First off, try and speak to any doctors you can get your hands on- friends, family members or friends of family members!

Ask them what they like and dislike about their job. Ask them if they’d do it all over again. Ask them if they’d recommend medicine to you.

Next, think about what it is that’s actually drawing you towards the vocation.

Is it the science? The carer’s role? The status?

By understanding what’s motivating you, as well as the alternative careers out there, you can evaluate whether medicine really is the right fit.

Lastly, you need to test out your theories.

Get stuck in with medicine taster days, any shadowing or work experience you can get your hands on and talk to current medical students!

It’s far better to realise now that medicine isn’t right for you rather than dropping out of medical school with thousands of pounds in debt.

2. Subjects You Need To Study Medicine

TimelineYears 12 & 13 for A-levels
Duration24 months

Now that you’ve decided you want to study medicine you need to get the academic side of your application in order.

Studying at medical school stretches even the brightest and best- so it’s not surprising many medical schools have pretty stringent academic requirements.

A quick disclaimer: I’m going to discuss the subjects and grades traditionally needed to get into medical school in the UK.

However, where there’s a will there’s a way. There are many paths to becoming a doctor and you can almost always rectify or work around academics.

In planning for an application you can make your life a whole lot easier if you select the right subjects at GCSE and A-level.

GCSEs For Medicine

There’s a wide variety of ways in which medical schools view your GCSEs.

Some, such as the University of Southampton, require seven GSCEs at grade B/6 or above, including English language, mathematics and either biology or chemistry.

Others, such as Newcastle University, have no specific GCSE requirements at all!

In general, you’ll want at least a 6 or B in English Language and maths.

The more the merrier however as they’ll equate to points on your application to many medical schools.

A-Levels For Medicine

Chemistry, biology and either maths or physics (or both) will keep all your medical school options open to you.

Chemistry and biology plus another subject will keep open the vast majority.

As a bottom line, chemistry is a must-have.

If you haven’t taken the required sciences however all is not lost as many medical schools offer a foundation year.

This is a year pre-medical school where you study at the university and essentially get a fast-track science top-up.

Students sitting an A-level examination

In terms of grades needed, the absolute minimum you’ll be accepted with is AAB.

However, AAA is the standard offer with some, such as the University of Cambridge, demanding up to A*A*A.

Tip: If you’re not sure you’ve taken the right subjects or need more information, your teachers can also be goldmines for information.

There’ll likely have helped hundreds of students before you get into medical school and so can be invaluable in piecing together your application.

3. Medical Work Experience

TimelineYears 11 to 13
Duration6-12 months

Medical work experience is pretty much essential to being accepted into medical school.

Now this somewhat changed with the COVID pandemic, but it’s still incredibly important.

Your work experience will also play a massive part in confirming to you whether or not medicine is the right choice.

You’re literally getting to step into the shoes of healthcare workers and see what their day to day work involves.

How To Get Work Experience For Medicine

With so many people wanting to become doctors, securing relevant work experience can be challenging.

I remember handing in my CV to every care home in my town.

I only got a handful of responses and even fewer followed through.

However, I did manage get a position and got that application boost from having volunteered for over a year.

I’d start by putting a CV together yourself and getting it out there.

It really is a bit of a numbers game, so try not to be disheartened if you don’t have much luck initially.

You should consider approaching:

  • Local GP practices- the practice manager or one of the GPs will be your best shot
  • Local hospitals- work experience in a hospital is ideal but there can be lengthy waiting lists
  • Care or residential homes- excellent for gaining an insight into the care giver’s role
  • Any doctors you may know- friends, family, friends of friends… It’s worth asking!
  • Or indeed any allied health professionals- pharmacists, nurses, physios etc.

Don’t be too hung up on getting that golden hospital placement.

Really anything related to healthcare or the carer’s role can be incredibly helpful to you as an applicant.

The real value in these experiences is your reflection on them, not the setting or length of time that you were there.

4. Choosing A Medical School

TimelineAny point up to the UCAS deadline!
Duration1-2 months

Choosing a medical school can be a really daunting task. I remember having no idea where to start!

There’s just so many!

What factors should you base your choices on? How can you narrow down your options? What even are all the different medical schools?

To avoid analysis paralysis, in this section I’m going to give you a two-step process for narrowing down the choices for your UCAS application.  

Step 1: Setting Some Constraints

Your choices have to reflect a lot of things: where you want to live, where you think you’ve got the best chance of getting in, where offers the type of course you want…

The list goes on.

