Medicine at Curtin or UWA?
2 months ago by Chris
A dilemma facing high achievers wanting to pursue medicine is whether to choose Curtin University(which offers school leaver entry into medicine) or UWA (which offers a graduate route).
Many parents often ask “why did some universities abandon the school leaver entry route to medicine? Which route is better?”
The answer is the same to similar questions such as:
- Should I choose medicine at Sydney University or UNSW / JMP / WSU?
- Should I choose medicine at UQ or UNSW / JMP / WSU?
- Should I choose medicine at Monash University or Melbourne University?
- Should I choose medicine at Adelaide University or Flinders University? etc.
School leaver entry programs such as that offered by Curtin University are superior for several reasons, including:
- Guarantee of entry: UWA does not offer guaranteed places in medicine, even though the university claims that it does, misleadingly calling it ‘Direct Entry’. Even those who enter through this pathway have to maintain a certain GPA to progress into medicine after their first degree.
- School leaver entry programs have both horizontal and vertical integration and you engage in patient contact from Year 1 (not so with Guaranteed entry or Graduate entry where patient contact won't begin until after you finish your first degree)
- Stress and uncertainty: You will have just finished a hard slog for your final high school exams. Do you really want to continue to do that for another 3 to 4 years? (An honours degree takes 4 years). You will also have to live with the pressure and uncertainty that you may not get in, in spite of your hard work. Only those with high GPAs and a high score in GAMSAT have a chance of getting into graduate entry medicine.
- The dreaded GAMSAT: To get into UWA Graduate entry medicine, you will also need to sit the dreaded 6 hour GAMSAT test and perform well, to have a chance of getting into graduate medicine.
- Restricted choices: For the graduate entry medicine pathway, you can only apply to one university (with six preferences) and will be interviewed by only one university through the GEMSAS. Medical schools have colluded in this manner so that it makes their job of selecting candidates easier. Unfortunately, this is unfair to motivated students. With school leaver entry, there are no such restrictions on the number of universities you can apply to and be interviewed by.
- Plan B: If you pursue your first degree at UWA and are then unable to get into medicine, you will have limited career options (other than a research career which has little job security).
- Financial reasons: For those who like to look at things rationally, it takes two more years of study to complete medicine at the UWA (and other graduate medicine programs), compared to Curtin University (and other 5 year school leaver programs). The average lifetime earnings of doctors in private practice is about $300,000 per year (Source: Australian Doctor 22 July 2011). So by giving up a place at Curtin University, you are incurring huge opportunity cost. Plus there is the cost of study – being at university for at least two more years, and other implications on your future, such as family planning. Note: Due to competition from Curtin, from 2018, UWA has reduced the duration of their 'Assured Entry' program from 7 years to 6 years subject to certain conditions being met.
- Length of training: To become a fully qualified specialist, after graduation you will need to train for at least four more years. The UWA degree will prolong your training. The additional one or two years more at UWA may not seem significant now, but the sooner you are able to start practising, the more experienced and employable you will become. Competition for everything is increasing in all aspects of life (for example, Registrar positions), so the quicker you finish your training, the better it is for you. Valuable time should not be wasted on acquiring a non-medicine irrelevant undergraduate degree if you are committed to pursuing medicine.
- After graduating in medicine, once you have chosen the specialty you wish to pursue, you will need to sit exams while working as a Registrar. You will find this last hurdle easier to get through when you are younger (for example, by pursuing a school leaver medicine program) rather than when you are older with family commitments. Studying for exams is also less daunting when you are younger, for several reasons.
- Focussed training: Some of the subjects that you will be studying in the first degree at UWA may seem irrelevant, as they are not focussed on medicine. School leaver medical programs offer focussed medical training and patient contact from week one.
- Most professionals will tell you that the real learning takes place when you start work, not at university. Much of what universities teach is not particularly relevant to real world of work and they teach it because that is all academics know. Hence the adage “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach!”. University is a place for fun and five years of fun is enough for most people!
