The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Medicine in the UK from Singapore (2020)

Guides

Are you considering studying Medicine in the UK? Wondering what the differences are between studying in the UK versus Singapore? Confused about how to even apply? Well, we've got just the complete guide for you.

If you'd like to learn more about applying to medical school in Singapore, read our Complete Guide to NUS Medicine Application. For aspiring dentists, we have a Complete Guide to NUS Dentistry Application, too. This will be useful for you to compare your options overseas.

In this article, presented to you by the Singapore Medical Society of the United Kingdom (SMSUK), we will address the answers to these questions and more, from the perspective of students currently studying in the UK! We share what the kinds of teaching methods and course structures are, the application process and costs.

 

What are the differences between studying Medicine in the UK and Singapore?

Experiences

Starting with the most obvious difference, going to the UK for university means packing up and moving far away from your family and friends. You will be immersed in a new culture and will have to form new friendships

Though this may sound daunting at first, studying abroad also opens doors to new experiences and opportunities, personal growth and independence! Instead of relying on your parents to cook for you and clean up after you, you will now have to take care of your own day-to-day needs, on top of juggling your studies and other commitments.

Financing

You will need to think about your finances. Tuition fees for Medicine in the UK are significantly higher than those of NUS and NTU. The cost of living will also be higher and scholarships for Medicine will be hard to come by. 

Healthcare Systems

Another point to consider is that while your friends studying locally will be learning directly from Singapore’s healthcare system, you will have fewer networking opportunities with Singaporean healthcare professionals. This means you will be less familiar with the Singapore healthcare system overall.

Opportunities

However, there are also many plus points of studying in the UK! Many universities offer world class research opportunities and have faculty who are experts in their fields. The ease of travelling between cities in the UK also means you will have wider access to leading medical conferences

As for teaching, you will be taught by leading scientists and doctors and rotate through a wider range of teaching hospitals. Most UK universities also offer dissections in anatomy practicals as compared to prosections in Singapore.

As there are significant pros and cons to both studying in Singapore and the UK, take some time to consider what you are looking for in your university education. To help kickstart your thought process, read on to find out more about the UK system and the application process.

 

How do I choose a university?

Accreditation by SMC

If you are looking to practise in Singapore eventually, you must be registered with the Singapore Medical Council (SMC). Your degree must be on their list of registrable basic medical qualifications. 

The medical list was most recently revised in 2019. However, as long as your university was on the approved list during your year of entry, your degree will be recognised. 

The list of registrable medical qualifications can be found on the website www.healthprofessionals.gov.sg 

Studying Medicine in the UK

Course structure for Medicine in the UK

Medicine in the UK is either a 5- or 6-year course. The first two years of the course are pre-clinical years, where there is an emphasis on the scientific basis of health and disease, and the foundations of clinical practice. The last three years are clinical years.

The difference between a 5- or 6-year course is dependent on whether a year is included for an intercalated Bachelor of Science (iBSc). The iBSc year is compulsory in:

  • University of Oxford
  • University of Cambridge
  • Imperial College London (ICL)
  • University College London (UCL)
  • University of Edinburgh

And optional in all other schools. 

One significant benefit of pursuing an iBSc is that you can get another degree within just one year, especially if the degree is relevant to your future career. For example, the iBSc in Women’s Health, offered at UCL, would undoubtedly be beneficial to a student interested in pursuing a career in obstetrics and gynaecology. 

Teaching methods in the UK

In the UK, there are three broad categories of teaching styles for Medicine:

  • Traditional
  • Integrated
  • Problem-based learning (PBL)

Most schools operate on the integrated model, which means they could be anywhere on the spectrum between the traditional and PBL styles. 

So what does “traditional” mean? This teaching method is only used by the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. It features a unique supervision system, where a very small group of students are taught by a tutor. It is also subject-based rather than systems-based. 

To illustrate this concept, a subject-based teaching style has students learning the anatomy of the entire body in one block, while a systems-based approach would split the human anatomy up as each system is taught. 

Subject-based teaching at these two universities also means that the course is much more academic in the pre-clinical years, with little focus on patient interaction. 

On the other hand, PBL is a teaching method with a large emphasis on active, self-directed learning and small group work. Students are presented with a case study or ‘problem’, and are required to brainstorm possible hypotheses and solutions. 

They then gather information from their lectures and online research individually, before coming together as a group to present their findings. Schools which adopt this method of teaching include the University of Glasgow, University of Manchester and St. George’s University of London.

The integrated teaching style, which is adopted by most schools, is a blend of the aforementioned two styles. The amount of PBL in the course varies between schools, hence it is easier to see the integrated style as a spectrum. Generally speaking, schools that employ the PBL and integrated teaching styles usually adopt a systems-based approach and include patient interaction from the first year.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements differ between universities. Do refer to individual university websites to check if they require Biology or Chemistry qualifications. 

For students taking A Levels, universities typically only consider 3 H2 subjects. ‘A’s in Mathematics and Chemistry are expected. Please also note that H2 KI (Knowledge and Inquiry) is not usually recognised.

