Study Medicine

Four GEMS Alumni tell us what it is like to study Medicine at colleges around the world

gems schools nurse taking blood test

Afeefa Konchwalla, a former student of Jumeirah College, who is currently studying Medicine at Gulf Medical University in Ajman.

When did you first know you wanted to study Med? What made you opt for it?

Honestly, I only realised I wanted to do medicine in year 12 but I’ve always had a passion towards studying biology (especially content related to the human body). I’ve been exposed to the world of the doctor quite early purely because my dad is a doctor and watching him inspired me to lean towards the medical field.

What advice would you offer about selecting subjects at school in order to eventually apply for Med?

Chemistry is a must for pretty much all medical universities. As for other subjects I suggest you look at the uni requirements; the UK for instances prefers 2 of your A-level subjects being sciences, however, medical universities in the UAE favour those who did all 3 sciences for GCSE and A-levels.

What else should a prospective Med student do to prepare themselves for applying?

An important thing to remember when building up your medical application is that it isn’t all about the grades anymore. Most students that apply for a course like medicine have the top grades, so in order to make your application stand out you must show evidence of having being involved in extracurricular activities. Oh and work experience is a must! Try and get plenty of work experience from different hospitals (preferably private care hospitals and public hospitals) just so that you really see the differences in healthcare.

What makes a good Med applicant/application?

Grades Showing you have the motivation and determination to study medicine through things like work experience or research projects that you may have carried out Providing evidence of your communication skills preferably through any extracurricular activities you’ve been involved in.

Did you have any other options as a back-up plan?

I applied to both the UK and the UAE (UAE mostly because my parents wanted me to live with them and didn’t want to see me leave). However, there are plenty of other countries where you can apply for medicine such as places like Prague (which I’ve heard has very good medical programmes). I did also apply for biomedical sciences as my 5th option in the UK but I didn’t really feel like wanting to continue on with another course if I didn’t get into med school.

What advice would you give about selecting a University/Med School? Why did you choose yours? 

I would suggest that you thoroughly do your research on the methods of teaching at the universities you are interested in applying to. In my uni, I’m taught through lectures, projects, assignments and CBL/PBL (case based learning/problem based learning). I’d also advice on applying to a uni with a good location in terms of the ease of transport and depending on whether or not you like the hectic or quiet lifestyle. I mainly chose my uni (gulf medical university of ajman) because throughout my course we are taught how to handle questions given in the USMLE or PLAB (medical entrance exams to be able to practice in USA or the UK).

Also, this uni has a good reputation and is the most well known/recognised one amongst other unis in the UAE. Additionally, I have some friends that attend this uni so that too influenced my decision (only slightly though).

Another key factor influencing my decision, was the fact that my course is integrated and not taught in the traditional way - so it basically helps makes the links between different parts of medicine (pathology, anatomy, microbiology, embryology etc) The strengths would the fact that the uni greatly helps with the transition from undergrad to actually being able to study further and therefore practice medicine. As for the weaknesses I would just say that the accents of the professors are hard to understand at first but you eventually get used to them so its all good!

Based on your experience and knowledge, what would you say about alternative routes into studying Med?

Most people take the route of completing another course prior to studying medicine such as biochemistry, biomedical sciences or pharmacology. Honestly speaking though, it really doesn’t matter what course you study before hand, I know people who have studied courses like dentistry or even engineering before studying medicine and they seem to be doing well - as long as you’re determined, it all plays out well for you!

Did you have to go through an interview? Can you remember what sorts of things you were asked? Any tips about preparing for this?

Most medical unis do require their applicants to sit an interview (the part most people fear). I was mainly questioned on my scientific knowledge and on my awareness of current medical research or even the history about medicine. In order to prep for interviews I would suggest using the medical interviews book by isc medical or even asking another medical student about the questions they were asked and possibly ask them to give you a trial interview.

What has been your favourite part of studying Med?

Since I’m only in my first year of med school, Ive not really dug deep into medicine but I did feel my passion for anatomy flare whilst studying that particular module.

What has been the most challenging part?

