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Thinking about applying for a medical school

So you’re thinking of applying to a portfolio school?

by , 29 April, 2016


For most people thinking of applying to medical schools next year, my advice is to just get through GAMSAT® Exam as best you can, and once that’s over you can think about applications.

However, if you’re thinking of preferencing UNDA (Sydney and/or Freemantle campuses) or UOW, there’s something that you need to think about now: the portfolio.  The portfolio is designed to capture things that a GAMSAT® Exam score and GPA miss – like leadership skills, work experience and community involvement and it’s a great way for well rounded applicants to get an edge in the application process.

The trouble is, compiling your portfolio takes time – time to prepare (you are given marks for how a certain activity makes you a suitable candidate, not just the activity itself, so you need to carefully craft your answers), and time to corroborate (you need to provide the details of a contact person to verify your activity).  So although you may be the superstitious kind who doesn’t want to get the ball rolling until you’ve got your GAMSAT® Exam marks, with marks released in mid-May and applications due by the end of May, that’s unfortunately not an option. It’s also a challenge for those employed full time or undertaking research degrees, as sometimes your employers or supervisors are less than thrilled to hear you’re not planning on sticking around.

My advice is to start now, and be strategic.  Firstly, start making lists of what activities you’ll include in your portfolio and then think about who you can use to verify them.  If it’s someone who will take some chasing down (eg. a high school teacher), it’s best to send of an email now and check that the teacher is still working at your school, or if not, whether someone else at the school is happy to verify your activity.  It helps if you can provide some kind of documentary support (eg. a report card or year 12 reference) so that the school can feel comfortable about having another person verify a not-so-recent activity.  Secondly, be strategic about choosing your referees if it may impact your current, or future (everyone needs a Plan B) opportunities.  You don’t necessarily have to list a supervisor as a referee, it can be a trusted peer or someone in another area of the organisation that can credibly verify your activity.  But these things are always harder to organise in a rush, so start thinking about it now and consider putting people on notice that you may be asking them to verify an activity and check that they are happy to do so.

Lastly, it goes without saying, but don’t forget to be polite and follow up with a thank you – a simple email or card is the least you can do to show your appreciation.  Also, being able to rely on the kindness of a willing bank of referees is invaluable for future applications – be it for scholarships, casual jobs while at uni, or even elective placements. 

Erica Danieletto is currently studying a Doctor of Medicine at the University of Sydney.