Attending Medical school in the U.K. provides a clear route to becoming a doctor. However, students should not underestimate the importance of navigating university wisely to ensure that upon graduation they are well positioned to use their skills on a daily basis at work in hospital or in the community. This guide provides helpful tips on what you should be doing during each year of study throughout your Medical degree to ensure your profile is as competitive as possible upon graduation.
This page includes insightful information for students in all years of study of Medicine. Make sure you take note what you should be doing year by year!
Navigating Medical School - Advice from Junior Doctors
Congratulations on your Medical School admission! A lot of hard work has gone into getting you to this point. University is a time of new experiences, a time to learn more about yourself. It may be tempting to take a deep breath out and relax, however, to succeed at medical school it is essential to develop as an adult learner.
The early years of Medical school are formative in many ways - it’s a time to discover how you study best. Consider your studying style - do you like to take notes, create mind maps or listen to audio tapes? Whichever approach you use, make sure it works for you. Many Universities offer study skill sessions or access to professionals such as literary fellows who can help critique your work and learning style.
Keep well rounded. As you know, medical school applications are tough. Many prospective students cited their positions as prefects, grade 8 musicians and captain of their school sports teams in the medical school application, however they stop these activities once they start at University. Many factors may contribute to this. The workload can be taxing, and individuals may feel they have no time to pursue interests outside of their studies.
Extracurricular activities can help with relaxation and stress management. Your identity as a medical student is important but it’s important to consider what else motivates you.Work out what keeps stress at bay and continue doing that e.g. running/sport/music. Being a well-rounded person is important to passing through medical school and managing jobs later on.
Make friends. Remember you’ll be with this group of people for the next 5-6 years. Good friends can be the highlight of medical school and they can also help you through difficult times.
Be confident. You’re intelligent and worked hard to be there.
Lectures: Attend them all! If you decide to make notes don’t try and write everything down and miss the aim of the lecture. Often slides are given out so the key messages are there for you.
Good exam technique is key. Early on try and get a sense of what the end of year exams involve so you know how to target your notes from the beginning.
Revise with friends/share tips and everyone will do better! Also take this year to try new things and meet new people. You will never have more time as much time as when you are a student. Join clubs and societies (internal and external), take up a new sport or continue an old one. Contribute to the community you will be part of for the next 5 to 6 years. Often, in doing these sorts of things, you will meet people in older years, and grow your different gifts and skills that will be useful for your whole career.
Keep an up-to-date CV and record of any certificates/prizes throughout medical school/life.
Start thinking about what you would like to do in the future and seek out opportunities.
Join a society - explore your gifts and ways that you can learn and contribute to university life. You may consider leading or starting up a new society or project, arranging to volunteer in a project abroad or in the UK.
Consider pursuing research experience where possible. Seek out small audit or research projects. This experience can be invaluable as it is often asked about in job interviews.
Try and get a good understanding of how to critically appraise papers and, if possible, obtain some experience contributing to a paper or journal. Though it’s still early in your medical journey it’s good to gain an insight that you can develop during your BSc year, should you choose to do one.
Don't completely narrow down your CV even if you are 100% sure of what you want to do, keep your options open.
Enjoy the long summer holiday as it may be the last one for a while!
An Intercalated medical BSc degree is an opportunity to study another undergraduate or postgraduate subject for a year in addition to your medical degree. For some medical schools this is compulsory, but for many others it is optional. An intercalated year can be taken after the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th year of study. Intercalation is a chance to study an area of medicine you’re interested in or to explore a new passion.
In most medical schools year 3 will have a mixture of university lectures and tutorials in combination with clinical experience on hospital wards and in the community. Make the most of your ward experience and be confident! Talk to as many patients as you can as they often enjoy the company and taking a history gives you the diagnosis in 80% of cases.
Talk to junior doctors – they will remember being at the same stage of training. Be proactive and willing to learn. Clinical experience in medical school is very much like an apprenticeship. It’s also important to remember that you may never experience some of the specialties you experience during these years again in your medical training so make the most of them.
Find a mentor or role model and learn about how they got to where they are. They may give you invaluable advice on elective ideas, junior doctor jobs, extra audits and Research. If you wish to gain more knowledge in a particular area try and arrange discussions with colleagues who practice in that field. Don't be afraid to ask for advice from students in different year groups or colleagues you meet on the ward.
Really consider all the specialities you are exposed to and try not to be put off if you meet people you don’t aspire to become. When considering specialities think about what is important to you in the future and see if that speciality ticks the boxes. Consider work-life balance, suitability for less than full time training, length of specialty training, the possibility of shifts outside normal working hours as a consultant, how available you’ll be as a consultant in that specialty and the amount of regular mental stimulation you’ll have.
Consider which specialities you have a real passion for and then start thinking about attending career days e.g. the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology organise a day specifically for medical students interested in women’s health. These days are usually free and it’s worth attending to get a better picture of the training and will of course look good when it comes to job applications.
Start thinking about your first medical job applications, also known as “foundation year applications”. Find out what comes up on forms and whether you have you got enough to have an excellent application. If not, look at where and how you can fill the gaps in your CV.
