Why and how did I get into medicine

By: Gabrielle Lee

Are you interested in applying into medicine? I’m guessing you are probably considering it, otherwise you won’t be looking at this article. At the time of writing, I am a first-year medical student who has gotten into medical school after 2 attempts. Thus, this article will be suitable for both applicants and re-applicants, and I hope I will be able to answer most of your questions.

Medicine is an extremely popular course in Singapore, perhaps due to the constant lack of healthcare professionals, or the Asian stereotypes that children should aim to become a doctor or a lawyer. Once again, like every other medical student or doctor who has provided advice to interested applicants, here is a reminder to not go into medicine for the wrong reasons. Contrary to popular beliefs, doctoring is not all about money, prestige and fame. There is so much more to that, in fact medicine graduates may not even earn as much as graduates from other courses in the first few years after graduation. Some of my batchmates and seniors have even transferred to other courses because they could not take the workload.

Starting your applying journey on the right foot

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

Here’s a quote that my dad used to tell me all the time. Once you have decided that you want to apply into medicine, do make sure that you plan early and start working on it because there are so many prospective medicine applicants and you need time to stand out among them. Here’s how you can start:

  • Know yourself

As cliche as it may sound, you really got to understand yourself because the interview questions asked always goes around your personal beliefs, aspirations, motivations and interests. They need to know whether you are the right candidate for medical school, but how are they going to know you, if you are not even sure about your own beliefs and values? From the bottom of your heart, ask yourself what are your motivations for doing medicine. What draws you to medicine, and what draws you away from medicine? How much do you understand about this profession? Working these out will definitely make it easier for you when you are applying for medicine, but if you are still unsure, fret not! Be sure to keep thinking through these questions and recording your thoughts every time you gain a new experience related to the field of medicine.

  • Think of your backup options

One big mistake I did during my pre-university days was to over-fixate myself over medicine. I did not really consider the possibility that I may not get into medical school. I know it’s a little pessimistic to think about being rejected before you even apply, but it is worthwhile to prepare yourself for the worst to prevent disappointments.

It’s quite normal to not know your backup plans but it is never too late! If you are having trouble choosing your backup choices, write down the reasons why you want to do medicine . Is it because you enjoy patient care? Or do you like the research aspect of medicine? Once you are done writing them down, look for some courses that will satisfy these reasons. There may not be that one course that satisfies all reasons (hence, you are applying to medical school) but there may be similar courses that will interest you, for example, psychology, pharmaceutical sciences, etc.

  • Planning which activities/jobs you should be hunting for

Contrary to popular belief, it is actually not difficult to find opportunities if you are looking at the right places (unless the opportunities you are looking for are really rare). Here are some suggestions:

  1. Finding clinic/hospital jobs: Indeed, Google, hospital job portals, and even calling your neighbourhood clinics if they need employees
  2. Volunteer Opportunities: Telegram (just search ‘volunteer’), crimsonecl.com (thank me later), Instagram accounts of organisations, Discord (not joking, do check out the opportunities page in the channel ‘Policy for the People’), Reddit (r/ECAdvice), Google

Note: Please make sure the jobs you are applying for are credible! You may have to keep checking those pages to get the jobs that you want. Do not settle for something that looks useful but you aren’t interested in!

  • Start aiming for the universities that you want to apply to

It is always good to have an idea of where you are applying to. If you are keen, do take a look at the medical school’s mission and vision statement and see the type of students they are looking to admit (eg. leaders in healthcare). Try your best to work your activities around the qualities they are looking for in their students, especially if you resonate with their mission and vision.

  • Consider if applying overseas is an option for you

Do discuss with your family if applying overseas is a possible option because not every family is keen to send their children overseas for education. Remember to respect their opinions and if you disagree with them, express your views in a polite manner to avoid discourse.

With that, I wish all medicine applicants all the best! Preparing your portfolio involves a lot of work, but trust me, all these will be worth it when you see the fruits of your labour

If you don’t mind, can share what is your own reason for doing medicine, I think it will make the article more personal and relatable.

A bit too sudden jump to overseas school application, maybe first share on your application to overseas med school and how they responded. Your feeling when you received the positive admission.

planning for medical school

What I did to prepare myself for the application

I actually took a gap year after my first unsuccessful attempt at applying into the local medical schools. I spent a year serving the community, doing internships, and working. I did all that to experience working in academia and the medical field for long term, just to make sure that I was actually interested in medicine. Trust me, working the same job for a year is really different from the short job shadowing or attachment that you do during your holidays. Of course, a year pales in comparison to being in the same profession for a lifetime, but at least, it helps you to understand whether your dream profession really suits you.

If you’re curious, here is a list of activities I did (directly and indirectly related to medicine). This is just a general guideline and please do not feel obliged to do everything I did. Everyone has different interests and you should center the activities you do around your interests, or else this journey will be extremely painful! (For confidentiality’s sake, I cannot disclose the exact place I work at.)

