This person took a GAP year after getting rejected for medicine. They are now about to start a medical degree after re-applying…

My name is Mike, and I’m currently on a gap year before I start studying medicine at Newcastle University in September. A year ago I was almost literally tearing my hair out as I was faced with four rejections from medical school, and no idea what to do.

As I saw it I had two options:

1. Reapply after taking a year out having hopefully attained at least AAB in my A levels and strengthening the weak areas of my UCAS form.
2. Going to university to study a medically related degree with a view to applying for graduate-entry medical courses.

I very nearly went for option two. I applied through UCAS Extra for a biochemistry course at a Scottish university, and got an offer. Maybe I just wanted to see if I could get an offer anywhere at all. Admittedly, the thought of being “left behind” as my friends all left for university terrified me, but I chose to decline the biochemistry offer. I did this because I didn’t feel I could spend three years at university doing a course that my heart wasn’t in. Would I forever feel bitter about not being a medic?

If you have four rejections you will no doubt feel angry, sad, desperate, even terrified about what the future may hold. Whatever your emotions are at this point you must be realistic and honest with yourself. Do you really want to be a doctor? Enough to spend another year at home, with no guarantee of success second time around? Do you think you can improve your application enough to get in next time?

The first thing that you must do is get feedback from the universities that rejected you. Without this knowledge you will not know how to improve for next time, and you will be effectively applying again “blind”. If you were rejected without interview, get your UCAS form’s score. If you were rejected after interview then try to get hold of a feedback sheet from the interview. The most useful feedback I received was in the form of a numerical score broken down into several sections. I was fairly lucky in that the only thing I lacked was work experience. I had a little, but not enough and not of a good enough quality. In the few months between March and September I shadowed doctors, pharmacists and began volunteering at a local hospice.

To get into medical school you must have everything the universities want, all the boxes must be ticked. Work experience, hobbies, and grades must all be there for you to be successful. Begin improving your application right away, as you only have until October to have your next application ready to be sent off.

My general advice for getting into medical school is to have the following:

  • Work experience of primary care (general practice) and secondary care (hospitals) in the form of shadowing.
  • A paid job also helps to show responsibility. I worked as a hospital cleaner/domestic, and this gave me a fantastic insight into the hospital, and allowed me to work in almost every department with patients, serving them meals and drinks, (as well as getting paid too!).
  • A long-term placement (at least 5/6 months) in a hospice or care home shows that you can handle such environments over a long period of time, and that you will give up your time to volunteer.
  • Having a few hobbies is essential. It shows you can relax and do not just think about medicine every waking moment. Medical schools want to train doctors who wont burn out because they have no hobbies, so show that you have a life beyond the bookshelves. Hobbies also allow you to be very interesting at interview!
  • People who reapply will also need to write about their plans for their gap year, be it working, travelling or both. It does not matter what you do as long as you use the time productively.

In my opinion the points above are ALL needed if you want to be confident you will get interviews. As a gap-year student you have the advantage of having more time to have done things than the first timers who’ll you’ll be in competition with. Use this time effectively to pursue hobbies, and get work experience.

Of course, all of this will be useless if you do not get the right grades. Think ahead to where you want to apply (check their policy on second time applicants who DO have the grades) and what grades you’ll need, either AAB or AAA. I took the view that I had to work even harder than people with offers, I had more to prove, and I HAD to get those grades if I wanted another shot at medical school. In June I got AABB, not wonderful, but enough. I got 4 interviews, so do not worry if you don’t get all A’s, its not all about the grades!

Revise effectively, write notes, and speak things out loud. Sitting and listening or reading won’t drill information into your head the same way that actually writing or speaking will.

Providing you get the grades, get your personal statement written and polished up so you can get your UCAS form in before the beginning of October. Sending your form in on the first day does not give you any advantage over people who send theirs in on the very last day of the deadline, but it is nice to have it out of the way nice and early.

Hopefully when it comes to next year you will be sitting down with a few interviews under your belt, maybe even a few offers. Dedication pays off, but only when coupled with hard work and a lot of effort to get everything you need to write a successful medical application. Stay focussed on your objectives, and stay motivated and confident. Confidence is a hard thing to maintain when you’ve taken the knock-back of four rejections, but it is very important to believe in yourself.

Good luck with your future applications if you choose to apply again, and take it from me that it’s a great feeling to finally get the elusive offer!