UKCAT Update – New Question Types for 2012


The UKCAT consortium has announced format changes for those sitting the UKCAT this summer.

Firstly the new format for Verbal Reasoning questions that was piloted last year has now been made part of the marked Verbal Reasoning section. There are now two standard formats for Verbal Reasoning questions, the original questions
that are answered “True”, “False” and “Can’t Tell” and the new format featuring four answer options/statements to choose from.

Secondly the non-cognitive analysis section which had previously been used has been replaced with a pilot section containing situational judgement questions (around 60 questions to be answered in 27 minutes). This also means that the test is longer than last year and the total testing time is now 120 minutes. The situational judgement section is being piloted at present it will not be released to universities for use in selection this year.

Posted in Requirements to read medicine, UKCAT | 1 Comment

Medical teams working in remote areas to help people victim of politically generated famine


As George Clooney campaigns against the atrocities being committed in Sudan, Unreported World – a critically acclaimed Channel 4 foreign affairs series – has filmed extensive documentary footage from the war zone.

“At the heart of the war in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains is a hospital, the Mother of Mercy at Gidel. It’s the place where you can observe the extremes of human good and human evil” reports Aidan Hartley, in his ground breaking documentary footage which I recommend everyone to watch, and unless something is done quickly the horn of Africa faces another terrible man-made famine. Politically generated famine has put the lives of these people living in the Nuba Mountains under extra-ordinary living conditions, and though the International Community has indicted President Al Bashir and his accomplices as War Criminals, this has come short compared to the atrocities these people are going through.

Watch: Unreported World – Series 2012 – Episode 1 – Terror in Sudan – Channel 4.

I really felt ashamed to witness someone who is in a position to serve his nation will have this inhumane policy to wipe them out: As he unleashed terror last year, Bashir declared: “There will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity… Islam [will be] the official religion and Arabic the official language… we will force them back into the mountains and starve them.”

Nuba Mountains, located under South Kordofan region, is close to the newly independent nation of South Sudan.

But inside this inhumanity lies an unbelievable work being done by foreign and local medical teams, putting their lives at risk. As the reporter spoke about it, “I will never forget the hospital at Gidel. This is the only place where the Nuba can get proper medical treatment. Out in the rural clinics we witnessed doctors performing operations without anaesthetics, disinfectants or anti-biotics – they must use salt and water and traditional herbs to heal and clean war wounds.”

What would it look like to work in a region hit by humanitarian crisis? Though infinitely rewarding, the things volunteer medical teams have to keep up with is beyond comprehension.

But medical supplies at Gidel run short too. Earlier this year they had 100 kids admitted in the children’s ward with malaria and they literally ran out of drugs. All the medicines and supplies for Gidel must come from Nairobi in Kenya, which is thousands of miles to the south. Deploying the same horrible tactics they did in Darfur, President Bashir’s forces have besieged rebel areas in the Nuba Mountains where civilians are trapped – and that means they have stopped all supplies getting through. Instead, Gidel’s medicines have to be flown from Kenya, which is thousands of kilometres to the south, and then one of the priests must brave the one rebel-held track to the South Sudan frontier to collect supplies from an airstrip – running the gauntlet of air raids and ambushes.

It’s incredible what Dr. Catena and his staff have been able to do to save lives. But the hospital refrigerator has broken; there’s almost no fuel to run the generators; there’s no x-ray or other basic equipment. And now patients refuse to leave the hospital when they are discharged because they say government militias on horseback come and burn down their villages and rape and kill – or aircraft have bombarded their homes – or the paths to their fields and wells are sown with cluster bomb explosives or land mines.

A shanty of tents and makeshift shelters is growing around the edges of the hospital compound – and Sister Angelina must find food for them all. Food prices in the market have risen by six times since the siege began and sometimes the supplies are not available for any price. The government’s stated aim is to starve the Nuba into submission. Somehow, Sister Angelina has managed to keep the food coming, but she does not know how long they can keep this up and how many more mouths there will be to feed as the famine and the war worsen.

