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JUL 08, 2020 • 12 min read
The career path to becoming a doctor is filled with a diversity of experience that cannot be found elsewhere. At times, you are the beacon of light for a grieving family, and at others, a critical decision-maker for those at their most vulnerable, working alongside a team with a strong sense of collegiality and teamwork. For this reason, medicine is the most competitive tertiary education pathway in the world. The purpose of this blog post is to outline the pathways to becoming a doctor in New Zealand and Australia, and encourage students to appreciate the nuances of studying medicine and the complexities of the journey to becoming a doctor.
This pathway is for high school-leavers and involves direct entry into a bachelor of medicine and surgery (MBBS). This pathway represents about 40% of medicine admissions in Australia, and is offered to students who perform exceptionally well in school and the in UCAT exam.
This pathway is open to those who have completed any undergraduate degree, and who meet subject prerequisites for some universities. This pathway requires applicants to have high results in both their GPA and the GAMSAT exam. These scores are combined to determine an applicant's eligibility for a medical interview. For this pathway, students can apply through GEMSAS - the graduate medical school consortium - as well as direct-to-institution for some universities.
This pathway is a little more complex. It is open to school leavers who have performed exceptionally well. However, instead of granting students direct entry into undergraduate medicine they go into postgraduate medicine without sitting the GAMSAT. This means that students complete any undergraduate degree upon leaving school and transition seamlessly into postgraduate medicine. However in most cases, students must sit the UCAT and achieve a 99+ ATAR score.
Only two universities in New Zealand offer medicine. (The University of Auckland and The University of Otago). These are both 6-year undergraduate MBBS degrees and the pathway requires acceptance into a biomedical science or health science program first, after which students will sit the UCAT exam. A student’s UCAT score and GPA are considered and determine their candidacy for an interview.
Early preparation begins with subject selection. The subjects that students take in high school (and how well they perform in them) is one of the many factors that will determine their success in gaining admission into medical school. While subjects such as Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and English may scale well in a student’s application to medical school, it is advisable that students choose subjects that they are passionate about.
In Australia, every student upon leaving school receives an ATAR score, which reflects a direct, scaled comparison of that student’s performance against that of every other student finishing in Australia in that same year. As such, a student’s ATAR is a percentile score, with the top score being 99.95. In the context of minimum ATAR requirements for medical school, there is no one answer. A general rule for students to follow is that an ATAR exceeding 99.00 is likely to be a competitive score. However, it is at the discretion of each university to place as much weighting as they see fit, on the ATAR. It is important that New Zealand students who want to apply for Australian universities consider the importance of their high school grades.
For medical school entrance in New Zealand, not as much weighting is placed on high school grades, as students are required to complete one year of a degree prior to applying to medical school. As such, the first year GPA is more important as a candidacy-determining factor for each student.
The UCAT is a two-hour standardised, computer-based exam, designed to assess the suitability of candidates to study undergraduate or provisional entry postgraduate medicine. Suitability is measured by this exam through an assessment of a student’s critical thinking capacity, emotional intelligence and non-verbal reasoning. The sections of the exam are Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement. Performance is measured by a student’s percentile score, that is, how many questions they answer correctly relative to all other candidates. The fundamental pillar of preparation for this exam is consistency of exposure to a diverse range of questions over a long period of time. MedView can help with such preparation, both in high school (if you are entering medical school in Australia), or in university (if you are entering medical school in New Zealand), so be sure to speak to an Academic Advisor or sign up to a UCAT course.
If you decide to go to medical school as an Australian postgraduate student, you will need to sit the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT). This is a 6 hour exam that tests your reasoning skills, especially within the physical and biological sciences. The exam involves three subsets - reasoning in humanities and social science, written communication and reasoning in biological and physical sciences.
The GAMSAT is difficult because it’s the longest medical school admissions test in the world - 3 hours of science, 2 hours of humanities reasoning and a sprint to write two 500-word essays in one hour. Despite how long the exam is, most students do not finish the final section, so improving your speed and strategy on the exam is very important for success.
The GAMSAT is even more competitive than the UCAT, with approximately double the number of students taking the exam for only 20% more places in Australia. Cutoffs range anywhere from a 65 (85th percentile) to a 71 (99th percentile) depending on where you want to apply. The average successful postgraduate medical applicant has a GPA of 6.4 and a GAMSAT of 68, which puts them in the 91st and 93rd percentiles respectively.
The importance of preparation ahead of the GAMSAT cannot be underestimated. MedView can help with your preparations through 1:1 expert tutoring with medical students who have excelled in this exam. Speak to a MedView admissions expert or check out our range of GAMSAT courses to learn more about how MedView can support you with your GAMSAT preparations.
The medical interview is your last step towards achieving your goal of becoming a doctor. During the MMI, each student spends between eight to ten minutes at each station, of which there are eight. Students have two minutes of reading time per station, with the remaining six to eight allocated as interview time.
While the interviewers are judging you from a holistic perspective, there are some key skills and characteristics they are looking for, including:
Each mini interview will assess you on two to three of these qualities.
The most difficult part about the MMI is not just answering the questions - although that’s hard too - it’s about making your answer stand out. You have to have your own personal reason that you know the interviewer will resonate with and remember. Try doing that for 8 stations in a row! When it comes to crafting those 5-star MMI answers, there’s no better source than experts who have passed the MMI and study at whichever university you are targeting. Each MMI is different and the best way to prepare is to get targeted support for all of the universities which offer you an interview.
Becoming a doctor requires commitment and determination but ultimately is one of the most worthwhile careers in the world.
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 becoming a doctor, get in touch with the MedView team and begin your journey today.