Medical School Pondering

(240 Posts)
kaykay72 Mon 05-Mar-18 01:48:30

Hi all,

I’ve been reading a bit of the epically long medical school application thread, you all seem so knowledgable about the unis and the process, that I wondered if you could give me some thoughts on our situation please?

D has wanted to be a surgeon for as long as I can remember, used to aspire to go to Cambridge but wavers in that now. Strong academic and sporting record. Developed an illness in the run up to her GCSEs, sat exams (pre diagnosis but on diagnosis was told illness had been present around 6 months before exams, came out with 6A*, 3A, 2B. Ended up missing year 12 due to treatment and extended hospital admission, but has fought like a warrior and restarted year 12 with next cohort. School have already said that she’ll have a medical attachment to her UCAS form to explain gap and the opinion that she underperformed at gcse due to illness. First half of year 12 going well, medical situation all good. Has part time job, is currently predicted A*, A*, A - and school don’t give predicted grade for further maths at this point. Is back at her sport, working her way back up (she was a national level competitor), completing a diploma in this which carries UCAS points (equivalent to a B grade A level) and has just passed a coaching qualification as she coaches a bit at her club. Trying to fit in some WE/voluntary work but difficult to access and fit in with study/work/training. Has booked (and self funded) an overseas medical work shadowing trip later in the year.

She’s starting to shortlist unis for 2019 - she’s looking for places that do dissection rather than prosection, would prefer a campus uni (has a non medic family member at Nottingham, where they also cater well for her sport) and does not like the idea of too high a proportion of PBL

I’ve got little idea of how the various scoring systems work or which unis might suit or consider her - or whether Cambridge is still a reasonable goal for her (although she’s not sure their course is what she’s looking for). Can anyone offer any advice or opinions?

Thank you 😊

OP’s posts: |
Woodenhillmum Mon 05-Mar-18 06:25:48

Have pm d you

swingofthings Mon 05-Mar-18 06:37:55

Hi kaykay, your daughter has done amazing overcoming her illness and seems to be doing incredible.

Firstly, her GCSEs are absolutely fine. Yes, it means that strategically, she'll have to forget about some schools, but she will still be a very good candidate for many of them.

At this stage my advice would be research research research, here, on tsr, on each individual school website, and all the medical schools advisory sites. There is so much information and to start with, it feels overwhelming, but gradually, you'll know exactly what school offers what.

It is good that your DD knows what she wants, but what I've learned, and I think a number of mums this year, is that unless you are an exceptional all rounder candidate, both in terms of looking good on paper and at interview, you have to consider not so much where you want to go most importantly where you are likely to be accepted.

I've learned a lot through before starting the process but also afterwards. DD GCSEs were not great (3A*, 6As, 2Bs) and she also got a Band 4 in her UKCAT SJT, which limited her choices to those schools that didn't consider it. At the time, it seemed the end of her chance to get in, as it is, it turned out to almost be a blessing because by limiting her choices, it made it much easier.

What I learned during the process is that picking St George Uni was the best choice because they offer places as they go and she got an interview mid Dececmber and an offer before Xmas. It took all the stress away and that made a huge difference. Also a lot of learning in terms of course. DD opted for Manchester as a 4th choice, last minute, traded it with Exeter, but she wasn't keen on the course, never been to Manchester, and it was very much a case of applying by default and only a choice if all others failed. As it turned out, she had three offers (still waiting on Bristol) and Manchester has now made it top of the league after she went there for her interview. She loved everything about it. The course is not as PBL as candidates think it is, and even though she would indeed prefer to have immediate contact with patients, which she would do at St George, everything taking into account, Manchester is winning at the moment.

Your daughter seems to be doing everything to give her the best chance at the moment. Over the summer, she will need to give a 100% preparing for the UKCAT as this really is the most important part to up the chance of interview, but not being in the top 25% doesn't mean her hope is over either. It's great that she seems to have set her heart of Cambridge, but she'll need to consider it along her chances next October.