List of activities I did

Directly related to Medicine:

  1. Working as a clinic assistant at a pediatric clinic
  2. Flexi-work as a Casual Lab Technologist (JC graduate aren’t qualified to be called Research Assistants according to my HR) at a medical school

I think, at the very least, you should get a job at a clinic or a hospital. This is important because if you get a chance at the interviews, it might be suspicious if you reapply into medicine without doing anything related to medicine. If you scroll through LinkedIn, you might see some people doing research and EVEN writing papers. Do not feel pressured to do research or work in academia, especially if you are totally not interested in it! The admission officers can see whether you are genuinely interested in what you did or not.

Indirectly related to Medicine:

  1. Interning at places with similar missions to the medical profession
  2. Leading a STEM podcast as their director
  3. Volunteering at Meet-the-People session as a petition writer
  4. Teaching piano to children and adults

From what I’ve read and heard from seniors, admission officers are also very interested to see if you have a life outside medicine. I think it’s pretty important that you show this aspect because admission officers want to see if you are capable of having a good work-life balance when you eventually become a doctor. If you are genuinely interested in helping people, please do spend your time volunteering. It can be a form of relaxation or an activity to help you make good use of your time.

Once again, please do not feel obliged to start an organisation. I did that because it was initially super difficult to find opportunities and thus, I was genuinely itching to start something to help people (for real, I had sleepless nights trying to control my urge).

Preparing for entrance tests and (for UK Medical Schools) your personal statement

When applying overseas, it is highly likely that you will need to sit for admission tests. Here are some that I know of:

  • Australia: International Students Admissions Test (ISAT)
  • UK: BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT), University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT)
  • NTU Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine: BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT)

Please take note of the application deadlines, registration dates, examination dates, whether or not you need to take leave from NS to sit for the examinations, and plan your revision schedule in advance because we no longer have anyone to spoon feed us.

For tips regarding personal statements, check out my separate post!

How to prepare for the International Students Admissions Test (ISAT)

Unlike the BMAT and UCAT, there aren’t many preparation materials for the ISAT. The ISAT is essentially a 3-hour computer-based multiple-choice test with 100 questions. This means you need to have the STAMINA to sit for a 3-hour paper and complete 100 questions. Here’s what you can do:

  1. The least you can do: Look at the mock paper on the ISAT ACER website and familiarise yourself with the format
  2. Do some BMAT section 1 questions as practice (can be found online FOR FREE)
  3. Look up for study materials online (you know where I am referring to)

The day before the exam: You have practised really hard and do not over-stress yourself. I remember taking a whole day off to do anything but ISAT and it really helped to clear my mind.

How to prepare for the Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)

Most of the time, if your grades and admission test scores meet the cut, you will be offered an interview. Some medical schools use the MMI, for example, NTU Medicine and Monash Medical School. You may read online or hear people say that there is no point in preparing for the MMIs since everyone’s questions will be different. However, it is still advisable to prepare because the questions usually surround specific themes. We have to sign a non-disclosure agreement so I can’t tell you what my questions are but here are some preparation tips:

  1. Study the 4 pillars of medical ethics: Beneficence, Non-maleficence, Autonomy and Justice
  2. Do a Google search for question banks and practise using that
  3. Check out r/premed on Reddit to look for resources posted by past applicants
  4. Check the format of your MMI – number of stations, duration per stations, number of questions to answer
  5. Pick a range of questions – easy to hard (based on your perception) and practise with yourself or ask someone to listen to you
  6. Watch Ali Abdaal‘s videos on interview tips (very useful and interactive)
doctor to be

What if I get rejected?

Rejections are the bane of applicants’ existence and I have had my fair share of rejections. On top of being rejected by local medical schools, I was also rejected by a couple other overseas medical schools, without receiving feedback about what went wrong during the interview. Give yourself some time to sulk about it, but remember to pick yourself up afterwards! Rejections are a great way to help yourself better understand what you are lacking. There is value in reflecting on your interview performance and making good use of that experience to turn yourself into a stronger applicant at your other interviews! Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  1. Was I confident during the previous interviews?
  2. Did I prepare enough for them?
  3. Was I unable to answer the questions within the time limit or was I speaking too fast for the interviewer to understand me?
  4. Were my answers coherent? Did I show my thought process clearly?
  5. Did I shape my answers around the 4 pillars of ethics/ other related themes?

Once you have reflected and identified the possible mistakes that you have made, work on them and make sure you do not make the same mistakes again!

It is not easy to get into medicine, although rejection may be common, you should still try to seek out all the help you can get.

If you are still not sure about whether to take up medicine or what to do for preparation to get in, check out the button below to get more information.

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