A good way to narrow it down is to decide on some constraints; something that your medical school has to have.

For example, you may decide that you want to go to a university that runs a four-year graduate entry program.

In which case, your list of medical schools to choose from would be:

  • Barts
  • Birmingham
  • Cambridge
  • Cardiff
  • King’s College
  • Liverpool
  • Newcastle
  • Nottingham
  • Oxford
  • Sheffield
  • Southampton
  • Dundee / St Andrews
  • St George’s
  • Swansea
  • Warwick

Additionally, you may need a medical school that’s within 100 miles of London. In which case you’d be left with the following:

  • Barts
  • Cambridge
  • King’s College
  • Oxford
  • Southampton
  • St George’s
  • Warwick

You can see how using this method repeatedly, you’ll be left with a small number of medical schools, all of which meet your must-have criteria.

Step 2: Gathering More Information

Now you’ve got your more focussed list of medical schools, you can get down to the nitty-gritty. This might include:

  1. Visiting the medical schools to see which you like the look of
  2. Speaking to current students to understand their experiences
  3. Studying the competition ratios to really maximise your chances

There really is no right or wrong way to make your choices for the UCAS application. It all comes down to you.

Students studying on a university campus

There’s no point in getting an offer from a place you know you’ll have a rubbish time at because you’re a six hour drive away from your family.

Or, perhaps you’d see that as a bonus..!

5. Medical School Entrance Exams

TimelineJuly – September for the UCAT
The BMAT is sat in November
Duration1-3 months

Sadly, the fact is to get into medical school, you’re going to have to sit entrance exams.

I know it’s unfair as your friends who want to study history, maths or English don’t have to.

But, they can be a great way to differentiate yourself from the crowd with a stand out score.

The two main entrance exams used by medical schools are the UCAT and the BMAT.

The UCAT

The UCAT, or University Clinical Aptitude Test, is the entrance exam used by the majority of UK medical schools.

It’s tests a wide range of skills- from verbal reasoning to maths to abstract thinking.

You can only take it once per application cycle, sitting it online in a special test centre.

Each medical school then uses your UCAT score as they see fit.

For example, some such as the University of Sheffield rank every applicant in descending order of their UCAT scores- and then only invite the top portion to interview.

Others however, such as Cardiff, say they only use the UCAT in borderline cases to decide between otherwise equal candidates.

The BMAT

The BMAT is an alternative entrance exam only used by a small handful of medical schools.

Like the UCAT it has sections similar to an IQ test- but unlike the UCAT it also tests your scientific knowledge.

You’re also required to write an essay in the BMAT whereas the UCAT is all multiple choice.

You only need to sit the BMAT if you apply to a medical school that requires it.

Therefore it’s likely you’ll sit the UCAT and BMAT, or just the UCAT for your application.

In parallel to the UCAT, each medical school appraises your BMAT score independently.

6. Your Medicine Personal Statement

TimelineFinished by the UCAS deadline in October
Duration1-2 months

Your personal statement is an opportunity to truly sell yourself to the medical schools.

Without it your application is only statistics about you as a student: what school you’re at, what grades you’ve achieved, what your UCAT score was…

With it you get to breathe life into you as a candidate and showcase your individuality.

It is however undeniably a challenge to craft a good medicine personal statement.

You’ve only got 47 lines and 4,000 characters to pack in why you’d be such a great doctor.

The three main things you need to convey in your personal statement are:

  1. Your motivations for medicine
  2. Your work experience
  3. Your extra-curricular achievements

By weaving these three domains into a polished document you’ll achieve the personal statement’s ultimate aim: proving your suitability for medicine.

How Medical Schools Use Your Personal Statement

Just like the entrance exams, medical schools vary considerably in how they make use of your personal statement.

A personal statement will very rarely (if ever) be formally scored.

Indeed in some cases medical schools don’t actually look at your personal statement at all!

The majority use it as a supplement to your application.

This might be reading it to inspire some questions to ask you at interview or using it as a tie-breaker between you and another applicant.

That being said, medical schools such as Barts, Cardiff, King’s College and UCL all do use it in their shortlisting process for interview.

7. Medical School Interviews

TimelineGenerally November – March
Duration1-2 months

Interviews are where you need to put it all together.

You’ve impressed the medical school enough that they’ve invited you to come and show them why they should choose you.

There are two main types of medical school interview: panel (a.k.a traditional) interviews and multiple mini interviews (a.k.a. MMIs).