Entry requirements for students sitting the IB also differ from university to university. You need an overall score of 36-40, with the average being 38 for most universities in London. You can find information on the respective universities’ websites or external sources such as The Medic Portal

How much does it cost to study Medicine in the UK?

Unfortunately, tuition fees are rather high for international students for Medicine, ranging from 30,000 to 40,000 pounds per year. Note that some universities also have higher fees for clinical years. Fees are also subject to inflationary increases every year

Scottish universities have an additional 10,000 pound levy (the Additional cost of Clinical Teaching, or ACT, levy) for overseas medical students. The ACT levy is sometimes included in advertised tuition fees, so check the respective universities’ websites carefully!

Besides tuition fees, you need to consider cost of living. This includes:

  • Rent
  • Food
  • Travel
  • Lifestyle expenses

Cost of living differs across cities, with London generally being the most expensive within the UK. Naturally, the second major factor is your lifestyle and spending habits.

With all that said, there are a few funding options available. Among the scholarships, the more common ones are the A*STAR scholarship or the Pre-Employment Grant. Ultimately, most students are funded by their parents. 

Location, Accessibility and Pace of Life

Location is a significant factor to consider when choosing a university. Unlike Singapore, where the city centre is modern and easily accessible, the pace of life in the UK can change quite drastically as you move between bigger and smaller cities. 

Take some time to consider if you would rather study in a busy city with a bustling scene or if you would be able to adjust to a smaller, quieter town. Remember, you will likely be based there for 5 or 6 years, so where you study matters!

Should I make my choice based on Rankings?

One more thing you may wish to consider is university rankings. Different organisations prioritise different attributes - QS and Times Higher Education prioritise research, while The Guardian values student satisfaction. Keep in mind that these rankings change year on year and are based on surveys. But your personal experience at university will be unique to you, so we would advise against choosing solely based on rankings!

 

I want to study Medicine in the UK! How do I apply?
UK Universities

The UCAS platform

Applications to all UK universities are done on a central admissions portal called UCAS. You are allowed a total of five choices, but only four of them can be for Medicine, meaning you can choose to apply for a different course as a backup.

Note that you can only apply to either the University of Oxford, or the University of Cambridge, not both! If you are applying to the University of Cambridge and would like to be considered for interviews in Singapore, please submit your whole application by 20 September. 

Otherwise, the UCAS deadline for Medical applications is 15 October. However, please check if your own school has an internal deadline, as some items such as testimonials and predicted grades have to be submitted by your school’s teachers or Higher Education department.  

BMAT or UCAT, the two university admissions tests in the UK

Admissions tests

UK universities use one of two admissions tests, the BMAT or the UCAT. Results from both admissions tests are only valid for a year.

BMAT

The following courses use the BMAT in their selection process:

  • University of Oxford
  • University of Cambridge
  • ICL
  • UCL 

The BMAT is a 2-hour long written paper with three sections: 

  • Logic MCQ
  • Science MCQ
  • A short essay task

The science section tests O Level knowledge of Chemistry, Biology and Physics. The full timeline for the BMAT can be found online, but these are the key dates:

  • Registration opens: 1 September
  • Registration deadline - standard fee: 1 October by 17.00 BST
  • Final registration deadline - higher (late) fee: 15 October by 18.00 BST
  • Test date: 4 November

Notice that the test date is in the middle of the A Level period, meaning that revision for your examinations and BMAT will take place concurrently, so do think ahead and start preparation early! As the test date is after the UCAS submission deadline, your test results will be sent directly to the universities. This means that you do not have the benefit of using your BMAT results to decide if they put you in good stead of scoring an interview place. 

To prepare for the BMAT, you can refer to past year papers available at admissionstesting.org, books with BMAT-style practice questions, and online courses.

UCAT

The second admissions test is the UCAT, which used to be called UKCAT. All universities aside from the aforementioned four that use BMAT require the UCAT. There are multiple test dates for you to choose from, and you are only allowed to take the test once per test cycle. One key difference is that your results are released right after your test, which allows you to make a more informed decision on which schools to apply for. 

The UCAT is a 2-hour computerised MCQ test, taken at a testing centre. The test is divided into five timed sections: verbal reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning and situational judgement. None of the sections require any scientific knowledge. 

These are some key dates for your reference:

  • Registration and booking opens: 1 July
  • Testing period: 1 August - 1 October
  • Results sent to universities: Early November

To prepare, there are practice tests and question guides available on the official website www.ucat.ac.uk. UCAT practice question books and various online courses are also useful for additional timed practice. 

We recommend that you familiarise yourself with the format and online interface of the test, especially the calculator tool. Do also try the practice tests under timed conditions as the UCAT is very time-constrained.

Personal statement

Your UCAS application will require you to submit a single personal statement that will be assessed by all the universities you apply to, across all courses. This cannot exceed 4,000 characters or 47 lines of text (including blank lines), whichever is reached first.

Stumped about where to begin writing? Some key points to consider are:

  • Your reasons for applying to the course
  • Soft skills or attributes that set you apart, 
  • Any work or volunteering experiences and what you have taken away from them. 