One thing that I struggled most with was, easing the transition between school and uni; purely because you’re left with more to do at uni and unfortunately aren’t given the information just like that.

At what stage do you begin to specialise? What will you specialise in?

The whole specialisation process varies according to each country and to be honest, I’m quite confused about it to but it doesn’t matter I have another 5 years to figure that part out! Its hard to say what I will specialise in because the further into the course you go, the more you realise what aspects of medicine you love - things you thought you loved might even turn out to be your biggest nightmare. However, as of now, I’m leaning towards becoming a neurosurgeon or orthopaedics sports surgeon (definitely decided on being a surgeon though).

What about employment? Where and how would you expect to find employment? Is there a definitive career plan mapped out for you?

The same goes for employment as it does with specialisation; I’m not too sure where I see myself studying. However, I do aim to sit both the USMLE and PLAB, so, hopefully that shall help me decide.

Any other advice you would give to prospective Med students?

None other than the cliche phrase of telling you to work hard so that you have no regrets when going through the whole application process thinking you could’ve worked that little bit harder to boost your grades up a bit.

Abhinav Mathur is a former student of Wellington International School and Jumeirah College. He is currently studying Medicine at Edinburgh Medical School.

When did you first know you wanted to study Med? What made you opt for it?

I only got interested in medicine towards the start of my GCSEs after learning some interesting biology and reading around the topic a little bit - in particular how a simple three base pair deletion in cystic fibrosis (delF508) can have such a significant effect on patients' lives. I think work experience was the key deciding factor for me.

What advice would you offer about selecting subjects at school in order to eventually apply for Med?

At GCSEs I wouldn't restrict yourself - you will have to take Maths, English and Science and most medical schools in the UK will require a C or above in English and an A in Maths. At A-level, most medical schools in the UK require you to get an A at Chemistry and usually an A in Maths. The reason for the medical schools wanting Chemistry over Biology (which you would expect them to want) is that they suggest they can teach you the Biology but don't want to spend the time teaching you the chemistry - with that said, you don't really need a lot of chemistry at med school: mostly acid-base equilibria for arterial blood gas analysis.

What else should a prospective Med student do to prepare themselves for applying?

Work experience is essential! You have to do it to make sure you want to dedicate the rest of your life to this career. Spend time and make the decision up for yourself! Do lots of extracurricular activities - but don't just do it so you can put it on your personal statement - do it because you enjoy it because you will probably carry it on at university.

What makes a good Med applicant/application?

  • Good grades
  • Evidence demonstrating that you have made an informed decision into applying for medicine
  • Well-rounded character: they want a human being not a grade-churning machine!
  • To be able to show that you have the right "person skills" to be a good doctor through various EC activities - such as patience, team-work, leadership, hard working
  • Genuine interest in wanting to be a doctor - make sure you know the actual reason

Did you have any other options as a back-up plan?

I applied to America for pre-Med and Biomedical Engineering at a few universities and Biochemistry as my 5th choice in the UK I was determined to do Medicine but the advice that I got from my parents was that if there was a chance that I didn't get into any medical school, it might not be the best idea to "waste" a year trying to reapply because the same might happen again.

What advice would you give about selecting a University/Med School? Why did you choose yours? 

Different medical schools in the UK offer different types of teaching - some medical schools like to teach in a more PBL orientated manner while others like to teach in a more practical manner where you are given very early patient contact. I liked neither of those and prefer a more traditional approach where we are given pre-clinical teaching for 2 years/3 years and then get our clinical teaching - it's mostly lecture based with a little bit of PBL. Choose the type of teaching style that would suit you.

Different medical schools also have different ways of teaching anatomy- it was a big influence on my decision. Also different facilities in the university. 

Other things I considered included:

  • Ease of transport (can I fly in and out from the city easily)
  • Whether any friends were going to the same uni
  • Research opportunities: some people might like the scientific aspects of medicine more than others and want to partake in further research
  • League tables

I also applied to RCSI in Dublin - which you apply separately from UCAS. I love Edinburgh and love Edinburgh university and am glad I chose to study medicine here. It's full of medical history - a lot of important discoveries were made in Edinburgh.Apart from the rain and the cold, I can't complain! I have had a great time and enjoy learning a lot. Plus, Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and has a great out-of-uni life - a definite plus point!

