How to Become a Doctor in Australia
12 April, 2021
This blog will address the difficult question of how to become a doctor in Australia. The short answer is with a lot of hard work, stress, and difficulty! What will be detailed here is a brief overview of the formal pathways to becoming a fully registered and qualified doctor. Note that this blog will be addressing the aforementioned question in general – so that means you need to refer to the individual institution where you might want to study medicine to be fully aware of entry requirements, process, and graduation.
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Further, this blog is also assuming an Australian audience, and so will not address overseas candidates and processes to becoming a doctor in other countries. Becoming a medical doctor in Australia requires students to successfully enter, and complete, medical school, prior to becoming an intern doctor, whereby completing this year allows you to be a registered medical practitioner. This blog will explore these steps.
However, there will certainly be enough useful content here to provide a strong, general overview of the tedious process, and allow all medical hopefuls to be fully abreast of what they are getting themselves into!
The UCAT and the GAMSAT routes are the main pathways for getting into medical school. The UCAT route involves applying directly out of high school, and the GAMSAT route involves applying after completion of an undergraduate degree. Note that the subjects that you take in high school and/or major you study in university does not affect your chances of getting in- as long as you meet the prerequisites for the medical school you wish to attend, you have the flexibility to choose whichever subjects you would like.
First, we will look at the UCAT, which is short for the University Clinical Aptitude Test. The UCAT is a 2-hour computer-based test, which consists of five separately timed subtests addressing: Verbal Reasoning; Decision Making; Quantitative Reasoning; Abstract Reasoning; and Situational Judgement Test. Typically, students with very high marks in high school can apply along this route, and it offers a more ‘direct’ entry into medical school. There are nine registered medical schools in Australia that accept the UCAT score.
The other route of how to become a doctor in Australia is through taking the Graduate Medical Schools Admission Test (GAMSAT). This is a mammoth test that you can take as a post-graduate student (i.e. you have completed, or are about to complete, a Bachelor’s degree at university). There is a treasure trove of information on the GradReady website about GAMSAT, where the test is thoroughly dissected and explained. I recommend you take a look, starting here: What is the GAMSAT?. Usually a Bachelor’s degree (completed or nearly completed) will be enough to sit the GAMSAT, but keep in mind that some graduate programs require completion of second year subjects in anatomy, physiology and/or biochemistry. You can read more about prerequisite requirements on the GEMSAS website. Note that while you need an undergraduate degree to apply through the GAMSAT pathway, you do not necessarily need to have completed high school. I personally know someone who left high school to undertake training as an electrician, but later he completed an undergraduate degree and got into medicine via the GAMSAT pathway, despite never having officially completed high school.
Depending on the way you enter medical school, there are two types of medical degrees available in Australia: Five-year or six-year undergraduate Bachelor degrees, and equivalent professional practice Masters level degree (usually called ‘MDs’ – though the undergraduate version may also be called this in some situations). The Masters qualification is, practically, not any different to a Bachelor equivalent in medicine, in that both allow you to practice medicine in Australia. The Masters version is arguably a marketing ploy of most Australia medical schools to allow them to market to international students and also charge international and domestic students Masters level costs. For an example of some of the differences in costs, see here: Medical School Place Types.
Typically, an interview with the medical school is part of the selection process. Candidates who do well in the UCAT/GAMSAT, and have good high school or university grades, will be invited to participate in an interview. There is more information on the interview available on the GradReady website, so please be sure to check it out: 5 Tips to help you ace the MMI interviews. The interview provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate your awareness of what studying medicine and becoming a doctor will entail. You may be asked questions about your motivation to study medicine, your understanding of the course, your study at school, hobbies, personal interests and current medical topics in the news. Each medical school has a slightly different interview format, with different topics and styles of questions, so if you are fortunate enough to be offered an interview, be sure to read the information that you are given carefully so you know what to expect on the day.
Now, once you are in medical school, after many months of tests and interviews, you now have a very tough time of between four and six years of hard study to finally start working as an intern doctor! Again, please refer to the GradReady website for some unique views on Medical School, which, for some examples, can be found here: Which Med School is for Me?
All Australian medical graduates must complete one year of internship, usually in a public hospital, before they can obtain full medical registration. (There has been talk of extending the internship to two years- the internship is still one year for now, but it is good to keep an eye out for possible changes.) Unlike in some other countries, such as the United States, interns in Australia do not specialise- they remain undifferentiated, rotating through different areas to gain more experience. During the final year of medical school, med students can choose their preferred hospital in which they would like to do their internship. After the internship, you are then FINALLY qualified to be a fully registered doctor! You can then continue to work as an undifferentiated Resident Medical Officer (RMO) within the hospital, or you can consider applying for specialty training. (Note that, contrary to popular belief, general practice is a specialty in its own right that has its own specialty training program.)
In this small blog of how to become a doctor in Australia, we have charted approximately eight years of your life. Because of the brevity of the discussion, I deeply encourage you to find the linked, additional resources to learn more! It is crucial that you adequately prepare for all stages in order to successfully come out the other side as a doctor. This blog has just given you a snapshot of what is required; now it is up to you to jump in! Now, if you’re ready to take the first steps towards becoming a doctor in Australia, check out this GAMSAT 2021 Guide and get started today!