Posted in Global medical initiatives | Leave a comment

Consoling text message for my rejections


More often than not, most medics do not make it the first time they apply, particularly when applying as a mature student. In the days that rejections from medical schools prompt you to easily despair when it comes to seeing yourself as ‘the future doctor’, few people come up with thought provoking, engaging and searching ideas to challenge you not to lose hope at the first hurdle.

I am forced to post a text message that I received from a friend of mine, whom I am gonna keep his name anonymous, as I felt really honoured to get this sort of respectful feedback upon the rejections that left me helpless. Also, I feel this reflective, immensely descriptive as well as informative advice will be viewed as an invaluable tool to stick with our plan and reapply in the next application cycle, for those who are in the same boat. The sender of this message has secured a medical school place for the next academic year.

Hey, that was a long message.

I can fully understand whay you say about not wanting to start later, but then I have thought the same before. I think the thing to remember is that whilst younger graduates may have more clinical experience, age related life experience and professional maturity will be invaluable to both the bearer of that experience and those around them.

I think of multi-discplinary teams as being a combination of unique talents and experiences of all its individuals. You may be a so called ‘late starter’, as I am, but then we have different skill sets and unique things to offer that even the younger clinicians will appreciate and that will give us  our ‘unique selling points’, so to speak.

Given that, and the fact that retirement would be 35-40 years after graduation … you are not anywhere short of time. I know it is nerving when you see the big 30 encroaching, and I have thought similar things myself…but not every  journey needs completing, nor beginning before it.

My advice is …. If medicine is what you want, stick with it another year. Make a second application to medical engineering/bioengineering if that is what you want as a back up, then if you do not get into medicine you have a choice … take that course, or ask for a place on the same course the year after and try medicine again.

In any case, giving up at the first hurdle does not sound like you. I think  it is important to look back at your personal statement and see what we can do to make it perfect and ensure you an interview. That is not to say it is not good already, but may be a fresh pair of eyes, also from a native speaker,  may help you highlight whether it comes across as you intend.  I will give you a hand with it if you wish.

I think you can make it, but you will have a different and possibly more challenging pathway than many … but the rewards will be worth the effort.  You have the right people skills to be able to make it as a doctor and you are clearly academically able. I am sure time will deal you a good hand.  Patience is, as they say, a virtue. You have plenty of time yet.

Posted in Access to medicine, Motivational articles, Want to be a doctor | 3 Comments

Medical school application experience from 2012 entry


It has really been a tough year in terms of applying to a medical school. It seems like there is much ado about the prospect of landing a medical school place.

A career in medicine is very varied and there are hundreds of different types of doctor. One of the biggest advantages of studying medicine is the number of options open to you when you qualify. You can specialise in anything from broken bones to skin conditions, mental illness to open heart surgery, or pregnancy to post-mortems. Whatever type of doctor you would like to be, the first step is to study medicine at university.                                                                             Source: http://www.medschoolsonline.co.uk

The 2011-12 application cycle is also the first time there is a unanimous A-level (minimum threshold) entry requirement as all medical schools (including Aberdeen and Keele increasing their offer grades from AAB) kept or introduced a minimum of 3As at A-levels. The days that medical schools would open their doors for AAB applicants ended in the this application cycle. However, some medical schools have still a work-around for the new requirement, considering A*AB to equal AAA. In spite of all the protest surrounding the tuition fee rise and the subsequent expected drop in applicants number, most (not all) medical schools have witnessed an unprecedented rise in the number of medicine applicants. This comes as a shock, contrary to what was reported in the media: the number of applicants to higher education courses that had 15 October, 2011, as their deadline had fallen by 9%.  This news has not given the whole picture of those applying to medicine.