Based on your experience and knowledge, what would you say about alternative routes into studying Med?

A lot of my friends in medical school have taken gap years before applying while others have even gone to do different degrees before deciding to medicine - one of my friends has a BSc in Biochemistry, a MSc in Neuroscience and then applied for medicine; another one of my friends was a qualified lawyer for 7 years before he applied for medical school. So i guess, it is quite varied. The majority of students are obviously school leavers but there are many ways to do medicine and if you really want to do it you can.

Did you have to go through an interview? Can you remember what sorts of things you were asked? Any tips about preparing for this?

Oh yes. the dreaded interview. I got asked most of the standard questions. In terms of advice of preparing, make sure you know your personal statement and actually know why you want to do medicine! Smile, take a deep breath and enjoy it.

What has been your favourite part of studying Med?

The constant learning and interacting with patients. We get 3 hours per week in a GP practice in 2nd year where we learn to take clinical histories and perform examinations on the basic body systems. Patients are great and the stories they have to share are remarkable - it is humbling how much trust the public have on us - they share information that they would never tell others.

I only really knew that medicine is for me when I met my first Neurology patient - she had a condition called "Foreign Accent Syndrome", an extremely rare after-effect of a stroke which leads to the patient developing foreign accents.

What has been the most challenging part?

A lot of studying - it is hard, no doubt about it. The hardest part was the transition from school life to university life. No more spoon feeding. You have lectures 9 to 5 most of the time in first year and every lecture teaches you something new - so the tremendous pace at the start was a bit of the shock to the system - but everyone learns. I now spend a lot of studying time with friends i.e. we study in study groups. We've found we can share the work load and essentially teach each other.

At what stage do you begin to specialise? What will you specialise in?

In the UK, after medical school you will have to go through two years of training as a Foundation doctor (FY1 and FY2). At the end of FY1 you get registered with the GMC and essentially have to make the decision between becoming a physician and becoming a surgeon. After that, there are different specialist pathways you can take depending on the specialty - it's all a little complicated and difficult to get your head around

I don't know what I want to be yet! I have ages to decide BUT I think that I would not be suited for surgery. I do enjoy the physician side of medicine more. I've thought about Respiratory medicine and Oncology - but it is still too early at my stage to have made a firm mind up

What about employment? Where and how would you expect to find employment? Is there a definitive career plan mapped out for you?

It’s complicated because the NHS is involved. I don't think I understand it well enough to explain it either but you apply for a foundation doctor placement in the UK by the December before you graduate from medical school. There are academic foundation posts available if you want to do a more research orientated career pathway. The career path is becoming more and more structured but is under a period of transition!

Dr Varna Priyadashini is a former student of Our Own Indian School. She graduated from the PSD Institute of Medical Sciences and Research in India and currently works at PSG Hospitals.

When did you first know you wanted to study Med? What made you opt for it?

I had always been interested in Biology and human sciences. Though my principle favourites were Math and Physics in high school, I have never given up on my love for Biology. I also wanted to establish my career and working hours in relation to working more with people and coming up with solutions to the betterment of the society. And quite naturally, Medicine satisfied all these aspects.

What advice would you offer about selecting subjects at school in order to eventually apply for Med?

An application to a medical school in any part of the world demands high school training and basic knowledge in the following subjects: Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Mathematics and Home Science are optional. However, an additional Mathematics subject in your high school would help you best if you had a backup plan for Engineering.

What else should a prospective Med student do to prepare themselves for applying?

Academically, you must be very strong in your basics. Honestly, there are people who get into medicine without a sound knowledge of high school subjects. But your strong basics will help you understand your concepts extremely well in Medical school and saves time as well.

You must have enough scores in the three main subjects. This will ensure a sure shot spot for you in Med school as well as boost your confidence. There are various skills that a Doctor must develop to be successful in his or her career. However, these skills need not be necessarily focussed on after joining Med school. Basic skills like Public speaking, Communication skills, Multi lingual skills and open mindedness can be developed well from the start. And these will help you even if you opt for another field later.

