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Education liaison

Tips for Medicine & Dentistry

When you apply for a Medicine or Dentistry degree course the university admissions staff will read your personal statement/ask you at interview for evidence that you understand what these career paths involve and you have the necessary skills.

It is easy to say you 'have' a skill, anyone can say this, but with clear examples, you can evidence how you have gained and used these skills. The below tips should be of use when preparing your application. They are not in any order, you need to do them all and you need to start early, ideally before Year 11. 

Tip 1. Research universities and visit them

Find out which universities offer these degree courses. The things to consider are: how is the degree programme taught? This is not the same at all universities, some degree courses have you working with patients from year 1, others in year 3. Which would you prefer? Some universities used problem-based learning methods others don't. What GCSE grades and subjects do the universities require?

You will have five UCAS options choices, four of them can be Medicine or Dentistry courses (one or the other, do not attempt to apply for both) and the fifth choice should be used for an alternative course (see below). 

Two things to bear in mind: applying to these courses is extremely competitive - Queen Mary receive roughly ten times the number of applications for Medicine than there are places (253 places in 2017, 2502 applications received). If you are successful in gaining a place in Medicine, there are no opportunities for you to transfer from one university to another. So you need to get this right. Also, Queen Mary and other institutions do not accept any re-sits.

Attend Open Days at universities to gain a full understanding of what they are like. Prepare questions in advance, and make the most of these days. 


Tip 2. Read two or more health-related articles in newspapers per week 

  • A good understanding of the developments in Medicine and Dentistry is essential. Health is not a straightforward topic, be sure to gather different viewpoints. There are suggested websites at the bottom of this page
  • Once you have read the articles, explain them fully and clearly to another person - this will test your understanding and how well you can articulate this to others. This is not easy, but the more you read the better at this you will get. 


Tip 3. Volunteer or join a sports club and keep a journal

Any experience you gain, write down that evening what you saw and what you learned and gained from it. This way you can look at it before your application/interview to remind yourself and it will then be fresh in your mind. 

Top Tip 1, QMUL Medical Student

  • Give up your own time to helps others; experience in a care or health-related environment provides vital insight into patient care.
  • Make a note of the roles you have undertaken either in a club or volunteering and the skills you have improved.
  • It is not enough to say you want to 'help people'. Be aware, during your experiences, of the ways health and care professionals cannot help people or the difficulties they face in attempting to do so.
  • Reflect on how you could have communicated better?
  • What was your first impression of a situation or an issue and how did this change?
  • Did you find it hard working in a team or dislike working on a task alone?

Tip 4 Read the below case studies. Develop your communication skills 

Below are some scenarios a medical professional might face. Put yourself in their shoes - how would you handle this situation? Consider the words you would use when speaking to the patient. This activity works best if you discuss this with another person.

Case Study 1

You are a GP in a local practice. It is approaching the end of the day. A patient is explaining to you a series of symptoms: they feel tired all the time and are experiencing pains in their upper abdomen after eating. Your next appointment is in 4 minutes. There are a number of things the symptoms could be. What additional questions do you need to ask the patient about their symptoms? What will you need to decide?

Case Study 2

You are a gastroenterologist. A patient has been referred to you, they are suffering from problems. The patient is over-weight and smokes. You can refer them to surgery but you are aware of the complications which can occur after surgery. The alternative is that the patient improves their lifestyle. How would you explain this to your patient?

Case Study 3

An elderly patient is prepped and ready for surgery. As the surgeon what do you need to consider when speaking to the patient before surgery?

Case Study 4

You are a pediatrician. The child patient in front of you has asthma. Explain this condition to the child in a serious way that also does not scare them.


Spend time doing your research on the different Universities as the courses can vary a lot. Some have more of a traditional way of teaching involving lectures, others use tutorials where clinical problems are solved in small groups of students (problem based learning). Also it is useful to find out at what stage of the medical degree they let you see patients. Some let you from Year 1 and others are much later. It is all personal preference so just make sure it suits you!
Top Tip 2, QMUL Medical Student


Tip 5. Aptitude Tests

When applying for Medicine you will be required to complete an aptitude test as part of your application. You will need to give yourself enough time to revise for the tests but don’t book them too close to the deadline in case you are ill and have to rearrange.


