How to Become a Doctor in Australia and New Zealand: The Complete Strategic Guide

Posted 2 years ago
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Are you considering a career in medicine?

If so, you probably know that getting into medical school can be difficult. But medical school admission is just the beginning!

You need to consider university, internships, residencies, and more! In fact, the entire process can take over 10 years.

If you want to get into the best medical schools, then you will need to start preparing in high school.

Don’t be discouraged if your grades aren’t up to par though. There are many alternative pathways available to help you achieve your ultimate dream of becoming a doctor.

Let’s take a closer look at what it actually takes to become a doctor in Australia and New Zealand.

The Path to Becoming a Doctor in Australia and New Zealand

The subjects you take in high school (and how well you do in them) are one of the many factors that will determine your success in gaining admission into the best medical schools.

Most universities require biology and chemistry, as well as at least one English course, a maths course, and a physics course.

While some universities may look at your application holistically, some will look at your grades before they consider anything else, so you want to make sure you achieve highly in your high school classes.

Medical schools in Australia require an ATAR score of at least 90 (the more highly ranked the university is, the higher the ATAR cut-off). However, just because you meet a uni’s ATAR cut-off, doesn’t guarantee you admission.

In New Zealand on the other hand, your high school grades aren’t as important because you’ll need to complete one year of a degree prior to applying to medical school. Your degree’s GPA is therefore a determining factor as to whether or not you get into medical school.

However, if you’re from New Zealand and want to go to medical school in Australia, your school grades will be considered. NCEA results will be converted to an ATAR score that you can then use to apply to Australian medical schools.

Luckily, your NCEA results have a relatively favourable ATAR conversion so your ATAR might be slightly higher than it would be if you attended high school in Australia. As a standard, admission into competitive medicine courses will be difficult if your ATAR is below 97.

Both Australian and New Zealand medical schools accept IB and CIE grades. Scoring in the 40s in the IB, or getting an AAAA in the CIE gives you a good chance at gaining entry into the top medical schools. In every case, the higher you score, the better.

However, if your high school grades aren’t competitive, you should consider completing an undergraduate degree first, and then applying to medical school as a postgrad. Plus, you don’t need to study anything medicine related so if you’ve always had a passion for English, get a degree in English! Then, if you get great grades and crush your GAMSAT, you’ll have a much better chance of getting into a top medical program than if you simply applied with mediocre high school grades.

Medical School Entrance Exams

There are two entrance exams that most universities in Australia and New Zealand require - the UCAT and the GAMSAT.

The UCAT

The below universities in Australia require students to sit the UCAT for undergraduate medical admission:

  • The University of Adelaide
  • Curtin University
  • Flinders University
  • Monash University
  • The University of Newcastle/University of New England
  • The University of New South Wales
  • The University of Queensland
  • University of Tasmania
  • The University of Western Australia
  • Western Sydney University

The two universities that offer medicine in New Zealand also require the UCAT:

  • The University of Auckland
  • University of Otago

If you want to go to medical school in Australia, you need to sit the UCAT in your final year of high school. Because you need to complete a one-year degree before medical school in New Zealand, you won’t need to sit the UCAT until you are at university.

Each university has its own UCAT cut-offs but like your high school scores, just meeting the UCAT cut offs isn’t enough. You’ll need to exceed the score expectations to have a chance of getting into your dream university.

About the UCAT

The UCAT does not test for academic knowledge. This exam tests for general skills and abilities that you have developed over the course of your education and life in general.

There are practice tests you can sit and tricks you can master in order to ace the UCAT, however, you must start preparing early since this is not an exam you can cram for.

The exam consists of five parts:

  1. Verbal Reasoning
  2. Decision Making
  3. Quantitative Reasoning
  4. Abstract Reasoning
  5. Situational Judgement

You will receive a score for each section which makes up your overall score. Your final score then determines your percentile rank.

Most universities weigh your UCAT score against your interview and ATAR score differently, so at some universities, including The University of Adelaide, a great ATAR score can make up for a slightly lower UCAT score.

The UCAT is one of the most significant exams you are likely to sit. MedView can help you with your preparations - we offer 1-1 expert tutoring with medical students who have excelled in this exam. To learn more about private tutoring with MedView, book a free consultation or sign up to attend a UCAT course.

