Hello! I’m currently a 4th medical year student, and my course included a foundation year, so essentially the complete duration of my course is 6 years. The first year of my course is counted as “year 0” and from then on, the small 30 odd of us in the foundation year join the large cohort to enter the typical 5 year programme. I’m going to explore the different types of foundation year courses and studying medicine in general.
TYPES OF FOUNDATION COURSES
Just to clarify there are two types of foundation courses, and their structure and content vary in different medical schools, but you will attain the standard MMBS/BMBS/MB etc doctorate degree at the end of the course. One type is for students who do not hold the required science A-Level(s) or equivalent qualifications and therefore the foundation year, is used to summarise essential basic sciences, so these students can be fully equipped for pre-clinical and clinical medicine. These courses tend to hold around 20-40 people, with the intent that they will join the larger cohort after their foundation year. Grade requirements often vary, so check with specific medical schools.
The other type of foundation year course aims to widen access to medicine and encourage disadvantaged or non-typical students to study medicine. In the 2015-16 academic period, medical schools across the UK were made up of 48% White British students, however roughly 30% of medical students were BME, and shockingly only 3% of medical students were Afro-Caribbean, as reported by the General Medical Council. As you can see, widening access foundation year courses, aim to select students with potential to become a great doctors, but are held back by low quality of teaching in school, no exposure to higher education in immediate family etc. To apply for these courses there are particular criteria you must fit, and often these courses have adjusted entry requirements, whether it be lower A-Level grades or focusing more on your personal statement and UCAS statement rather that your UKCAT score, to take into account the background of students. However, you still need to show the competencies of becoming a safe and great doctor. You must pass the foundation year, and some medical schools require that you obtain a certain grade, in order to pass on to the 5 year programme.
So how do you know if should apply for a foundation year course? Well the main themes are:
- If you haven’t got a science background, whether that be in your GCSE, A-Levels/IB
- If you didn’t achieve the standard AAA (or above) which is required
- If you fit particular eligibility criteria such as attending a non selective state school, being the first person in your family to enter higher education, having a low household income, being in care, living in a deprived area etc
WHICH MEDICAL SCHOOLS OFFER FOUNDATION COURSES?
- East Anglia
- King’s College London
- St George’s
I will explain briefly my experience of studying medicine with a foundation year as a black British working class female. To start off, I didn’t intend to be a doctor during my pre-adolescent years. However I discovered my passion for medicine whilst studying basic medical sciences during my GCSEs and A -Level, a passion that I explored more thoroughly. I’ve also had a number of medical conditions or medical events in my immediate family, and I would often spend a lot of time in hospital and was really interested by the role of the physician. Initially studying medicine was something I thought “would be nice to do” or like a dream, as I didn’t believe I was good enough for it, compared to my peers who I would be competing with for the same spot, even though I had potential to become a doctor. I then discovered foundation year courses, especially those aimed at disadvantaged students, and realised they were targeted for students just like me! My school wasn’t the best in my area, I lived in a very deprived area where the thought of even going to university didn’t really exist etc. I knew to apply using my strengths and I knew I would have a better chance of getting into medical schools if I applied for FY courses rather than the standard 5 year courses.
That’s what applying to medical school is all about, you need to be strategic and compose something almost like a game plan, apply using your strengths! If you know a university priorities amazing GCSEs and you have 9A* under your belt, then go for it! Also, don’t apply to a university that specifically asks for a UKCAT average of over 780 if your score is 600.
I applied to all 4 medical schools, and all the courses I chose had a foundation year and were widening access courses. The application process can be very nerve wracking, as often admissions will take a long time to contact you or often your peers would be getting responses when you are left with “in progress” on your UCAS account. However, patience is key and positivity is also key, as this will help you when you pass your interviews or even fail them. I was very lucky to get all 4 interviews and 2 conditional offers at the end of the process.
In summary all medical school (including foundation year medicine) applications include all these elements
- A captivating but non-generic personal statement which includes your motivation for wanting to be a doctor and proof that you know its for you, work experience which doesn’t have to be shadowing the clinical lead and consultant in surgery, but rather an impressive account of reflection during your experience. You should also include why the medical school should select you and not the peer next to you, include any books or articles you have read regarding being a doctor or a student and of course the many fantastic extra curricular things you do whether it be running a blog or being a leader at your local church etc. The medical school want to see that you are like any other young person, who is well rounded.
- An exceptional UKCAT score, we are talking 800 avg or above.. Only kidding, different medical schools ask for different scores, however do aim to achieve the highest score you possibly can
- An insightful interview, where you have managed to portray your personality, empathy, knowledge about the NHS and basic medical sciences, an insight into the medical school, your motivation to become a doctor, and sound answers to ethical questions etc.
- A UCAS statement written by teachers at your school/college about how great of a student you are and how you are capable to study at university despite your personal circumstances.
- Best grades you can achieve at A Level
My medical school is a great, and the course really fits me! In my foundation year, I met 29 people with similar backgrounds just like me which made settling into medical school comfortable for me. I could really relate to my course mates, in terms of our interests, our ethnic backgrounds etc. The year consisted of learning, a summary of the first year of the 5 year programme, so we were very prepared when it came to entering the 5 year programme. They offer a lot of help, whether it be with academics, financially, or mental health, the help is always available! You will be well equipped and have a good knowledge of how the university works, where different locations are and etc when entering the first year of the 5 year programme! I would really encourage anyone who identifies with my brief story to try applying to foundation year courses and not to lose hope! If its for you, you will get there eventually! I am now going into my first clinical year, feeling very equipped to be on the wards and seeing patients. In the future, I hope to work in General Internal Hospital medicine or as General Practitioner hopefully having other non-medical related projects on the side!
TIPS & ADVICE
My tips for applying to medical school and being a medical student in general is:
- Believe in yourself, self-belief is so important when applying to medical school seems dreary and almost impossible, because it will continue to motivate you and it is an important trait to have during medical school and even when you are the doctor on call and you have a very ill patient under your care.
- Once again apply using your strengths! Research what each medical school favours, and see if you match up to it!
- Don’t compare yourself to others, you are in your own race and your own personal goal, focus on yourself and your strengths.
- Get as much work experience as possible, doesn’t have to be at the best hospital in London, exposure to anyhealthcaresetting is required, but what matters most is what you got out of it, reflection is so important when practicing as a doctor.
- Don’t apply to medicine for the money, status or because of pressure. Honestly medicine is a time consuming and one of the most stressful degrees out there, full dedication is needed. If money is your motivation, the salary will not be worth your sleepless nights, stress etc
- Make friends with different types of people! These are your peers, and you will be working with them in the future.
- Enjoy the ride! 5-6 years is a long time, and here you will make some of your closest friends and have many memories, learn so many skills, and you will look back during your senior years and say you enjoyed it.
Some helpful links :
Written by Perside Mpisi
Sources used :
GMC 2015-2016 medical students report (https://view.officeapps.live.com/op/view.aspx?src=http://www.gmc-uk.org/2015_16_MSAR_medical_students_numbers_and_national_demographics.xlsx_68229188.xlsx).