12 Factors to Consider when Choosing a Medical School
8 months ago by Rob
Many MedEntry students find themselves in a fortunate position of having performed well in UCAT, so are now in an enviable position of being able to pick and choose which medical school to attend!
So what are the factors you should consider when choosing a medical school?
Firstly, MedEntry recommends applying to as many courses as possible, as there is no guarantee of entry into a particular university. This is because most universities use interviews as an important entry criterion, and interviews are, by definition, subjective. The weighting for each of the major criteria (academic grades, UCAT and interviews) varies depending on the university. However, there is no doubt that the more universities you apply to, the greater your chances of getting in!
Choosing the right medical school is an important decision with the potential to affect the choices you make in your life for years to come. Unfortunately universities use marketing strategies to attract students to study at their university, which can make it difficult to gain impartial information and understand the most important factors that you should consider. You should also be wary of choosing a medical school based on the recommendations of one or two senior students: remember, they are not a representative sample.
Here are 12 factors that you should consider when choosing the best medical school for you, ranked in order of importance (the same reasoning applies to dental school):
1. Certainty of entry into medicine
This is the most important consideration. If you are certain of your career choice, school leaver entry programs are far superior than provisional entry or graduate entry programs. This is because in school leaver programs you get into medicine right away, while in provisional entry and graduate programs, there are often conditions associated, so there is no guarantee that you will be able to get into medicine.
Furthermore, provisional and graduate entry medical programs often lead to stress and uncertainty, as you often need to attain minimum grades in your first degree, sit GAMSAT, and have a limited number of medical schools that you can be interviewed by.
Even if you are uncertain whether medicine is for you, after commencing a school leaver entry medical program you can always drop out and pursue another degree with prior learning credits (note this is unlikely: the drop-out rate for medicine is less than 1%).
2. Duration of the course
This is a very important consideration. Medical training is a lengthy process and continues after you graduate from medical school. In general, a shorter school leaver entry course (generally five years in duration) is recommended, as it allows you to graduate and start working in the field earlier.
If you intend to choose competitive specialties such as Dermatology, Ophthalmology, Neurosurgery or Gastroenterology, a 5 year school-leaver program will allow more time for you to enter specialist training programs and pass your Fellowship exams.
Shorter, 'school-leaver' programs are available at Curtin, Adelaide, Monash, UNSW, Newcastle, JMP, CSU, JCU and Bond Universities (usually 5 years).
Note that graduate and provisional entry pathways are longer (usually 7 years).
3. Location of the university
Some students prefer to attend university in their home state near family and friends, and some prefer to leave home and explore another city. You may also have personal preferences regarding the city, weather and rural vs urban living. Cost of living is a factor for some people. Note that, after completing your internship, you are free to move and work anywhere in Australia/New Zealand.
MedEntry recommends that if you have to choose between a school leaver program in a different state or a provisional entry program in your own state, you strongly consider moving. There are many benefits to choosing a school leaver program. Remember that after medical school, you are free to move and work/practice anywhere across Australia or New Zealand.
Many students regret not taking up an interstate school leaver program offer, and instead complete another course in their home state (pathway programs which often do not lead to medicine).
4. Financial resources
If you or your parents are wealthy enough to pay $400,000+ and you are uncertain of your career choice, you may consider Melbourne or Macquarie graduate medicine programs, or Bond University (which is a private undergraduate university).
School-leaver entry programs are far cheaper. There are about 15 government-funded medical schools for school leavers in Australia. Unlike in other countries, in Australia the fees charged for HECS students is the same in all medical schools.
5. Effort required to gain high grades
You are more likely to gain better grades for the same effort at a university such as WSU compared to that of UNSW or Monash University. This is because you are competing with a higher ability cohort at sought after universities such as Monash or UNSW.
In general, higher grades are more important than the university you attend when determining your future career prospects (for example, entry into a competitive specialty).
6. Teaching style and curriculum
Integrated, PBL based medical courses (such as those offered by school leaver programs) are generally superior – they are more interesting and enjoyable to study. You get very early clinical exposure (often from week 1) in school leaver programs. Clinical exposure occurs much later - in Year 4 or 5 in Provisional entry and Graduate entry programs (which are 3+4 years duration).
Provisional entry (e.g. UWA, Flinders, Melbourne, Sydney, Griffith and UQ) and Graduate entry programs tend to have less horizontal and vertical integration due to the fact that the first degree is 'stand-alone'.
However, unlike other countries, all medical schools in Australia have a standardised curriculum to meet Australian Medical Council standards. Therefore, this is not an important factor to consider when making your decision.
7. University features
This includes factors such as campus facilities, university clubs and societies, availability of residential living halls, staff-student ratios, student satisfaction, teaching quality, size of the medical school cohort, etc.
Universities and students tend to place a lot of emphasis on these factors, but the reality is that universities are largely similar. Therefore, you should not place too much emphasis on these factors.
8. Travel distance from home
Some students take travel distance from home into account in their choice of university – when in fact it should not be an important factor.
Remember that you will attend the university campus only for the first 2-3 years. For the remaining years you will be trained in hospitals – you don’t go to the university campus at all. Hospitals are located across your state. Furthermore, many students, even those who live near the university, find it convenient and enjoyable to live in the halls of residence at university so they can experience residential college life.
9. Whether the research year is mandatory
At UNSW, this is mandatory (called ILP). At most other universities, its optional, so it is better. Research years tend to benefit the university, rather than the student. In fact, it is generally preferable to first decide which specialty you wish to pursue (a decision you normally make in intern and resident years), and then engage in clinical / patient-centred research in that field, while you are working and training. This type of research is far more valuable and looked upon more favourably when applying to specialist training programs.
10. The diversity of student intake
Universities which accept students of wide academic backgrounds such as Newcastle, WSU, UNSW, Curtin and JCU are likely to have a greater diversity of students, which may be advantageous.
The prestige of the university is not an important factor in medicine compared to other disciplines such as Law, Commerce and Engineering. You can find more information in our blog: https://www.medentry.edu.au/blog/university-rankings-med
In Australia, which university you go to doesn’t matter (unlike other countries such as the USA). This is particularly so with medicine, because patients are more concerned about personal qualities such as your bed-side manner and diagnostic skills.
Even if you wish to work overseas, once you obtain your registration as a Medical Practitioner with AHPRA (all medical graduates automatically get this, unlike in the USA), it makes no difference which university you went to.
12. Whether the degree is MD or MBBS
The so-called MD is misleadingly promoted as a superior degree. It is no different to MBBS degrees offered by some medical schools. The Universities of Sydney and Melbourne started this 'degree inflation' and many other universities have followed suit, in order to compete.
Many people wrongly assume that because it is an MD degree, the duration of subsequent medical training is reduced. The “MD” does NOT reduce your further training duration even by one day, and is no different to an MBBS.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when choosing a medical school. It can be very difficult to make a decision, particularly when universities are prone to active self-promotion. If you have any questions regarding which university to choose, please do not hesitate to contact our team.