Choosing a medical school
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
Once you have decided that you want to study Medicine, you will need to start thinking about choosing 4 medical schools for your UCAS application. There are 33 medical schools in the UK, and each one is unique in its own way, so you must take time to find the best fit for you. When choosing a medical school, there are some key things you should consider:
The type of course
Traditional courses usually have 2 to 3 pre-clinical years followed by clinical years. Oxford and Cambridge are examples of universities with traditional course structures.
The pre-clinical years consist mainly of lectures and tutorials which will focus on the science underpinning medicine i.e. at molecular level. This means that you will be covering main themes like Physiology, Biochemistry and Anatomy.
For the rest of your course you will be taught in clinical settings such as hospitals and GPs.
There may still be some lectures and tutorials at this stage, but they will be complementary to your clinical learning which will become the main focus of your study.
You will also be more likely to complete your placements based on medical specialty i.e. Respiratory for 4 weeks then rotate to Cardiology... If you like things in a more structured fashion, a traditional course may be for you.
A traditional course gives you a very strong scientific foundation for your medical practice which means that you may feel more confident when you come to work with patients in the following years. HOWEVER, it may take a while for some people to get over your initial timidity and shyness when approaching patients for the first time later on in your degree.
With an integrated course, scientific knowledge is delivered alongside clinical training from very early on in medical school (in King's this is from Year 2, in other universities like Queen Mary University London, you attend GP placements from Year 1)! So, if you want to get hands-on patient contact from early on in your degree, an integrated course may be for you.
In terms of your academic work, you learn the material by topic rather than by discipline. In King's College London, lectures are delivered alongside our clinical placements from Year 2, during which we are required to complete a medical portfolio. We are taught about different medical conditions within topics/overarching themes that can include multiple medical disciplines such as 'Supporting Life' (i.e. Emergency medicine, some Cardiology and some Respiratory) and 'Ageing' (i.e. Geriatrics, some Rheumatology, some Cardiology...). I personally do not find this method the most useful and prefer learning disciplines traditionally but you can adapt your learning style to do what suits you. I do, however, love the fact that I get early clinical exposure and can link my knowledge together as I progress throughout the course.
On the other hand, you might feel that you are confronted with patients before you know enough (this has happened to me A LOT at King's).
An integrated course may involve some problem-based learning, case-based learning or none at all. King's College London does incorporate some clinical case-based learning sessions to support our understanding. Have a look at the university prospectus or website to find out exactly how the courses for each university you are interested in are structured.
Problem-based learning (PBL):
PBL involves small group work, peer-to-peer teaching and understanding through solving problems.
If you enjoy group work and are a very proactive, then PBL may be for you. Self-directed work can be very rewarding and help you develop skills for your future career such as research skills (i.e. critical appraisal of texts), understanding the importance of evidence-based medicine and teamwork.
Case-based learning (CBL):
CBL is not the same as PBL. It is based on the same principles, but it focuses on clinical scenarios/cases whereas not every problem you get given in PBL will be a clinical one.
I applied to Cardiff University because they incorporated a lot of CBL into their curriculum. Their CBL course includes a nice range of teaching methods such as seminars, lectures, dissection, clinical skills practice, small group learning, individual study and patient-focused learning out in the community.
CBL uses clinical cases to stimulate your interest in a specific area of the curriculum and teaching is conducted in small groups, typically over a 2-3 week period.
Typically, there is a concluding session at the end of your case where you present your work to a medical professional and reflect on your learning experience. Students often find it easier to apply and remember scientific knowledge when it is applied to real life medical cases so CBL may be the type of course structure for you!
Source: The BMA is a great resource for reading about each course type in depth.
The importance of UCAT or BMAT
Different universities place different levels of importance on the UCAT. You will know your UCAT score by the time you apply to Medical School, so this should be a major consideration when picking your medical school.
Unlike the UCAT, the BMAT will be sat after your application is submitted. So I advise applying to no more than 2 BMAT universities when choosing your 4 medical school options. I applied to 3 BMAT medical schools in my application to Medicine the 1st time round and this was a major setback - I did not do as well as I did in my UCAT and so, Oxford and Imperial declined my application straight away.
Location & 'Vibe'
The location and the 'vibe'/atmosphere of the university are just as important as the other strategic aspects of the application because ultimately, you will be studying Medicine there for 5+ years! This is why it is VERY important to try and attend Open Days - however, due to COVID-19, this is not currently possibly so there have been a few great online opportunities to take advantage of:
Life of a Medic is doing a Virtual Open Day series (on Instagram) where you can find out what it's like to study at each of the 33 UK medical schools by current students and ask any questions you may have.
Journey 2 Med also has an IGTV series of Q&A sessions with medical students studying at a range of universities. I have partnered with them to offer my insight into King's medical school.
The Medic Portal has also compiled a list of the official Virtual Medical School Open days for different universities.
Some people want to stay close to home, whereas others want to go to the other side of the country. It is important to think about whether you want to move out or not and to determine your budget for this. i.e. If you are planning to stay in London, rent for 40 weeks/during term-time will be at least £8000. I recommend checking each university's accommodation page and looking at prices of living in residences/halls.
I decided to stay in London because I have lived here for a while and I love it! When I went to visit King's College London for their Open Day, I loved the feel of ‘community’ I got from the university, despite it being situated in the busy, fast-paced centre of London. Students and staff were friendly and approachable, and most importantly, they were proud to say they were a part of King’s and it made me want to be a part of that. In addition to this, the Shard was situated right by my campus (Guy's Campus)!
There are generally two types of universities: campus and city. Campus based universities have a “university town” where the university itself and the surrounding accommodations are situated close together.
City based universities have their buildings scattered across the city centre. The area won’t be bordered off just for university students, so there’ll be other people around the area making it a little busier. This is what King's College London is like with 4 main campuses spread across South London: Waterloo, Strand, Guy's and Denmark Hill.
An intercalation gives you the chance to get a second degree whilst studying undergraduate Medicine. An undergraduate BSc (Bachelor of Science) or postgraduate MSc (Masters of Science) can be taken alongside the medical degree – all in just one year! This is called an Intercalation.
An Intercalated medical degree takes one extra year on top of your 5 or 6-year medical degree. For some medical schools this is compulsory (and included in the total length of time of their medical course), but for many others it is optional.
The list of medical schools below are those that I know have made an intercalated year compulsory (unless you already have a degree and are entering Medicine as a graduate) [correct as of 19 June 2020]:
King's College London (from 2019 entry)
University College London (UCL)
An intercalated year can be taken after the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th year of study, dependent on the medical school. Most medical schools (such as King's) expect students to undertake their intercalation after 3rd year. All the places offering intercalated degrees for medical students can be found here: https://www.intercalate.co.uk/. However, you do not need to be looking that far in advance! But just make sure you're aware of what medical schools make intercalating compulsory.
The importance of grades
Grades are understandably an important part of being successfully selected to study Medicine. Your GCSEs and A-level grades will play a big part in which Medical Schools you choose to apply to. To view the entry requirements for every UK Medical School and their different Medicine courses, check out The Medical School Council's webpage.
Choose the medical schools for which you have the grades for! But do not let poor grades stop you from pursuing Medicine if that is really what you want to do. There are 'foundation' and widening access programmes available for Medicine. King's College London even runs the Extended Medical Degree Programme (EMDP) for which I am currently enrolled on (blog post coming soon)!
I hope this helps you with your decision on the 4 medical schools that are right for you!