What makes a good Med applicant/application?

It is an age old concept that a good Med application must have the best of scores, and it still holds good! Above average scores are extremely important in drafting an impressive application. Remember, a medical school is not a place that concentrates only on studies and medical knowledge. It helps to improvise on your overall personality and hence co-curricular activities are of great significance. College life revolves around various aspects of growth and recreation is very important for a doctor.

Medical school can get very tough at some points and your choices of relaxation and hobbies mean a lot to medical schools before taking you in. And just like any nstitution, your medical college will be very pleased to take you in if you were highly successful in any line of your choice. And most importantly, your health issues matter. You must be fit enough to take up the course. In a nutshell, a healthy, wealthy and wise candidate is exactly what Medical colleges look for!!

Did you have any other options as a back-up plan?

Yes, As Biology was my core favourite, Biotechnology Engineering, Genetic Engineering were my back up options.

What advice would you give about selecting a University/Med School? Why did you choose yours? 

The first and foremost, make sure your University has been heard of. It is not absolutely mandatory that your institution is in the top 20 or 50 of the country. The Institution's age, location, honours and other positive points have to be well studied. Good teachers halve your burden in Med school. Also look out if it has the teaching hospital within its campus or do you have to travel far. Look up the case load in the hospital and reasons for the case number.

Also look up the accreditations of the Medical college and hospital, they directly indicate the quality of education you will have. And do look up on your personal expectations as well like whether the college has a good sports ground if you are a sports person, whether the hostels are comfortable, whether the canteen serves decent food etc. as ultimately you are the person who has to survive and grow there!

Based on your experience and knowledge, what would you say about alternative routes into studying Med?

There are other options of doing medicine like finishing Bachelor of Science in any subject and then applying for Medical school. There are candidates who finish Bachelor of Nursing and then proceed with MBBS as that gives them more clinical foothold.

Did you have to go through an interview? Can you remember what sorts of things you were asked? Any tips about preparing for this?

I did not go through an interview for entering my medical college but I have heard of various Institutions that hold one before taking students in. As far as I have heard, Schools question on why you developed an interest in the field, what is the positive addition for the Institution if they were to take you in and your future plans after joining and completing your course.

Current affairs questions might also be posed to gauge if you are an up to date person. Some colleges ask questions from Biology too. The best way to prepare is to read your textbooks thoroughly while preparing for your final exams. You could just brush up the newspaper everyday for headlines and advancement in medical field for your idea. Dress smartly, be bold and confident while facing your interviewer and carry yourself gracefully throughout the interview.

What has been your favourite part of studying Med?

When we learn about the various happenings in the body and the multitude of mechanisms that are taking place within us to keep us going, it is more than an amazing experience and I was awestruck at the mastermind behind our creation.

What has been the most challenging part?

To cope with the huge mass of portions to be covered in a short period with in depth understanding in my final year was indeed challenging. Final year is also the year when we become the conducting batch for every cultural and sport event, and hence to manage curricular and extra curricular activities was a challenge!

At what stage do you begin to specialise? What will you specialise in?

We can specialise in a field only after graduation. We can choose our line of interest when we apply for Post graduation. I am interested in any surgical line and am preparing for my Post graduate entrance examinations at the moment.

What about employment? Where and how would you expect to find employment? Is there a definitive career plan mapped out for you?

For Doctors, no country will run out of jobs! And Dubai by itself is growing massively in the health sector. Just MBBS degree has umpteen opportunities for employment but your specialised field multiples your chances of landing into the job of your dreams.

Any other advice you would give to prospective Med students?

Give your interest first priority when it comes to choosing your profession! Kindly take up medicine if you have interest in the subject and I assure you will enjoy the rest of your life.. Be prepared to face people. It is a course that takes longer to complete than your counterparts.

Your friends will be earning before you write your final year exams and it may psychologically affect our morale. Be focussed on your goal and priorities. Also be ready to work those extra few hours as Medical college is not a joke! But once you are through it, a wonderful future awaits you! Hoping to see many many Doctors from our very own GEMS group. If you have any clarifications, you are free to contact me.