As you undertake research projects, think about the future. Will I be able to present this in the form of a poster or oral presentation at a conference or publish it in a medical journal? You could also consider whether you could enter it into a prize essay competition?
Think further afield - Are you interested in working as a doctor abroad? Some countries require additional exams to work as a doctor, for example the United States Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLEs) is required in the USA.
Application time! Time to think about Foundation training.
Foundation training consists of 2 mandatory years following medical school where you work in 4-6 rotations in different medical and surgical specialties. Consider whether the combinations will be appropriate in preparing you for your dream speciality, but even if you don’t manage to get a job in your speciality of choice during foundation training you can still arrange “taster days” in the specialty which will count towards your applications thereafter.
It’s best to try and get a broad mix of rotations even if you know what you want to do in the future as the skills you learn in Foundation Year 1 (F1) and Foundation Year 2 (F2) will be invaluable throughout your career even if you never practice that specialty. Also think about where you want to work in the country. Look at the Foundation programme website as this can be a useful fount of information. You can also seek out the experiences of other doctors previously in your shoes on websites such as messly.co.uk who describe what rotations are like in various regions.
Make sure you allow time to prepare for the Situational Judgement Test (SJT). This is a type of psychological aptitude test that assesses judgement required for solving problems in the workplace. Speak to others about how they prepared, which books they used etc as your performance in this test, alongside your medical school exams, will ultimately impact on the range and success of your job selection rankings and subsequent choices.
Whatever you do make sure you enjoy it! This advice may seem a tad intimidating and comparable to a tick box exercise at times, but rather than doing it all, pick up some of the key points and see how it can help your development as a medical student and future doctor.
Stay calm. Your medical school curriculum, lectures and clinical rotations have prepared you for this.
Practice Observed Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) with your friends/teddy (people actually buy them for this reason). This will give you a lot of confidence and the routines should become second nature to accommodate the usual nerves on the day!
Medical electives can take place in the final years of medical school - often in 3rd to 5th year. Medical electives provide a fantastic opportunity for you to broaden your medical education by spending part of your course (about eight weeks) working abroad or in another part of the UK.
Think about where you would like to go and what opportunities you would like to take. Electives in some parts of the world (e.g. South Africa) can take up to 18 months of planning. Communication can often be slow (even with email and WhatsApp) at hospitals and clinics in other countries.
Some places are very expensive to go to so think about funding. Often, prizes/bursaries can be awarded by your medical school so enquire about this early.
Try and complete an audit if possible! You’ll have lots of time and this will be a chance to really improve care, especially if you are in a resource-limited hospital where assessments of clinical standards and quality improvement may not often occur.
Think about then submitting this audit to a conference as a poster/oral presentation. It’s often helpful to choose a conference and then plan your audit to be suitable. For example, if you have an interest in sexual health you may consider presenting an audit on the management of HIV positive women in pregnancy using the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines as your guide and submit it to the annual British HIV Association (BHIVA) conference.
There are numerous opportunities for volunteering during medical school. Listed below are just a few examples:
• Local hospital
• GP surgery
• Nursing home
• St John's Ambulance
• Sports occasions e.g. local fun runs, marathons etc.
• Initiatives aimed at attracting more students from diverse backgrounds into Medical School
Pre-Medical School Students
Getting into Medical School
Pre-University Opportunities within Medicine
Consider “why you want to study medicine?” as this question often comes up at interview for medical school. It is useful to obtain some form of clinical experience beforehand by way of volunteering as seeing clinicians in action can help confirm if this is the right career path for you.
Focus on extracurricular activities and hobbies, not only because it looks good on paper for applications. Having interests outside medicine can help make you a more rounded person and can be an outlet for some of the stresses of working life. It can also help in your interactions with patients to know there is more to life than medicine. No-one wants their doctor to be a robot. You need a human touch in the world of medicine and interviewers often look for this in prospective candidates.
Know the academic requirements for different medical schools and use that to guide your UCAS application. Ask current medical students how they prepared for interviews - what books did they read? What questions were they asked?
Be aware there are different routes into medical school. Are you someone who wants to take a Gap year after school or go straight to university? Would you like to pursue another degree before applying for medicine as a post-graduate?
Again, consider the financial commitment. Are you going to require help? A medical degree is a longer degree than most and that can eat into your finances. Enquire about bursaries and grants, as these are available to help students in particular circumstances.
Medicine should be accessible to all regardless of their background. It is well recognised that many individuals have the ability to successfully study medicine however, they are unable to attain the required grades prior to medical school due to their circumstances. Widening Participation teams aim to support prospective medical students from under-represented backgrounds. With some medical schools providing a six-year medicine course with a foundation year, designed to widen access for students who do not meet the academic requirements for entry onto the five-year programme. There are outreach programmes for students in secondary school and sixth-form college ranging from summer schools, work experience schemes and workshops. For more information please search for Widening Participation pages on university websites. Organisations such as Leanne’s Amazing Medics and Melanin Medics also aim to support fairer access to medical schools in the UK.