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

Posted a year ago
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Are you considering a career in medicine?

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

There’s school, internships, residencies, and more! In fact, the entire process can take over 10 years and none of it is easy.

Yep... more than 10 years.

Plus, if you want to get into the best medical schools, then you’ll need to start preparing in high school.

Don’t be too 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.

That being said, 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

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The subjects you take in high school (and how well you do in them) are one of the many factors that determine whether or not you’ll get into the best medical schools.

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

While some unis may look at your application holistically, some will look at your grades before they look at anything else, so you want to make sure your scores are pretty up there!

Medical schools in Australia require an ATAR score of at least 90 (the better the uni, the higher the ATAR cut-off), but just because you meet a uni’s ATAR cut-off, doesn’t mean you’ll get in. Basically, try and get the highest ATAR you can possibly get!

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 then determines 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 do matter. 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 actually went to high school in Australia. Generally, though, it’ll be really hard to get into the more competitive medicine courses once you dip below the 97 ATAR mark.

Both Aus and NZ 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 shot at the top medical schools, but as always, the higher you score, the better.

However, if your high school grades aren’t top notch, 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

Guide to Improving UMAT Score - About the UMAT

Speaking of the GAMSAT, there are two different entrance exams most unis in Australia and New Zealand require... the UMAT and the GAMSAT.

The UMAT

Ten universities in Australia require the Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT) 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

As well as the two universities that offer medicine in New Zealand:

  • The University of Auckland
  • University of Otago

If you want to go to medical school in Australia, you need to sit the UMAT 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 UMAT until you're at uni.

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

About the UMAT

The UMAT is really difficult because it doesn’t test any actual academic knowledge.

Huh??

Yep, the UMAT tests general skills and abilities that you have developed over the course of your education and just life in general.

Still confused?

Don’t worry! There are tons of practice tests you can sit and tricks you can master in order to ace the UMAT; however, you must start preparing early since there’s almost no way you can cram for this exam.

The exam consists of three parts:

1. Logical Reasoning and Problem Solving: 48 questions in 70 minutes

2. Understanding People: 44 questions in 55 minutes

3. Non-verbal Reasoning: 42 questions in 50 minutes

You’ll get a score for each section which makes up your overall score. Your final score then determines your percentile rank.

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

Many universities require at least a 50 on each section. Generally though, the harder the university is to get into, the higher UMAT score you’ll need.

The GAMSAT

If you decide to go to medical school as a postgrad, you’ll need to sit the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT) and the word on the street is that it’s even harder than the UMAT!

11 universities in Australia require the GAMSAT (sorry, there are no postgrad medicine degrees in NZ!).

  • 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

Surprise! The GAMSAT tests your actual educational knowledge, not so much the fluffy “life skills".

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 hard to catch up.

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: 2 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 any school you want.

The Medical Interview

Top Medical School Students

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

Not all unis require an interview, but most of the top programs do and, believe me, the interview process is not easy… at all.

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

Now the real work starts.

10 unis use the dreaded 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 uni gets a much broader and reliable assessment of your non-academic skills.

See, there’s no reason to be scared! Especially if you know the techniques to do well.

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

Okay, this seems like a lot, but don't worry, they're spread across stations. 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 heaps 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.

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

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Medical school is expensive. Period.

There’s no way around it. Whether you go the undergraduate or postgraduate route, studying medicine is going to cost you big time.

New Zealand Expenses and Financial Aid

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

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

Of course, you also need to factor in your living costs. Depending on the city you go to school in and how elaborate your lifestyle is, you’ll need between $15,182 and $25,969 NZD a year, not including your tuition.

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

I know what you’re thinking... how are you ever going to afford medical school?!

If you’re a New Zealand citizen, resident, or an Australian, you’re in luck. 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 unis 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. Basically, 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. Not bad!

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.

The moral of the story is that medical school in Australia is just as expensive, if not more expensive than medical school in New Zealand.

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. Sorry!

Life After Medical School

Becoming a Doctor in AU/NZ - life after med school

Okay, you got into medical school and you figured out how to pay for it… now what?

Now the real fun begins!

You’ll 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 uni in NZ, you become a housing officer for the next two years, i.e. the most junior doctor.

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

Then you’ll spend another year or so as a general resident, which is very similar to New Zealand’s junior housing officer program, and then enter a specialised training program which could take as many years to complete.

Finally, the two countries' pathways converge. Once you finish your run as a housing officer or a resident you become a Registrar, i.e. a junior doctor.

Your job is still relatively general until you enter into a specialised training program. However, 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 many long, gruelling years, you become a doctor! Yay!

International Opportunities

Study abroad guide - how affordable

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 be easier to get into, cheaper, or just more appealing!

Keep in mind that medicine in Australia and New Zealand is very, very competitive. If you don’t get a perfect ATAR or UMAT score, you’re probably not going to get 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 unis.

For example, you need a 95 ATAR or above to get into the medical program at University of Tasmania, which isn’t necessarily the best school. However, with the same ATAR you could probably get a 1500 SAT score, which is good enough to get into University of Pennsylvania, which is an Ivy League college! By completing an undergraduate degree at UPenn first, you get the opportunity to travel, expand your point of view, 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’ll be in a better position to crush your GAMSAT and stroll into a place at a top medical uni, such as The University of Sydney.

Think about it – studying in the US or abroad will probably even 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

No one ever said becoming a doctor is easy. The road to actually treating patients is a long and winding but in the end, you’ll have one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.

As you are planning your future, it’s important to keep in mind just how many different options and opportunities there are availble to you so 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.

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