What I have found with DD is that her experience, work, volunteering, babysitting for kids and parents she never knew before, taking her driving test and starting to drive, all those things have really helped her with her confidence and maturity and this is what has helped her with the interviews more than being able to talk about it. None of the schools she had offers to read her personal statement and it has hardly come up during the interviews.

Good luck for next year and hope you get the same support from other mums here we've had had this year.

Decorhate Mon 05-Mar-18 20:39:38

I would say that your dd is a very strong candidate academically. But because there will be many applicants with strong predicated grades, the key is to be very strategic & find out how each uni she is interested in decides who to call for interview. The assessment tests are usually crucial.

I would recommend she does more though in terms of work experience/voluntary work. I don't want to be negative but unis are usually less impressed with work experience that has been "bought".

But the key will be to positively spin whatever she does have. My dd volunteered with a group of young adults with learning disabilities through the local Special Olympics organisation. It was only for an hour or so once a fortnight so not a huge time commitment. Our local NHS also runs 10 week work experience programmes for teenagers wanting to study medicine or nursing. Dd had only just got a place on this when she was submitting her UCAS application so she had to be creative!

Care homes often are happy to have teenagers in volunteering with activities etc.

It is often advised to treat the application as a 2 year process but your dd may be keen to get in st first attempt as she has already missed a year. Woukd she consider easing off on her sport to allow more time for volunteering?

welshweasel Mon 05-Mar-18 20:50:28

There are far easier and less stressful places to get a medical degree from than Cambridge. Honestly, it matters not where she goes but sounds like she'd do better somewhere less intense! Surgery is an amazing career - I absolutely love my job and can't imagine doing anything else.

Decorhate Mon 05-Mar-18 21:26:24

Regarding surgery, I was talking recently to someone who works for RCS. They reckoned that most medical schools focus on churning out GPs and often students graduate with insufficient skills to become surgeons. So your dd may want to look at medical schools where she could intercalate & get an additional qualification e.g. In anatomy.

welshweasel Mon 05-Mar-18 21:33:12

What medical school you go to has no bearing on whether or not you gain the necessary skills to become a surgeon. That's utter rubbish.


Decorhate Mon 05-Mar-18 21:49:20

I never said it did.

goodbyestranger Mon 05-Mar-18 22:01:06

welshweasel if the medical school you attend has no bearing on your future career why do you suppose Cambridge is - according to you -
stressful and intense? Is Cambridge just bloody minded?

Oxfordmedic Mon 05-Mar-18 22:22:22

OP from what you say y our DD has already had far more experience of the reality of illness and the medical system than most applicants. She will be a very strong candidate and can be thoughtful about her insights in her PS. Agree that local volunteering is better than bought overseas experience. As for Cambridge, she'll only find out if she tries.

welshweasel Mon 05-Mar-18 22:22:44

For many reasons, but for example my cousin (at Cambridge) had more exams in her first term at med school than I did in the whole 5 years!

welshweasel Mon 05-Mar-18 22:30:13

And an intercalated degree in anatomy will score you one point at surgical selection. Given that you can score 5 points for participating in and providing teaching at a regional level (v easy to achieve) you can see that this is not a good use of a year, if the sole aim is to increase chances of becoming a surgeon.

Pick a course that suits your style of learning, at a university that caters to your extracurricular interests and do enough work to get your degree. From that point on you all start on a pretty level playing field.

goodbyestranger Tue 06-Mar-18 07:55:06

welshweasel I only know Oxford not Cambridge but when I asked you what the purpose of the stress and intensity of the Oxbridge medical degree is I was hoping for a bit more by way of explanation than 'many reasons'! All degrees aren't equal across many other subjects so I would have thought that might apply to medical degrees too, in terms of careers in the long term as opposed merely to posts allocated for F1.

kaykay72 Tue 06-Mar-18 08:23:33

Thank you for your replies - lots of food for thought :-)

She has had a day with a local physio and is apparently ‘on the list’ for a week of work experience at a local hospital in early summer this year. She has other feelers out, but goes to a grammar school with a high proportion of medical and oxbridge applicants, and many of her schoolmates have family members in medical professions, meaning many opportunities are snapped up ‘in house’. The trip abroad was booked after she attended a global medicine lecture at a London uni, she is keen to not overstep any ethical boundaries in terms of patient contact but to experience the differences and similarities there compared to what she can see in her brief nhs placements and her own experiences as a patient. She had considered tying this in with an epq but was worried that the time needed for this could impact her a level grades and felt on balance that it was too great a risk, and academic credit from the sporting course (which has many modules including nutrition, physiology, injury management etc) carries more UCAS credit and is a little bit different.