They both will test you on broadly the same areas but do so in two very different ways.

Panel Medicine Interviews

Panel interviews are what you think of when imaging a traditional interview.

You’ll likely spend twenty to sixty minutes answering questions from a panel of interviewers sitting across from you.

A medicine applicant undergoing a panel interview

They’ll have either read your personal statement or have it in front of them, and will ask you questions ranging from your motivations for studying medicine to the structure of the NHS.

Panel interviews are an opportunity to let your personality shine through and really convince someone why you should be given an offer.

Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs)

Multiple mini interviews, or MMIs for short, are a more modern alternative to the traditional interview.

They’ve become popular as a more objective method for selecting applicants to medical school.

Instead of one panel interview you rotate through a series of stations (the mini interviews) where each one has its own interviewer and task.

The advantage of this is if you mess up one station you’ve got a completely fresh start for the next.

How To Prepare For A Medicine Interview

There’s a lot that goes into preparation for a medical school interview.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you’re just starting out but you will find there’s natural progression in your knowledge over your application year.

Despite their differences, there’s a great deal of overlap between preparation for both a traditional interview and MMI.

Both interview methods have common topics that come up time and time again:

  • Your personal statement
  • Your work experience
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Why you’ve selected that medical school
  • Medical ethics
  • Structure of the NHS
  • NHS hot topics
  • Duties of a junior doctor

For some of these you’ll have to go away and do some research and rote learning.

For others you’ll hone in your skills after doing mock interviews and developing a set of killer answers.

What If You Don’t Get Into Medical School?

TimelineYou’ll have heard back by Easter
Duration0-1 months

I think medicine can sometimes feel like the be-all and end-all of careers when you’re trying to get in.

The reality is medical schools’ selection methods aren’t perfect.

And sometimes people who should have got in, don’t.

In this section I’ve explored some of the alternatives available to you- either to aid future applications or as a beginning to a different career path.

What Are The Alternatives To Medical School?

There’s no getting round the fact that both undergraduate and graduate entry medicine courses are extremely competitive.

If you’re unsuccessful in securing an offer this year, I’d strongly recommend taking a year to focus on your application and trying again.

It can be easy to get into the mindset that because you were rejected you’re not good enough and will never get in.

The reality is you’ll likely spend over twenty years in your consultancy post (that’s when you’ve finished training and are in the top dog position).

In the grand scheme of things, to secure your dream profession, what difference is another year really going to make?

All that being said, let’s go over some of your alternative options…

Further Education

If you boil down your desire to become a doctor, what are the core reasons? Could they be satisfied by undertaking a PhD in oncology for example?

You would then be an expert in your field, able to make tangible differences to people suffering with a terrible disease.

If your’e interested in a scientific career, could it be worth going to university to study something like Biomedical Sciences?

A high risk opportunity (and one that I do not recommend) is being aware of the reality that a couple of students, on courses such as Biomedical Sciences, often transfer onto that university’s Medicine course each year.

Alternative Careers To Medicine

There are a lot more people who work in hospitals than just doctors!

Physiotherapists, dieticians, pharmacists, nurses, paramedics… The list goes on.

You may find that as you learn more about the different professions involved in a patient’s care you don’t actually want to be a doctor!

For example, without a doubt, if you want to be hands on actually delivering care to patients, a nurse’s role would be far more rewarding to you.

Physician’s Associate is also a relatively new and rapidly growing job position. Their role in many Trusts is almost identical to that of the junior doctors!

Studying Medicine Abroad

We’ve all heard of the Caribbean medical schools open to UK students and dreamt of lying on the beach, textbook in one hand, cocktail in the other.

While these are a viable option for those who have the means, there are also alternatives closer to home.

If you’re considering studying abroad there are plenty of European medical schools who warmly welcome UK students.

Many hospitals have an excellent working relationship with these medical schools- they’ll actively run careers fairs at their graduation events, hoping to find graduates to fill junior doctor posts in the UK.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to get into medical school is going to be one of the best things you’ve ever done.

That’s because I think medicine is an absolutely incredible career path- so can’t wait for you to become a doctor!

It can be a long road, that doesn’t always look rosy, but I’m confident if you persist you’ll eventually get an offer.

Plenty of my friends at medical school didn’t get in the first time round. Which I’m certain had nothing to do with their ability (they’re all fantastic doctors now).

Keep at it and you’ll be graduating in no time!

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.