By: Brajan Budini (Offer holder for Medicine at University of Cambridge)
It is no secret that securing a place at a medical school is extremely difficult because the competition is fierce. In 2018 there were 20,730 applicants for entry into medical schools all over the UK but the number of places available was a mere 7,500, yielding an acceptance rate of approximately 36%. Top GCSE grades, high BMAT/UCAT admission test scores and satisfactory A-Level predicted grades are all a necessity for medicine applicants, independent of the university to which they apply. Clearly, getting an offer to study medicine is no easy feat, but trying to gain entry for medicine at Oxbridge makes the task much more challenging. But why?
It is undeniable that both, Oxford and Cambridge, are world-renowned for their excellence in education which means that these institutions attract the best applicants. In other words, this means that when applying to Oxbridge you are in direct competition with some of the brightest minds, and hence, it logically follows that it will be substantially harder to receive an offer. All Oxbridge medicine applicants are great on paper, with amazing grades, high BMAT scores and a wealth of work experience. Naturally, it becomes hard for the admission tutors to decide who will receive an offer and who will be rejected. However, reflecting on my own experience, I would argue that there is something else that matters much more. There is something else that admission tutors are really searching for in an applicant. What is that something else? Passion and Potential!
If the majority of applicants have a similar academic record, it makes sense to ask the question “How do I differentiate myself from the rest of the field?” It is a question that I often asked myself and the answer lies in what you do. When I was applying to Cambridge University I often tried to push myself academically, as far as I could, by attending lectures at my local universities, researching topics I found interesting, listening to podcasts and keeping myself updates with the latest news in medical sciences from well-respected journals such as the Lancet and Nature. In the end, the cumulative effect of all these activities enables me to gain a deeper and more meaningful understanding of medicine. However, it is also equally important to be active and not passive whenever you are engaging in further reading and research. Never take a statement for what it is – always question it. Why is something the way it is? How do we know it is that way? What importance does it play?
I once remember reading a University-Level Chemistry book (Why Chemical Reactions Happen) written by James Keeler and Peter Wother. In the opening of one of the chapters, which discusses the structure of the simple compound sodium chloride, the authors state:
“That sodium chloride is made up of positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged chloride ions is such a familiar idea that we are perhaps in danger of taking it for granted...”
While the topic of sodium chloride’s structure may not be of great importance in Medicine, the underlying idea that the authors present, that we shouldn’t take “science facts” for granted, is. In fact, the question “How do we know that sodium chloride has a giant ionic lattice structure” takes an entire chapter to explain. Behind such a fundamental question, lies a wealth of knowledge and challenges.
Critically engaging with scientific concepts and arguments throughout your further reading will enable you to cultivate your critical thinking and analytical skills as well as help develop your independent learner skills. In the end, the skills you gain by actively engaging with further reading and research will enable you to become a more confident, articulate and considerate thinker. By the time it comes to the interview stage, your abilities and academic potential will resonate, and the admission tutors will be able to recognise your ability to think outside the box. However, too many applicants see the interview as a test, but I couldn’t disagree more with this assertion. The interview is not a test, on the contrary, it is a rare opportunity for you to have an inspiring discussion with academics who are leading experts in their field, giving you the chance to showcase your intellectual abilities.
I know that receiving an offer from Oxbridge for Medicine may seem like an impossible challenge but take it from me, it is not! Ultimately, everything comes down to hard work and dedication because those two qualities are the fuel that will keep you going the extra mile and help separate you from the rest of the field. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, even if you may not sometimes see, so my advice to any Oxbridge Medicine applicant is this: Go for it, be confident in what you do, give it your all, and most importantly, never stop questioning the world around you. In the end, even if it doesn’t all work out, at least you will have given your all and therefore you should have no regrets.