She found these guidelines in a local nhs trust website, she feels that she can cover much of this with the transferable skills from her job and has the commitment side shown via her coaching (she had to do first aid and child protection for this too). It’s so hard to fit it all in.

The one thing she’s pondering on is how and whether to present her illness in her PS. She thinks with the right spin it could be a positive part of her application, but doesn’t want to run the risk of overegging it. She feels the insight she gained into the settings she experienced as a patient are valuable, as well as the personal growth, self awareness, strength and determination etc that she has shown in recovery. She was talking about the personality type she has that predisposes her to the illness, how there are aspects of this that would be highly beneficial for a doctor and a surgeon, and how her experiences and treatment have made her aware of the less positive aspects and how she can manage this particularly in times of stress. I think it’s probably about balancing the PS - such a lot to try to get into a small space!

Lots of uni research to be done as the open days are starting to come out!

OP’s posts: |
Skiiltan Tue 06-Mar-18 15:28:27

All degrees aren't equal across many other subjects so I would have thought that might apply to medical degrees too, in terms of careers in the long term as opposed merely to posts allocated for F1.

Where you did your medicine degree isn't a criterion at any stage. All medicine degrees are accredited by the General Medical Council in the same way; all medical students currently have to answer the same set of questions as part of their final knowledge exam; from 2022 all medical graduates entering foundation will have had to pass the same national licensing exam. Whether someone gets her/his first choice of foundation programme depends more on where she/he ranked in her/his cohort than on most other factors, so if you're being entirely strategic it's in your interest to go where you think the average academic performance will be lowest (although the differences are small). After foundation, getting the best jobs will be down to what experience you've acquired and additional stuff you've done outside core medical duties, which has nothing to do with which medical school you went to.

I have been on consultant appointment panels (as a medical school representative in a university hospital trust) and have never seen any evidence of an old-boy network. If it exists anywhere it will be as a result of multiple people on a panel having trained in the same place, but you've no way of guessing where that might have been. Given the simple numbers involved, it would be much more likely to be Birmingham or Manchester than Cambridge.

finnto Tue 06-Mar-18 16:02:42

My DC is also a sporty/potential medic - a national level competitor also.
And he was interested at the weekend to hear that Roger Bannister was always more proud of his medicine related achievements than his sporting ones!
Doctors at open days have been impressed that DC has managed to combine his sport with getting majority A grades at GCSE. And many do participate in sport themselves.
But, a warning! It may erode study time and academic performance- travelling to training three or four times a week, for example, can be at a cost to tip top grades.
Your DC will need AAA predictions just to get considered as well as great UKCAT/BMAT. The latter is worth around 40 per cent of the appraisal in some departments.
I would ease back on the sport, unless you have extraordinary support from your school/live on top of training facilities, etc, if your DC seriously wants to pursue medicine. Application numbers were up by more than 1,000 this year and departments will use grade predictions to green light candidates through to the next round. This is where DC fell down, despite having requisite GCSE grades, volunteering and really good UKCAT.

It's a real shame because I think sports people have a wonderful fit for the character requirements of medicine - often team players, performers under great pressure, resilience and the physical condition to be on their feet for hours on end if need be!smile

goodbyestranger Tue 06-Mar-18 16:46:40

Skiitan I'm not suggesting anything as simplistic (or unethical) as an old boys network!

But if you took a look around at the consultants and surgeons doing pioneering work I expect you'd find a pattern of Oxford, Cambridge and London out of the UK trained medics. Obviously it won't be a monopoly but I would expect it to be statistically significant at the very least.

