Ever since I first posted tips for applying to medicine (in South Africa) in 2014, I have received multiple questions from aspirant medical students.
The hardest to answer (and thus one of the most popular) is DO I STILL STAND A CHANCE? – usually prefaced with the person’s failure to achieve the desired grades for medical admission, or some other stumbling block.
My fist response: don’t let me stand in your way.
My second response: be realistic.
The latter is easier said than done, because I have seen students who absolutely met the requirements be rejected, and I have seen students who were doubtful candidates be admitted. (And you might give a political argument to this end, but often it’s more a shooting-in-the-dark kind of process than admissions boards would have you believe. Like this mathematician who used to do interviews for Yale once pointed out.)
There are some indisputables:
Each medical school has certain minimum requirement achievements for math and science (and usually Life Sciences and languages too). Just because you achieve them, does not mean you will be accepted.
Most medical schools have some sort of special interview process for people who may not have achieved the minimum requirements but have something special to bring to the table. For example, a nursing (B.Cur) graduate who did not have science in high school, like Roxanne.
Being realistic and being hopeful are not mutually exclusive qualities.
Being hopeful means you apply, even if you suspect you may not be the most promising candidate. If you are certain you want to do medicine, you apply.
Being realistic means you prepare yourself on the likelihood of being rejected. You prepare yourself for the disappointment, and how you will deal with it.
Part of being realistic also means having a good Plan B (through to Z).
This begins with answering this question: “If I am not accepted off the bat, will I keep trying for medicine, or will I pick a different career?”
(And there is no need to be ashamed if your answer is the latter. For many people, medicine is not a singular passion. For many it is not a passion at all.)
A. If you are going to take a different career, what will it be?
B. If you don’t know, what will you do while you figure it out? (A gap year? A general science degree?)
C. And if you are going to keep trying your darnedest to get into medicine, what is your plan forward?
The most popular alternate route is studying a Bachelors of Science in Human Life Sciences. You can reapply during your first year with your B.Sc results, and if they are very good (and I do mean VERY GOOD) you may be accepted into the program.
Failing that, some people need to complete their entire B.Sc before they are accepted.
The University of Witwatersrand has a graduate-entry medical programme (GEMP) (the link has some very useful info). From what I hear it is extremely competitive, but it is also an option for graduates, which then allows you entry into medical school at the third year of study.
I once interviewed a student (who is now a doctor!) who waited very long before she was accepted into medicine. I know many nurses who went into medicine (I worked with one such male nurse-turned-doctor last year).
I have also known friends who were not admitted to medicine, and kept trying. But after a while, they decided that medicine was not what they wanted to do after all, and changed track completely. And that’s okay too.
It’s not giving up. It’s changing your mind. Humans are dynamic beings – it’s allowed.
I’m not ever going to tell you to drop your dream to study medicine. I may point out the facts, and I may even tell you that your chances are small and that you should attempt remedial factors. But if you’re willing to work harder, and longer, and if you’re patient… there’s no telling what you will achieve.
Not many people know this but the University of Pretoria has a system where, half way through the year, a large number of the students doing BsC Biological sciences are taken across into medicine. They take those with the highest averages, but this being said the marks needed are still very achievable. From my knowledge, they take more studemts than the other universities do in this way, so if medicine truly is your calling and you haven’t managed to get in yet, or if you are just looking to apply, this is a great, “back-door” type acceptance. I know of quite a few people who weren’t your typical top achievers in school yet worked hard and got in this way. Other universities such as Stellenbosch only take a handful of BsC students in comparison to this.
Good luck to all those hoping to get in!
I didn’t know that – thanks! I’ll definitely share it with anyone who needs it.