  • Explores attributes necessary for health care professionals
  • No specific curriculum or science content
  • No revision required but question practise strongly advised (see UKCAT website)
  • Test structure: Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement.
  • Costs £65 but bursaries are available check 
  • The cost of the test increases to £87 between 1 Sept and 2 Oct. The increased price reflects the demand on resources at particular times of year. 
  • The 2018 UKCAT Guide


  • Two hour pen and paper test
  • Science and Maths based on school curriculum up to the end of KS4
  • Three subsections: Aptitude and Skills, Scientific Knowledge and Applications, and Writing Task

Work Experience - what is it for?

To find out what medical and dental roles really involve. To ensure that you really know this is the right career path for you. The realities of these roles and the skills required are often different to what people assume.

The best advice we can offer is to: maintain realistic expectations. Work experience is unlikely to be thrilling and doctors are very unlikely to allow you to do anything practical because they train for many years to do their jobs. You are going to be watching, listening and completing repetitive tasks. The best students show enthusiasm for these tasks, ask meaningful questions and reflect on what they are witnessing.

Where should I get work experience?

It is often hard to get a lot of work experience in a hospital setting, so try to think out of the box! Other types of work experience can be equally as good for your application such as volunteering with elderly people, working with young children either at school or at youth clubs etc, spending some time in a hospice or a special needs school and volunteering for St. John's Ambulance.

When should I get work experience?

As early and often as possible. It is not about the quantity of the work experience but how well you reflect on it. Always keep a note of every detail: where you did work experience, with who, on which dates, everything you saw and learnt.

Why do I need work experience?

Medicine and Dentistry courses are extremely competitive. And there are limited places available. It costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time to train in these professions. Admissions staff need to be confident they are choosing the right students. They can only select people who can evidence they have undertaken work experience. The best personal statements are from students who can clearly explain what they have seen, learned and understood from their work experience and evidence this as proof that they have the skills and knowledge required to undertake the course.

How to get work experience.

Write letters, email and go in person, where appropriate, to make a good impression. Request one or two days - if you request a week's worth of shadowing you are asking for a huge commitment from the staff to be responsible for you. If you impress them and are having a good time you may be able to request longer.


Tip 6.  Always research the alternatives to Medicine

There are many reasons why every student should research alternatives to medicine thoroughly. Perhaps you have your heart set on studying Medicine, but if you have never looked into the alternatives you may be missing out on a course you are better suited to. When applying through UCAS you can select up to 4 Medicine or Dentistry courses but the final 5th choice has to be an alternative subject. With high levels of competition, it is important the fifth choice is well-researched and valid.  Some students think that if they use their fifth choice for an alternative this looks like you are less committed to medicine. This is INCORRECT. Every sensible student creates a contingency plan they would be happy to undertake. 

Consider - if you don’t get an interview or don't pass the interview stage for Medicine or Dentistry; - is an alternative health-related degree actually better for you or could you take a gap year and reapply next year? There are graduate entry courses that you can apply for after studying a science undergraduate degree.

Don't worry about taking a year out, many people do and have used it to their advantage. Some students have done a year as a Health Care Assistant, which enables them to work in a hospital, understand the runnings of it and interact with patients. This can be very beneficial for placements later on at medical school.
Top Tip 4, QMUL Medical Student

An afternoon focused on the Alternative to Medicine degree courses at QMUL takes place every year. Next year this is being held on Wednesday 6 March 2019. There are limited spaces for this event. More information about this event can be found on our Aged 16-18 web page.

List all of the roles you are aware of in the NHS 

There are over 300. Consider what specific skills these roles require, ie, a GP is like a detective, they have to be critical thinkers/problem solvers who look at all the symptoms and determine what might be the problem, a dentist has to be dexterous with their hands and are often also skillful in textiles, art or music.


Tip 7. Apply to taster days and summer schools 

The Widening Participation team deliver a number of activities suitable for students considering applying to Medicine and Dentistry: 

Year 12 Alternatives to Medicine afternoon, takes place in March and ensures students are considering all their options and/or researching their fifth UCAS choice thoroughly. 

Year 12 Medicine and Dentistry Summer School is aimed at Year 12 students, takes place in June and July and is a week-long programme which is repeated across two weeks. 

Bridge the Gap is a long-term project involving students from primary through to sixth form.

Web pages of interest:

Want to print the contents of this webpage? Medicine and Dentistry Tips Webpage [PDF 382KB]

This page is maintained by the Widening Participation Team.