The GAMSAT

If you decide to go to medical school as a postgraduate student, you will need to sit the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT).

The below universities in Australia require the GAMSAT:

  • Australian National University
  • Griffith University
  • Monash University
  • University of Melbourne
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Deakin University
  • University of Queensland
  • University of Western Australia
  • University of Wollongong
  • Flinders University
  • The University of Sydney

The first nine schools on the list above are also part of the Graduate Entry Medical School Admission System (GEMSAS), which means that you can apply to them all at once!

About the GAMSAT

The GAMSAT tests your academic knowledge. This means that in order to do well on the GAMSAT, a solid understanding of physical and biological sciences is necessary. So, if you completed a non-science related undergraduate degree you’ll need to study extra to prepare for this exam.

The GAMSAT also has three sections:

  1. Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences: 75 questions in 100 minutes with 10 extra minutes for reading
  2. Written Communication: two questions in 60 minutes with five extra minutes for reading
  3. Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences: 110 questions in 170 minutes with 10 extra minutes for reading

Each section is scored out of 100 and averaged to give you your overall score. You’ll need at least a 65 to get into most medical schools but you should aim for a higher score to increase your chances of getting accepted to your dream schools.

The importance of proper preparation ahead of the GAMSAT cannot be overstated. MedView offer 1-1 online tutoring with medical students who have excelled in this exam and are dedicated to upskilling future medical students. To learn more about private tutoring with MedView, book a free consultation or sign up to attend a GAMSAT course.

The Medical Interview

Another crucial part of your medical school application is the interview.

Not all universities require an interview, but most of the top programs do. For many applicants, the interview is the most challenging part of their application.

Universities will typically interview you only if your exam score and GPA/high school grades are high enough, so if you’ve made it this far, congratulations!

The below universities use the Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI) system to fairly assess your potential to do well in medical school:

  • The University of Sydney
  • University of Wollongong
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Monash University
  • Deakin University
  • Griffith University
  • The University of Notre Dame
  • Bond University
  • The University of Auckland (NZ)

This system consists of 6-10 small panel interviews, each taking place at different stations.

While many people fear the MMI, it actually works to your advantage. The process is much more objective than a typical interview system. This way, the university gets a much broader and reliable assessment of your non-academic skills.

While the interviewers are judging you from a holistic perspective, there are some key skills and characteristics they are looking for, including:

  • Communication
  • Quality of argument
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Social responsibility
  • Cultural safety
  • Awareness of health issues
  • Moral reasoning
  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Conflict resolution
  • Career choice
  • Teamwork
  • Self-care

Each mini interview will assess you on two to three of these qualities so you don’t need to cover all of these items in one short sitting.

Universities that don’t use the MMI system use either a semi-structured interview, a "hybrid" interview or a Multiple Skills Assessment interview.

All of these processes have their own pros and cons but luckily, regardless of what type of interview you’re facing, there are plenty of ways you can prepare to ensure you impress the interviewers!

Some ways to prepare include mock interviews, expanding your vocabulary and building your confidence through a public speaking course or simply conversing with your friends and family about relevant subjects. MedView offers MMI courses, 1-1 tutoring and other resources to help prepare students for this critical part of medical school admission. Book a consultation with a MedView Academic Advisor to learn more about how we can help, or visit us online.

Now that you know what you’ll need to get into medical school, let’s take a look at how to fund medical school.

The Cost of Med School

New Zealand Expenses and Financial Aid

The average medical tuition in New Zealand, for New Zealand or Australian citizens, or residents of New Zealand, is about $15,249 NZD a year.

As an international student, you’re looking at between $32,376 and $78,907 NZD a year, depending on your course.

You will also need to factor in your living costs. Depending on the city you go to school in and your lifestyle, you will need between $15,182 and $25,969 NZD a year for living costs (excluding your tuition).

Altogether you’re looking at around $30,431 - $40,945 NZD per year if you're a local student and around $47,558-$104,876 NZD a year if you're an international student.

If you’re a New Zealand or Australia citizen, or a resident of New Zealand, you are eligible for student loans. There are government student loans that cover your tuition fees and living costs. However, you’ll need to pay these loans back once start making more than $19,136 NZD (pre-tax). You may also be eligible for a weekly allowance that you don’t need to pay back.