I do not like picking up an anecdotal evidence to illustrate my point but the inflated statistics can be proved from the data released by some of the medical schools and further extrapolated from the feedbacks fellow applicants (and me) received in the 2011-12 application cycle, which has not yet been disclosed by the medical schools themselves as they have not finished working on the 2012 entry. After applying to Aberdeen medical school, I came into terms with an unprecedented fact that they have received around 2300 applications, the tuition rise in England might have possibly dissuaded more Scots from applying to English Universities and this might have inflated the applicant number. Leicester, to which I also applied to, have had a marginal increment from 2463 applicants for A100 programme (standard five years) to 2500 applicants. This might be partially attributed to the new application assessment they introduced, which ranks UKCAT scores.

BSMS has seen a 15% rise in applications for its undergraduate course for 2012, despite an increase in tuition fees to £9,000.  The medical school has received 2500 applications compared with 2170 for 2011. Applicants will be competing for a maximum of 138 places to start the course in September 2012.

This application cycle was my first time I have applied to read medicine. Being on MANCAT’s Access to Medicine course (predicted all distinctions), having good GCSEs for a mature applicant, a personal statement that reflects my endeavours to read medicine to a good account (presumably personal opinions about it would differ), couple of months volunteering as a support worker (but not in the NHS), a mediocre UKCAT score (below the national average), I was determined to shrewdly go through the application process and play to my strengths.  The fact that my UKCAT was not impressive (largely my weakness for not practising enough, though I doubt whether that would significantly raise the score) limited the number of medical schools that would have suited my academic calibre.  I listed down the specific medical schools that endorse the MANCAT Access to Medicine course and chose those that do not put too much emphasis on UKCAT (‘the hungry institutions’).  But still I would deem picking the right med-schools challenging as there are far more qualified applicants than the places available and very small things are used to distinguish between applicants. The admission practicalities will also differ from year to year and it is wise to be perpetually updated.

Though much has been said about how adaptable mature students are to the requirements of medical schools for the fact that their choice is more of a deliberate plan to study medicine and the likelihood they will drop out is less, it is not a secret that most medical schools prioritise traditional A-level applicants than those that enrolled on further education courses. This has its own manifestation in the application process. Aberdeen, for instance, has not given an interview for the whole medicine cohort at my college and heard a similar thing for the access cohort at Stow College, though it is explicitly stated that they would happily consider applications from mature applicants. It is obvious that quality matters over quantity yet I feel like there were some people really worthy of a medical school place in my class. Being oblivious to last year’s facts made me feel exasperated, but the bottom line is there is no explicit data made available from trusted sources to let me refrain from applying to certain universities. It seems to me that most medical schools do covertly frown upon mature non-graduates, apart from those who are graduates, and in one sense this approach violates the very primary objective embodied in widening access schemes.

Leicester medical school, known for its ‘dissection’ anatomy lessons and in the top ten league tables for 2012 rankings, first asked for a second reference from our tutor for selected students yet ended up rejecting without interviews all who applied to them. This was the rejection letter I received from them:

Thank you for applying for a place on our A100 5-year MB ChB course.  I am sorry to inform you that after careful consideration, we will not be inviting you for an interview.  You will, therefore, be hearing from UCAS that your application for medicine at this University has been unsuccessful. You will appreciate that we receive approximately 2500 applications and competition for the 162 places on the course is very intense.  All applications were given the same rigorous assessment and scored against set criteria. Following this process, approximately 750 are being called for interview.

Leicester did introduce both the Multi-Mini Interview (MMI) format and UKCAT grading for this application cycle, and interview the whole selected cohort in separate three days, spaced over three months. I was bemused by their instant rejection as they did not even wait long to assess the second reference submitted by our tutor, and the whole cohort was rejected at the same time on the same day. The feedback I received from them was as follows:

As you can appreciate, we receive many applications from Access students. It is our practice to ask for second references and then reconsider applicants who may be called for interview. On reconsidering and ranking your application I am afraid that you were not ranked in the top selection we have called for interview. I wish to reassure you that your application was given full consideration.

