Studying medicine

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Common questions about becoming a doctor

Students chatting in hallway

Applying for medicine can sometimes throw up more questions than answers.

And since every applicant's route to medical school is different, we've answered some some common questions to help you through the process.

 

  • Are there any barriers to studying medicine for a disabled person?

    In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for education providers to treat disabled people less favourably, unless it can be objectively justified. It also requires education providers to ensure that disabled people are not put at a substantial disadvantage by providing 'reasonable adjustments'. 

    Our report examined the provision of disability equality in the medical profession, looking specifically at the accessibility of medical careers to disabled people, and the support provided to disabled medical students and disabled doctors.

    The Equality Act 2010 also places a duty on all public bodies to promote equality of opportunity across the protected characteristics, including disability, to eliminate discrimination prohibited under the Equality Act 2010, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations between diverse groups. Medical schools therefore, have a duty to create a climate where disabled people are able to participate.

    In applying to study medicine, there are three main areas for consideration with respect to disability including whether:

    1. Your impairment may limit, reduce or prevent you from studying and practising medicine, although, the provision of reasonable adjustments should also be considered. The extent to which these requirements can be met by medical schools and subsequent employees will be a factor. Advice on reasonable adjustments can be provided by the medical school's occupational health service.
    2. Your health condition or impairment may be made worse by studying or practising medicine.
    3. Your impairment or an environment where adjustments cannot be reasonably provided might make the tasks unsafe for you, colleagues, or for patients and the community.

    Medical schools welcome diversity among their applicants and are positive about accepting disabled students. It is important, however, that you seek advice from medical schools well before the deadline for UCAS submissions so that your individual circumstances can be considered.

    During the application and selection process, it may be appropriate for you to have a health assessment to determine what effect, if any, your impairment may have on your ability to study and practise medicine. This will focus on what you can do, rather than what you cannot do, and is considered separately from the interview process. The medical school's occupational health service will be able to offer practical advice and the university's support services can offer confidential help. Deans of medical schools can provide further information and help.

    You may also be eligible for financial help, such as the disabled students' allowance. For further information see the SKILL: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities website. The GMC's guidance on Gateways to the professions - Advising medical school: encouraging disabled students is primarily aimed at medical schools and provides practical suggestions to help schools ensure that disabled students do not face unnecessary barriers to successful medical careers.

    In addition, contact your local education authority, the university's occupational health service and the disability service.

  • Can I study medicine whilst caring for dependents?

    Studying medicine is challenging enough, but for many students the responsibilities of caring for dependents is also a consideration. Whether you are fitting your studies around a childcare schedule, looking after a sick or elderly relative or studying for exams whilst pregnant, outside pressures can take their toll on your studies.

    However, these responsibilities should not be a barrier to your applying to medical school or being successful in your studies.

    The BMA medical students committee has produced guidance as a result of a national review and helps to promote best pratice measures for both students with dependents and their medical schools.

    Get advice about studying medicine with dependents 

  • Can I transfer from my current degree to a medical degree?

    Unfortunately it is not possible for students to be allowed to transfer from the middle of an undergraduate degree - even if it is a degree in science or biology - to the middle of a medical degree.

    Depending on the stage of your studies, you may consider completing your undergraduate degree before applying to a graduate-entry medical degree or applying to study an undergraduate medical degree with entry into the first year.

    If you are considering studying medicine, use the resources at your current university to discuss your options and contact the medical school you want to attend for more information.

    What you need to know about applying to medical school

  • I have a medical condition, is medicine open to me as a career?

    Prospective students who have serious concerns that a medical condition may have implications for future fitness to train as a doctor should, at an early stage – even before making a formal application – contact the medical school for professional advice.

    Medical schools are obliged to offer reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities, where the disability would not prevent a student from fulfilling the required competencies to graduate.

    There is no individual requirement to make adjustments to competence standards. The standards for training in medicine are defined by the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Department of Health (DH). These standards meet the criteria in the Equality Act, in that they are a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aim of ensuring patient safety.

    For more specific guidance on the functions which are intrinsic to all medical training, read more from the Higher Educational Occupational Physicians (HEOPS) on fitness standards for medical students.

  • I have dyslexia, can I study medicine?

    Studying in a competitive field such as medicine can be a daunting challenge. For individuals with a learning disability, such as dyslexia, the ability to cope with the transition to an independent learning style can carry additional difficulties.

    However, it is important to remember that dyslexia is not a barrier to becoming a doctor and these difficulties can be overcome with appropriate support.

    The BMA medical students committee has put together some helpful information for both students at and applying to medical school.

    Read more about studying medicine with dyslexia

  • What if I don't get into medical school?

    Medical schools in the UK are generally oversubscribed, which means competition for a place is tough. If you miss out, it is important to consider your options.

    Selection for a place comes down to assessments made by a university on whether a potential student possesses attributes that will make a good doctor, as well as a student’s ability and motivation for studying medicine.

    Even with all these factors in place, some students leave mid-course and others fail exams for numerous reasons. Just as you, as a candidate, have an important responsibility to ensure you are making the right choice for yourself, a university’s selection panel has a responsibility to make the right decision for their medical school.

    Examine your reasons for wanting to study medicine. If you feel any element of doubt, or the initial decision wasn’t all your own, it's worth considering different  career options.

    Ask your teachers and career advisors for help in figuring out what your options are in higher education based on your grades and subjects studied. There may be a career out there which is just as rewarding and interesting within the medical profession that is the right fit for you and your skills.

    Talk to a family member or connect with someone you know who has been to university to get some insight into higher education, the opportunities available once you are there and what your next step could be.

    If you are sure that medicine is the career for you, and you decide to reapply to medical school, aim to develop a genuine understanding of why you were not successful in a previous applications.

    Don't be afraid to approach the medical schools to which you applied and ask for constructive feedback. Review your personal statement, continue to get work experience to give extra support to your application and look at alternative medical schools to the ones you originally applied to.

    Try talking to students who have re-applied and been successful for tips on what they did to get in and ask a doctor or medical student to be your mentor, which could be invaluable for your application the second time around.

  • What if I have a serious communicable disease such as HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C?

    Having a serious communicable disease should not prevent you from studying medicine, however, it may restrict the specialty of medicine you can practice.

    If you have a serious communicable disease, you will not be allowed to perform exposure prone procedures (EPPs), that is, procedures where there is a risk that the communicable disease is passed from the student or doctor to a patient. At medical school, students are not required to undertake EPPs in order to obtain provisional registration with the GMC.

    Freedom from infection with a serious communicable disease is therefore not an absolute requirement for those wishing to train as doctors, however, having such a disease may restrict your final career choice.

    This recognises that many career paths are available to doctors which do not require such procedures to be performed. It is important to note that some commonly undertaken additional components of undergraduate medical curriculum may involve EPPs. Additional health clearance is therefore recommended for those students who will be involved in EPPs.

    The GMC guidance, Tomorrow's Doctors, states that medical students should take responsibility for their own health in the interest of public safety. If a student knows that he or she has a serious communicable disease they will need to comply with occupational health supervision and seek guidance from the head of the medical school course.

    Please note:

    Medical students may be asked by their medical school to undertake a test for the presence of blood borne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. It is only compulsory to undertake this test if you have opted to participate in an EPP.

    Read our guidance on testing medical students for Blood Borne Viruses

    Health clearance for tuberculosis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV: New healthcare workers (Department of Health, 2007)