- Prestige: In Australia, which university you go to doesn’t matter at all (unlike in other countries such as the USA). This is particularly so with medicine, because there is no national licensing exam to begin practising medicine. Even if you wish to work overseas, once obtain your registration as Medical Practitioner with AHPRA (all medical graduates automatically get this, unlike in the USA), it makes no difference which university you went to. Please see the blog: "University rankings and prestige: how much do they really matter for studying medicine?"
- Through attracting better students who wish to pursue the school leaver entry pathway, Curtin University has dramatically improved its lead over UWA in medical school prestige. There is anecdotal evidence that School leaver medicine graduates perform better in terms of career prospects and their ability to get into ‘competitive’ specialties. Please see Medical schools ranking for more information. Furthermore, increasingly the prizes awarded to medical students by the Royal Colleges (e.g. RACP/RACS) are being won by Unis with school leaver entry programs and Unis with graduate entry programs are lagging behind every year.
- Misleading MD: The so-called UWA MD is misleadingly promoted as a superior degree. It is no different to MBBS degrees offered by other medical schools and you will have no career advantages. The misleading use of the ‘MD’ title started by the University of Melbourne has been widely condemned by leading academics and government bodies. The University of Melbourne started this 'degree inflation' and now many other universities are following suit. Many people wrongly assume that because the degree is an ‘MD’, the duration of their subsequent training is reduced. The so-called MD does NOT reduce your further training at all.
- Uncertainty of career choice: Some people claim that it is useful to study a basic sciences degree because you may not be sure that medicine is the right career for you. However, completing a science degree is unlikely to help you make this decision – medicine is a very different career to science. Furthermore, after commencing medicine at Curtin, in the unlikely event that you feel medicine is not for you (the drop out rate is less than 1%), you can always drop out after a year or two and pursue another degree with prior learning credits.
- Travel distance: Some students are put off by the distance required to travel to Curtin University (if they live near UWA). But remember that you attend the university campus only for the first two years. For the remaining three years you are being trained in hospitals – you don’t go to the university campus at all. You can always live in the halls of residence if you reside a significant distance from Curtin university. In fact, many students, even those who live near Curtin University, find it convenient to live in the halls of residence provided by them to experience college life for at least a year or two.
- Real reasons: There are at least three (real, as opposed to those peddled by the University) reasons why UWA has chosen to mimic the US graduate entry model. First, by keeping the students at university for two more years, income from fees is increased (the university obtains an additional $60,000 from each student). Second, due to government policies, universities are able to charge full fees ($70,000 per year+ for medicine) for their Graduate medical courses but are prohibited from doing so if it is a school leaver entry program. The university is therefore able to increase their income by about 70%. Third, by getting students into their Science programs, they are able to increase the flagging enrolments in these programs. Since the demand to get into medicine is high, the university is able to lure a large number of students (up to 1000) to commence their science programs, most of whom hope to get into medicine. Unfortunately, many students after completion of their UWA degree will be unable to get into medicine or get jobs in that field, and will choose to stay on to pursue higher degrees. This not only further increases the university’s income but the university also gets postgraduate research students to boost their research profile and hence their international ranking.
- Due to the fact that graduate entry medicine doctors are older (about 6 years older on average), they are likely to choose specialties which are easier to get into, and require shorter training, such as General Practice. Doctors from school leaver entry programs are more likely to choose competitive specialties such as Dermatology, Ophthalmology, Neurosurgery and Gastroenterology, because time is on their side, among other reasons.
You may ask, what if I want to study wider range of subjects or get research experience? Well, you can gain research experience by doing a Masters degree after Curtin medicine; and you can learn the subjects that interest you any time, at any university, by enrolling in summer or single subject courses or learning from MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).
In summary, Curtin University’s school leaver medical entry program is good for you, while the UWA graduate entry medicine program is good for the university.