Indeed given the exceptionally high level of qualification required by Oxford and Cambridge medical schools, if their students are only doing as well in career terms as students from everywhere else, then that suggests that Oxford and Cambridge teaching and training actually has a negative effect on progress. If you compared similar secondary schools - so a superselective grammar and a high achieving comp - then the Progess 8 score of the former would probably give cause for concern. In other words Oxford and Cambridge must be doing something really horribly wrong!

goodbyestranger Tue 06-Mar-18 16:47:51

Sorry - Skiiltan.

Skiiltan Tue 06-Mar-18 17:16:10


I wouldn't suggest that Oxford or Cambridge is doing anything horribly wrong. Their students arrive with higher A-level grades - on average - and continue to be better at passing exams: gaining higher marks in royal college part-1 membership exams, for example. This doesn't make them better (or worse) doctors.

I've been out of biomedical research for a few years now, but when I was active in that field I'd say there was a preponderance of top clinical professors who had trained at Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and the big London teaching hospitals. But of course they had trained in the 1950s and 60s and things have changed a lot since then. Also, many of them were brilliant scientists but I absolutely wouldn't have gone near them if I was ill and needed a doctor.

goodbyestranger Tue 06-Mar-18 17:45:06

Well I think the point I'm wondering about is whether things have in fact changed or not. I'm surprised that you haven't come into contact with those at the top of the profession now, who would have trained in the eighties and nineties on the whole, given what you say about your current position. Those trained in the fifties would now be late to mid eighties and it doesn't sound as though you're incredibly old or out of touch.

This thing about Oxford and Cambridge medics lacking inter personal skills is really trite (obviously I realise it's a fairly widespread mantra on MN) and annoys me. Our own GP surgery has three Oxbridge trained GPs and all are exceptionally good with people. I doubt that's unique. Some of the other GPs there are dire. My DSs peers at Oxford are also extremely personable, almost without exception. I really don't buy this stuff about scientific skills and interpersonal skills being mutually exclusive.

I may well be drawing conclusions from the legal profession but the top of that profession is certainly still dominated by a small number of universities and I would expect that the medical profession is in fact too. Surely someone can find a link! smile

Forestglade Tue 06-Mar-18 18:03:21

Just to add on work experience, that in my dd's interviews the interviewers were particularly interested in whether she had found work experience herself and she thought that just using any family/personal connections would have been a negative. She managed to find volunteering in a care home just by approaching local ones direct.

sluj Tue 06-Mar-18 18:22:35

How easy would it be to keep up the sport when your DC is at university? Most unis have separate medics sports teams as they can't commit to uni level training regimes let alone national standards. Might be time to ease off the sport now?

The Student Room used to have links that helped you to choose the school according to your strengths, be it high UKCAT, stellar grades, good work experience or a great all rounder. We found that really useful if you can find that. Just be aware, that good as your DCs grades are, I'm afraid they are mid range amongst medical applicants. I think the table was called something like "applying to your strengths". Hope that doesn't come across as rude, it's not meant to be. ☺

Also the personal statement is about getting on to a medical degree, don't go on about the surgery dream 😁

sluj Tue 06-Mar-18 18:26:30

Forgot to say that academic pints or UCAS points are irrelevant. The universities with medical schools don't work on points only grades. It will all be about those three A levels. One or two of them are beginning to look at EPQs when offering and might consider it if the grades slip on results day. Southampton is EPQ friendly.

goodbyestranger Tue 06-Mar-18 19:33:52

sluj some DC seem to manage university level sport.... Impressed to hear on the BBC that Roger Bannister only had a bowl of porridge for breakfast/ lunch then did a morning shift at St Mary's in London before travelling up to Oxford to run his 3 minute 59 second mile. It is possible to do other stuff contemporaneously with a medical degree, even if it's not quite Roger Bannister standard.

sluj Tue 06-Mar-18 19:42:22

But I suspect medicine courses have changed since dear Roger's days.😉

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