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Take a 'gap year' before medicine?

There are two main reasons why a student might take a 'gap year' before studying medicine. Firstly, it's a forced gap year which means you didn't gain a place at medical school and are reapplying next year. Secondly, a gap year taken by choice. Given 60% of students who apply to medical school fail to gain a place, there are a lot of forced gap years. There aren't many students who willing take a gap year if they have an offer from medical school, but it happens.

Rejected! What do I do?

There will be a huge amount of disappointment/tears/frustration/insecurity at this stage but it is important you can deal with it quickly and start to use this year productively to achieve your goal of gaining a place at medical school. You need to use this time to reflect on each element of your application and improve it in this year.

1. Reflect and regroup! It's normal to feel upset at this point, it shows it means a lot to you. Take some time to work through the disappointment but then use the energy to start improving and focusing on making your application stronger.

2. Analyse - your university selection. Look again at the criteria of the universities you applied for and check it against your application, exam results, UKCAT or BMAT score and how you performed at interview. You must be really honest with yourself here to find the weaknesses to start improving. 

3. Make a plan - Once you have identified the areas you can improve, make a timeline to improve each one. You need a clear path that you can measure and track during your year.

4. Review - Every 2 or 3 months take some time to review how you are progressing against your plan. Maybe ask a parent/guardian to help review this and critically evaluate your progress. It can be hard to be critically reviewed but it is all aimed towards gaining a place at medical school.

How can I improve my medical school application?

If we break down the application process into stages we can suggest a few things you can do to try and improve each section. These are only general suggestions but hopefully they will at least give you an idea of the things you can do to improve your application and give you a structured view of the application process.

  • Low UKCAT/BMAT score - Review how you practised for these exams. If your score was low we need to increase the amount of time spent practicing and the quality of your practice time. Look at good quality practice providers such as Kaplan Test Prep. They have unlimited UKCAT and BMAT support with their courses and they are recognised at the best course provider. There is a cost for these courses but they really do make a difference if you need a little extra support.

  • Personal statement - It can be difficult to know if your personal statement is good enough but reviewing it is important anyway. You will need to update it this year to reflect your gap year and hopefully add a lot of extra selling points so write this when you have more to add.

  • Work experience - Review how much work experience you gained and the type. Did you have a on-going volunteering or care role? If not, this year is the perfect year to gain a lot of experience! You will have a lot more free and you will likely turn 18 this year which means care homes, GPs, hospitals etc will be more willing to take you. Try and set up a regular role in a care environment e.g. a care home, local school, GP surgery, library. A great resource for volunteering is Age Concern - they have lots of great opportunities, get as much as you can! There are expert work experience and preparation advisors such as Medical Projects who cover work experience and other elements of the application process.


This student received 4 rejections the first time they applied to medical school. But after a 'forced' GAP year with lots of experience, they turned their luck around and got their first choice med school...

My experiences - by 'M' (2008 entry)

OK I don't intend to write my third personal statement so will just tell you briefly what it took me to get to where I am today - securing an unconditional offer from my first choice medical school.

When I first applied to medical school I was so hopeful that I'd receive at least one offer, but I ended up with four hurtful rejections. The application cycle (in particular interviews) was much more complicated than I expected, and competition was fiercer than I thought. I was studying for my A2 Levels in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology and General Studies, with an AS in English Language. My predicted grades were AAA but my UKCAT wasn't that high (595). However, it was the first year for UKCAT then so it didn't hold much importance in selection for interviews. I had three weeks of hospital work experience, planned to volunteer at a local children's hospice and studied an Open University short course in human health and genetics alongside my AS Levels. I also mentioned in my PS that I was involved in school societies, assisted in school events e.g. multicultural evenings and open days, and represented my views in a channel four documentary. I also ran a youth club for six months and was a trained mentor for a year.

First time round I applied to Sheffield, Southampton, Peninsula Medical School (PMS) and Leicester. I was invited for interview at the latter two medical schools. After months of anticipating offers I was rejected. (Again, details later). After getting over my four rejections, I applied to the Bradford Clinical Science course via UCAS Extra. I thought it would give me another go at getting into medical school, as students have the opportunity after their first year to transfer to the second year of Leeds medical school, if they achieve 65% or above and succeed at a Leeds interview. (More details about the Clinical Science course later.) However, after being invited for interview at Bradford, I realised I was more likely to get into medical school if I got the grades and reapplied, rather than through Clinical Science, since the probability of transferring was low in comparison. I also thought it would be great to have an extra three medical school choices (not just Leeds) and a whole year of a break from studying. So I made that (ever so hard) decision to cancel my interview and explained to the director my situation. She said it was wise of me to make that decision, so at least I had one person on my side!

OK so results day came and although I wasn't expecting it at all I did achieve, miraculously, AAB. I spent an hour on 16th August 2007 calling every medical school in the country. Unsurprisingly all medical schools had no places, but, it happened to be that many applicants who received conditional offers from Keele did not meet the conditions of their offer, so the admissions officer I called said they would have considered me if I had called half an hour before. Well there's always a lucky person... though from the bottom of my heart, I didn't really want to start studying again in September!

First thing I did was sit my UKCAT exam. This time I achieved 670 so that was my first relief! I began searching for healthcare jobs, and applied to over 20 posts both via the NHS website and using the good old yellow pages. I was invited for several interviews and received two job offers. Thankfully I made the right decision and am now working 30-40 hours per week at a care home for adults with severe learning disabilities and sensory impairment. Although it can be hard at times I absolutely love my job and the feeling I come home with is incomprehensible. I'm still volunteering at the children's hospice (it has been nearly two years to date) on a regular basis and this has provided me with confidence of dealing with physically disabled children. I spent a further three weeks on work experience at a hospital (in addition to last year's three weeks) shadowing more consultants, and two weeks at a GP surgery. I'm also halfway through my driving lessons, and am glad that I didn't start last year because now I can concentrate on it properly and not worry about studying, homework or revision.

It may sound like all my time is taken up but because my work times vary (I work shifts) I still have and evening or morning off every day. I signed up for a British Sign Language (BSL) course, which runs every week for four months. This did cost quite a bit but because I had the motivation to learn BSL I didn't really care - money is replaceable. Why BSL I hear you ask? Well when I was on a ward round at hospital, there was this Afro-Caribbean patient suffering from sickle cell anaemia, who was admitted into A&E. He was deaf, and could only communicate in BSL. The medical team could not understand what he was saying and found it very hard to communicate with him, as it was only 8am so the interpreter was not available. The consultant therefore could not take a detailed history. I felt that for a doctor to know BSL would be extremely helpful, even if it is very basic, because it's totally unfair for a patient to lose out on treatment just because they're deaf. Anyway, I have had three BSL lessons so far and they have been incredible. Our tutor is deaf and it's amazing how much one can learn just from his facial expressions and hands.

So that's basically what I'm doing this year. My personal statement was obviously much better than last year's and I received interviews from Sheffield, QMUL (Barts and the London), and Bradford for Clinical Science. I felt much more confident at interview as I had much more to talk about. After unconditional offers from Sheffield and Bradford, I withdrew from two medical schools (never thought I would do that!) -QMUL and BSMS, and I've just been rejected from Leeds (but I have to say it didn't hit me at all!)

That's all for now folks! There's more to come - visit us again soon!


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Medical Projects organise hospital work experience and university preparation courses. Read more about    Hospital Work Experience.

Medical Projects organise hospital work experience and university preparation courses. Read more about Hospital Work Experience.