It would also be good to reflect in your writing that you have carefully considered the demands of a career in medicine and have a realistic perception of it. Avoid overly exaggerating with statements such as “It has always been my dream to be a doctor.”

There is no set template for a perfect personal statement. Remember that the admissions team has read hundreds of personal statements over the years and generic statements like “I am passionate about helping those in need” generally do not add value to your application. Strive to convey a genuine enthusiasm and passion for the discipline and career through sharing experiences and takeaways unique to you! 

Start writing early and improve on your drafts by asking for feedback from your teachers, friends, and family. Leaving some time between editing your own writing will also help you see it with a fresh mind each time, so you can best decide what to include or exclude, and how to word your sentences more clearly.

Interview

There are generally three ways universities conduct interviews:

  • Some universities send interview teams to Singapore or neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, 
  • Some may allow video call interviews
  • Some may require you to fly to the UK

In the unfortunate event that your interviews are spaced out and held in the UK, and the schools are unable to reschedule them, be prepared to stay in the UK for an extended duration or make multiple trips.

Interview formats

There are three general interview formats used: 

  • Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)
  • Panel interviews
  • Academic interviews

As its name suggests, MMIs comprise a number of stations, and the specific number varies between universities. Each station seeks to evaluate a different skill or attribute of the interviewee, such as:

  • Communication skills
  • Data interpretation
  • Knowledge of medical ethics
  • Approach to teamwork

Standard interview questions (as seen in the following paragraph) may also be asked.

Panel interviews are what you probably think of first as a traditional interview. You may be interviewed by professors, doctors or even senior medical students. Common questions are ‘Why Medicine?”, “Why study here (this country, this university)?” and “What can you contribute to this university?” 

Lastly, academic interviews are only used by the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. This interview style mimics a tutorial session which allows the interviewers to assess how well you would perform under their traditional teaching style. 

Questions will cover scientific and ethical problems which you probably will not know the answers to. Don’t fret! The interviewers want to see how you approach the problem and work through it, so verbalise your thinking process to them and try your best to keep a cool head.

Preparing for your interviews

Interviews can be stressful, so to reduce some of the pressure that comes with being put on the spot, do prepare beforehand. 

Take some time before the interview to think through your answers to the more standard questions so that you avoid stumbling over your words and can present your best coherent and confident self! If you can, practise with a teacher, family member or friend and actually say your answers out loud. The more times you repeat interviewing, the more natural and convincing you will sound. 

Show growth

Anything that you write about in your personal statement can also be asked about, so be very familiar with it! Be ready to elaborate on a book that you wrote about, or about your takeaways from a certain work experience. On the topic of learning experiences, interviewers look out for students who are self-aware. Do your best to demonstrate your ability to reflect on the experiences you have had and how you have grown in the process.

Do your research

Do prior research on the individual university, such as its course structure, and even its clubs and societies. This shows that you have carefully considered what it would be like to study there and demonstrates your enthusiasm, dedication, and seriousness. 

It would also be good to keep yourself abreast of current medical research, healthcare, and social issues. Being able to discuss these topics with your interviewer would show that you are a driven, independent learner and are capable of thinking critically and empathetically. 

Finally, most universities will get back to you on their final decisions within a few weeks. If you do get rejected, you may request for feedback from the admissions team, which may help in the future! The universities’ decisions will show up on the UCAS portal, where you have to either accept or reject their offer. 

If you do get a place, congratulations! Begin getting the necessary documentation ready so you can apply for your visa in due course. 

 

What can I do now while deliberating whether to go to the UK?

Some practical steps to take now are volunteering, seeking out clinical attachments to gain exposure, and reading up on the courses that interest you. Some websites SMSUK recommends are:

  • BrightSparks
  • The Student Room
  • The Medic Portal

Our very own SMSUK website (www.smsuk.com/media) also has an updated 2020 Freshers’ Pre-departure Guide and University Information Booklet with comprehensive explanations of all you need to know! 

You may also find it helpful to speak with current students at the different universities to get a first hand account of what studying there is like.

SMSUK helps students with answers about studying to be a doctor in UK universities

How can SMSUK help me?

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at SMSUK if you need any help. As a student-led organisation, we represent the interests of Singaporean and Singapore-educated students studying Medicine in the UK. We will be able to put you in touch with our university representatives who can answer your university-specific questions. 

Do also look out for our annual Pre-University talks held at many Junior Colleges. During these Pre-University talks, we outline the application process and studying experience in the UK, and hold interactive question and answer sessions. 

We understand that going abroad for such a prolonged period of time may sound daunting. SMSUK thus seeks to provide support for your academic and career development, and also to foster intercollegiate and intercity friendships between our members. 

With over 1200 students and alumni in our SMSUK family who have walked the path before you, rest assured that you will certainly find your footing and settle into a new home.

Connect with us:

Website: www.smsuk.com
Email: sms.unitedkingdom@gmail.com
Instagram: www.instagram.com/smsunitedkingdom/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/smsunitedkingdom94/

This article was published on Monday, 17 August 2020. DxD medically reviewed the article on Monday, 17 August 2020. The last update was made on Tuesday, 29 September 2020.

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