Choosing Your Medical School: A Breakdown
16 June, 2020
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There are now 13 universities in Australia that students can choose from when applying to graduate medical school. Post-GAMSAT Exam, many of us will be overcome with a huge sense of relief, of a large weight lifted off our shoulders. The first hurdle in the application process to graduate medical school
But then comes the time to make the ultimate decision. Which medical schools should I apply to and which should I preference first?
You may speak to friends who recommend that you choose somewhere nearby, your family might encourage you to choose a university with a prestigious name, or you might be drawn to a certain medical school just because it’s familiar to you. There are many reasons why we choose the schools that we do. Ultimately, it’s a very personal decision.
For those of us who really aren’t sure, or who can’t decide one over the other, there’s a number of factors that can be taken into consideration to guide that choice. It’s then just a matter of understanding which factors matter to you most, and which factors you might be willing to compromise on.
In both local and national terms this can be a great influence in some peoples’ decisions. For example, you may find it really important to choose a university that is easily accessible by public transport, whereas others may want a university with cheap student parking (if that exists!). On the wider scale of things, you may be excited at the prospect of moving across the country
, whereas others may want to stay close to familiarity. Speaking from personal experience, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of considering and preparing for any stressors that may be associated with moving far away from home. Regardless, considering how location could impact your life as a medical student is important, and ties into the next two points below.
Cost of Living
Different cities are more expensive to live in than others, and different areas of each city come with different costs (such as food prices, the rental market, and public transport costs). For example, rent for a room in a share house in Perth city can be around $200 cheaper a week for a similar place in Sydney. If you’re moving out of home to study, this is especially important to take into account before deciding where to go.
For domestic students, the state in which you study is the state in which you are (generally) guaranteed an internship once you graduate. If you’re thinking of moving interstate to study medicine, considering that it may be difficult for you to gain a spot in a hospital you like back home for internship may influence your choice of medical school. That being said, internship is only one extra year, and after studying for four years in a new place you may find that you’d like to stay.
Some students might also be quite far ahead in their thinking and even consider the opportunities (e.g. for training programs for their desired specialty, or for research) when thinking about where they’d like to be an intern, however if you don’t know what you’d like to specialise in then don’t be concerned! Many doctors do not decide which specialty pathway they would like to take until after working for a few years.
Chance of Acceptance
When thinking about Australian medical schools, it is worth considering the likelihood that you will be offered a place to any universities that you preference highly, based on your GPA and GAMSAT
results. This is why GradReady
always encourages students to maximise their GAMSAT results (the higher your result, the more flexibility you may have in your decision). A great overview of how different universities weight different criteria can be found at this
page. However, once you have decided on the medical schools you will apply to or include in your preference list, you should preference them in the order that you would most like to attend – There’s no real way of gaming the preferencing system. In addition, make sure you thoroughly read the GEMSAS
admissions guide available on their website and the medical school entry requirements of each university - The importance of this cannot be emphasised enough.
Clinical Placements and Course Structure
though the content of medical knowledge that is taught is essentially the same across the universities, the structures between courses can vary quite a lot. Some universities get you into the hospitals earlier, and some devote more time than others to placements in rural areas. If there is an aspect of medicine that you’re already passionate about, or a structure of learning that you’re particularly drawn to, this could be something you consider early on.
Moreover, you may be interested in spending time at certain hospitals that are associated with particular universities. For example in Victoria, St Vincent’s Hospital, Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Austin Hospital are associated with the Uni of Melbourne, while the Alfred Hospital is associated with Monash. Medical students from the Uni of Melbourne do not undertake any placement at the Alfred Hospital.
Other Opportunities and Student Life
A large part of university, especially your medical degree, is being engaged in social clubs and activities, extra-curricular opportunities, or sporting teams. If there’s something you’re really passionate about, check out the university website to see what student life is like. You may also be interested in getting involved in research with a particular research institute that is associated with a particular university. And lastly, choosing a medical program at a university that will support your well-being can have a huge impact on your experience as a medical student.
They’re the age-old questions of applying for medical school: does it really matter which university you study at?
Will you get a job after you graduate if you study there? Will your friends with a degree from that university be more successful than you are?
The short answer is: no, university prestige does not predict the quality of a medical degree.
The way that universities are ranked does not depend on all the factors that would be important to a medical student, and after all, once you graduate your career in medicine is pretty much guaranteed in Australia. Waiting extra years to get into a more prestigious course could be worse off for your career than if you accepted a position straight away and got out into the workforce sooner to become a more experienced medical professional. It may be more worth your time to look at information about the quality of teaching and retention rate (how many medical students go on to work as doctors) at the universities you are contemplating, rather than their world ranking.
If you consider this alongside the points I’ve outlined above, you may have more success in choosing a medical school that is right for you.
Overall, choosing an Australian medical school is not an easy task. However, studying at a medical school that you enjoy and that supports your well-being (rather than which has the highest rank or greatest ‘prestige’) will give you the best opportunity to become the doctor that you aspire to be. I would encourage you not to ignore these ‘soft’ factors when making your decision, and remember that the choice always comes down to you as an individual.
If you’re looking for more information about the different medical schools around Australia and their admission requirements, check out our guide: Australian Graduate Medical Schools - Admission Requirements