Keele medical school is by far an unpredictable university when it comes to admissions as they put too much emphasis on personal statement and they only use the UKCAT for borderline cases. Different medical schools look for different qualities from prospective applicants and not all focus too much on grades. Keele received accreditation from the GMC to run their own curriculum in January 2012. Apparently, they did witness a drop in the number of applications (from around 3000 for 2011 entry to 2264 this year) received but this might largely be for the  fact that they increased their typical A-level offer grade from AAB to AAA for 2012 entry.  Keele also gave me a punch on my cheeks saying that I did not make the cut for an interview, which stated as follows:

Thank you for your application to study Medicine at Keele University.  Your application has been considered very carefully by our Admissions Tutors but unfortunately you have not achieved the required score to be invited for an interview.  Competition for medical school places is extremely fierce and we shall only be inviting around 500 applicants to interview from the 2264 who applied.

There was an attachment which was sent as a generic feedback for all pre-interview rejections. It also reads as:

We are sorry that we were unable to offer you a place. As always, competition for places was intense. We received over 2,260 applications for a total of 150 places on the three courses (A100, A101 and A104). We shall be interviewing approximately 500 candidates. This means that only 22% of applicants will be invited for interview. Ultimately, only 15% of applicants will receive an offer to study Medicine at Keele. Clearly, we are in the difficult position of being unable to offer places to many highly capable and motivated students owing to competition from even stronger candidates.

It was a tough two months that I had in January and February and those rejections challenged my confidence and determination yet reinforced my perseverance in the long run to hold on to my dreams, which I honestly believe I could do it after strengthening my applications. There are far more qualified applicants than places offered by medical schools. The admission officers want to pick those who they feel have proved or demonstrated to have enough attributes to be a successful doctor in their work experience or application at large. I believe getting into medical schools is not a question of if but when for an individual determined to hold on to his/her dreams and see it through.

It was Brighton and Sussex medical school (BSMS) that at least lifted my spirits by putting me on a pre-interview waiting list (without an outright rejection). Though the chances of being called from that group are slim, as opportunity only comes if enough applicants have not firmed BSMS in April/May or not attained their predicted A-level grades in August, it still gave me the belief and confidence that I am a medical school material. Their letter states:

Your application has been assessed as a strong one, but unfortunately the competition for places has been especially severe this year and it has not proved possible to offer you an interview in our scheduled November or February Admission Days. You have, however, been placed on our Reserve List. BSMS Admissions Board will be reviewing the progress of the BSMS admissions cycle and may decide to hold an additional Admissions Day in April. If so your application will be considered at that time.  In addition, Reserve List candidates unplaced elsewhere will have priority should any BSMS places become unavailable at Clearing in August.

Fingers crossed the small openings that might appear would be for a positive cause. I am still waiting to hear from Aberdeen but as time passes by the likelihood that I will get an interview at this time of the year is highly unlikely, an inevitable rejection. After all rejections from medical schools might be the right medicine for a mature applicant like me, provided I would learn from the feedbacks I received and hang on my pursuit for fulfilment. I always resolve challenges confronting me into two, problems and opportunities. If we can see the opportunities inside the challenges we are faced with, it is highly probable the good days are near. Rather than worrying about problems,  the easier part would be rearranging them in a way that are solvable through addressing the factors that contributed for their occurrence in the first place, like inadequate work experience, uncaptivating personal statement and low UKCAT score. Practice would by no means harm an applicant’s UKCAT score (possibly could improve considerably); hence attention must be given to this part of the application process as it is the common tool most medical schools use to short-list applicants for interview.

Posted in Access to medicine, Gap medics, Med school interviews, UKCAT, Want to be a doctor, Work experience | 2 Comments

Why rejection from university was the best medicine


Why rejection from university was the best medicine – Telegraph.

Posted in Careers in medicine, Gap medics, Requirements to read medicine, UKCAT, Want to be a doctor, Work experience | Leave a comment