Updated: Jun 20, 2020
By Emily Usselmann
When choosing whether to study medicine and then which medical school, there’s definitely many factors to consider! My name is Emily and I’ve just finished my second year of undergraduate medicine at Southampton. Here’s some information that I think would have been helpful looking back, but keep in mind that everyone’s experience is different. Best of luck with your applications!
Tips and advice for application to medical school
Firstly, when choosing which medical schools to apply to, I’d encourage you to do your research and play to your strengths. There’s variation in how universities select for interview, so I’d consider this when deciding which four to put on that all-important UCAS form. Southampton choose interview candidates for BM5 (the undergraduate course with no foundation year) based strongly on UCAT score, so if you’ve done particularly well in this, they’re a really good choice.
Come interviews, I found using examples from my own life to be really useful, because I felt more informed speaking about my own experiences. For this reason, I think it’s great to get as much ‘work experience’ as possible, but don’t worry about it all being in a medical setting. For interview purposes, I think time spent in any people-facing environment will be really helpful, whether that’s babysitting or playing for your local sports team.
My final tip would be to remember that you still have A levels/Scottish Highers/IB/equivalent at the end of the year! It’s really easy to get wrapped up in loads of additional activities and achievements to try and strengthen your application. Extracurriculars are an important part, but it’s also vital that you don’t stretch yourself too thin.
What I would have wanted to know before applying to medical school
If I could go back, I would tell myself not to be so intimidated by other candidates. There will definitely be somebody online who has done 900 hours more practice for the UCAT than you, but chances are, 899 of them were spent with YouTube playing in the background. Quite possibly someone will come out of an interview telling stories of the jokes they shared with the same Interviewer who made you want to be swallowed up by the ground your chair was sat on. Easier said than done, but try not to be phased by these things and just focus on yourself (cheesy I know).
When you get to medical school, lots of the scientific content is essentially an extension of the human biology studied at A level. I’m not suggesting you spend your well-earned summer doing more work, but if you really cement your understanding when revising for A-level exams in June, it will put you in a good position for starting medical school in September!
Finally, as you know medicine is a long degree. This was a factor in dissuading me from taking a gap year, as I didn’t think I wanted to be any older when graduating. In hindsight, I think the long degree duration should actually have been a factor for taking a gap year. It could have been a welcome break before embarking on a fairly long course, with reduced university holidays from third year onwards at Southampton. Whether to take a gap year is all personal preference, just something I wish I’d considered more seriously.
What I like best about Southampton
The course at Southampton truly has early clinical contact. In first year, every other week you have a placement at a GP surgery which I found to be a great break from all the scientific lectures, tutorials and anatomy labs. Every first year also goes to the Princess Anne Hospital to watch a baby being born for their ‘Birth Experience’ – probably my favourite day of the course so far!
Another good feature of the Southampton course is the completion of a 16-week research project at the start of third year, resulting in a Bachelors of Medical Science (BMedSci). There are a wide variety of projects to choose from and it’s a great opportunity to try research for a short period, before potentially deciding to do a research focused intercalated degree. It also counts for one point with the UK Foundation Programme Application System and allows you to intercalate in a Masters, which are small bonuses if you are interested in these things.
Speaking non-academically, I also love the wide breadth of societies available at Southampton. As a medic you can join any SUSU society but have the added benefit of all the Medsoc events and societies. With plenty of sports, charity and academic groups one highlight is Medics Revue, an annual comedy show performed by a group of medics for charity, with lots of jokes about studying medicine here.
The final and slightly more practical benefit of being at Southampton is the inclusion of a free bus pass with your Halls accommodation. Although everywhere in Southampton is accessible by bike, and the vast majority is in within walking distance, the free bus pass in first year allows you to get around quickly and get used to public transport before you have to worry about paying. Overall, I’d say Southampton is a nice place to live as a student. I really like being in a city and yet it is one that I feel is not too big to get around in.