As an international student, however, you're not eligible for student loans. Luckily, there are quite a few scholarships available for you and you may be able to work 20 hours a week on your student visa.

Australian Expenses and Financial Aid

Australian universities are a bit more complicated because every uni has three different tuition prices.

  1. Commonwealth Supported Place (CSP) price: Eligible Australian citizens only as of 2018
  2. Domestic price: All other Australian citizens
  3. International price: The rest of the world, including New Zealand

Commonwealth Supported Places are government subsidies that do not need to be paid back. With CSP, the government covers part of your tuition and you are expected to pay the rest through your “student contribution amount”. The amount you’ll need to contribute is based on your course.

As a medical student, your student contribution amount is $10,596 AUD a year.

If you aren’t eligible for a CSP, you’ll pay the domestic price which is closer to the international price.

For example, studying medicine at Western Sydney University would cost a CSP $10,596 AUD a year, a domestic student $42,320 AUD a year, and an international student $60,760 AUD a year.

Once again, you’ll also need to factor in your cost of living, which can vary dramatically throughout Australia.

You need between $9,372 and $48,436 AUD depending on your location and lifestyle.

There are three different government loan options for Australian citizens:

  1. FEE-HELP: Only for tuition fees with a maximum lifetime limit of $124,238 AUD
  2. HECS-HELP: Only for CSP students with no limit
  3. SA-HELP: Only for student services and amenities fee limited to around $294 AUD a year

Once your income is above $54,126 AUD a year, you’ll need to start paying your loans back.

As an international student, your options are limited to a few competitive school scholarships.

Life After Medical School

After being accepted into medical school, and funding your studies, you will spend the next five to seven years actually studying, depending on your pathway.

If you are studying in New Zealand, the last year of your studies will take the form of an internship, during which you’ll get paid a sum of money to work as an apprentice and rotate through different roles at a hospital. You’ll also apply to be a housing officer through a program called ACE. Then, once you graduate, you receive provisional registration through the Medical Council of New Zealand (MCNZ).

After you graduate from a university in NZ, you become a house officer for the next two years.

If you are studying in Australia, you will complete a year-long internship program after you graduate.

Then you’ll spend a year as a general resident, which is very similar to New Zealand’s junior house officer program. Finally, you will enter a specialised training program.

At this stage, the two countries' pathways converge. Once you finish your time as a house officer or a resident you become a Registrar (junior doctor).

Your job is still relatively general until you enter into a specialised training program. Entry into training programs can take four or more years due to their competitiveness. Once you’re in, expect to train for another four to six years. Finally, after the years of hard work and dedication, you will become a doctor!

International Opportunities

Even though you might be set on Australia or New Zealand for medical school, don’t forget that there are other options around the world that may better suit your needs.

Keep in mind that medicine in Australia and New Zealand is extremely competitive. If you don’t get a perfect ATAR or UCAT score, you’re probably won’t gain admission into one of the top medical universities. Therefore, you’re much better off using your great (but not perfect) scores to get into an Ivy League or Oxbridge university, getting a world class undergraduate education and then coming back to Australia/New Zealand to study medicine at one of the top universities.

For example, you need a 95 ATAR or above to get into the medical program at University of Tasmania, which isn’t Australia’s best medical school. However, with the same ATAR you may get a 1500 SAT score, which is adequate to get into University of Pennsylvania - an Ivy League college! By completing an undergraduate degree at UPenn first, you get the opportunity to travel, gain new perspectives, learn a new subject, and do it all at one of the top universities in the world.

Then, once you’ve completed your undergraduate degree, you will be in a better position to crush your GAMSAT and gain admission to a top medical university, such as The University of Sydney.

Consider all of your options - studying in the US or abroad may make you a better doctor in the long run, so don’t rule out opportunities abroad when deciding where to go to school!

Final Thoughts

The path to medical school is long and requires determination and commitment, but ultimately, you will be working in one of the world’s most rewarding careers.

As you are planning your future, it’s important to keep in mind the different options and opportunities that are available to you - don’t give up on your dream just because the conventional way didn’t work out for you. Your hard work will pay off, regardless of the path you choose. MedView are your medical school admissions experts - we are here to help students on their path to medical school achieve their dreams. If you are considering a career in medicine, get in touch with the MedView team and begin your journey today.

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