Applying to medical school can be daunting and the outcome – positive or otherwise, can be overwhelming. Every year there are thousands of great applicants who don’t manage to get a place at medical school, either because they don’t get any offers or because they don’t quite meet their offer requirements. If you happen to be one of those people this time round, it is imperative that you understand being in this position is not an indicator of your potential, your capability or your suitability – it is a harsh reality of the competitiveness of the medical admissions process.
The good news is that just because you didn’t get a place first time round doesn’t mean you can’t be a doctor. However, making sense of the options you have going forward can be a challenge – especially if you don’t have people around you who have been through the process before. I have written this blog to outline clearly the routes you can take from here to fulfil your aspirations in medicine, of which there are primarily three – you can take a gap year and reapply to medical school, you can reapply to a course with a foundation year or you can enrol on an undergraduate degree and aim for graduate entry medicine (GEM).
Taking a Gap Year & Reapplying to Undergraduate Medicine
For most of you, this will be the option that makes it easiest, quickest and cheapest to successfully gain a place at med school. If you achieved at least AAA at A-level including the required subjects (usually chemistry and one other science) this is a really sensible course of action.
Whether you missed out on higher offers this time around or didn’t get any, going into the process next year with grades already achieved at the required level puts you a step ahead of others in the process. Not only that, but you’ve been through the cycle once and can learn from any missteps or hiccups the first time around.
By choosing to take this route you avoid the time-consuming and expensive process of getting a BSc and then applying to GEM and improve your chances as undergraduate medicine is many times less competitive. It’s important to remember though that medical schools will expect you to be doing something useful & constructive during your gap year – not just binging Netflix!
Taking a Gap Year & Reapplying to Undergraduate Medicine with a Foundation Year
It may be that not many of you choose to take this option – but it is important to mention nonetheless! There are now universities all over the country offering medicine with a foundation year courses, though the eligibility criteria vary significantly between institutions.
Most of these courses are six-year courses for students who didn’t study sciences at A-level, or for students who didn’t get top grades at A-level. Some are only for those who fit widening participation criteria, but again that varies from place to place.
If you didn’t get any offers this year, or you did get offers but weren’t given a place because your grades were AAB or below – take a look around at the different foundation year courses before jumping straight into pursuing graduate medicine.
Studying for an Undergraduate Degree (BSc) and Applying to GEM
This is also a popular route into medicine and involves studying for an undergraduate degree in a life science subject (eg. biochemistry, biomedical science, neuroscience, pharmacology) and then applying in your final year of studies for a shortened, four-year graduate entry course.
This is the route I took into medical school, but I would caution you all that it is not for the faint hearted. There are many less places on GEM courses than there are on standard undergraduate medical courses and as such, the process is much more competitive, often with 20-25 applications per place. On top of that, many of the applicants may have been tweaking their application since they were in school. It’s also important to note that if you do undertake an undergraduate degree, you will not be able to get funding for an undergraduate medicine course – so unless you can fund it yourself you will have to apply to graduate medicine.
Pursuing medicine via GEM is a brilliant option for those who may not quite have achieved the required AAA/A*AA grades at A-level, but nonetheless got grades good enough for other life science courses and believe they can get a 2:I or a first in that degree. You also have that bit longer to work on your application for next time round!
Of course, these options are not exhaustive – some students may think of resitting their A-levels, others of studying medicine abroad, however they are the most common and the most accessible to all. Regardless of what decision you eventually make – please don’t let it be influenced by any self-doubt you may have from being unsuccessful on your first application.
Words: Dru Lawson-Short