Medical school requirements and selection process explained
Estimated reading time ≈ 7 minutes
'...there are students who would make brilliant doctors but feel in the dark about what they need in order to apply...may never have considered their talent for medicine...Medical schools want to find the best candidates and believe they can come from any background.'
Dr Paul Garrud – Chair of Medical Schools Council Selection Alliance (UK)
So you’re thinking about becoming a doctor. You vividly imagine helping people and doing a meaningful job, but do you know what the medical path looks like? It’s not a straightforward decision, so we’ve listed some of the key considerations below.
Check the Academic Requirements for specifics, but you are likely to need top grades to get into a medical programme. It will be helpful for you to build evidence of your dedication to becoming a doctor way before you even apply, but it’s okay if you’ve only recently set your sights on a career in medicine.
Medicine has the lowest offer rate of all areas of study, with approximately one out of every three undergraduate applicants receiving an offer. There are approximately 4,500 places every year across Australia and New Zealand, but bear in mind that these are spread across both undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
To help you answer this question, we have created an empathy test for medical students.
A doctor’s role is not limited to technical diagnosis and treatment of a disease. In fact, looking after patients’ overall health and well-being in a caring manner is just as important as technical skill. The importance of empathy will only increase in healthcare as medical technology becomes more advanced, so developing empathy now will aid you throughout your entire medical career.
Medical schools will look for evidence of empathy during your interview. Don’t be dismayed if you don't think you are a particularly empathetic person. Research has shown that empathy is not a fixed quality, and can be developed.
It’s essential to show empathy, not sympathy, in your medical interview, so make sure you know the difference!
Undergraduate medical degrees will generally take 5 or 6 years to complete, while postgraduate medical schools in Australia generally have 4-year programmes. You will need an undergraduate degree before you can commence a postgraduate programme, but in most cases this undergraduate degree does not need to be related to healthcare.
Remember that your medical training won’t stop once you graduate from medical school. After 4-6 years in medical school, you will need to undertake an internship, as well as spending up to 8 years in further training depending on your chosen speciality.
Before you spend the time, money and effort that are required to get into the medical profession, ask yourself if you have the determination and commitment for many years of intense learning.
The annual tuition fee for medicine is $11,300 in Australia for students on commonwealth supported places. Annual tuition costs around $16,500 in New Zealand, and the New Zealand government will pay for the first year of tertiary education for its citizens. Domestic students in both countries may be eligible for a tuition fee loan.
One exception to the tuition fee above is Bond University, which is a private university that charges ~$30,000 a semester for its medical programme.
The Australian Medical Council lists 23 accredited medical schools in Australia and New Zealand.
Due to the competitiveness of medical schools, just getting in is a massive achievement. Furthermore, all medical schools in Australia and New Zealand provide their students with an excellent medical education.
Most (but not all) universities in Australia use state-specific tertiary admission centres (TACs) for their application process. These centres allow applicants to apply to 5-8 courses from multiple universities in the state.
New Zealand medical schools and some Australian medical schools require applicants to apply to the university directly.
Your application can be submitted via the website of whichever TACs or universities you are applying through.
Note that applications for many graduate-entry medical programmes must be submitted via GEMSAS.
Application deadlines will differ between Australian universities, and deadlines for graduate-entry medical schools are generally earlier than deadlines for direct-entry medical schools. The deadlines for New Zealand medical schools are traditionally in September or October.
Our best advice for deadlines is to check and double check all the deadlines that are relevant for you.
The number of medical schools you can apply to depends on your grades, pathway, and whether or not you are willing to move - for example, there would be no point applying to the University of Adelaide if you live in Sydney and have no intention of moving to Adelaide.
However, if you are willing to move in order to attend medical school then we recommend applying to as many universities as you are eligible for.
Each university has its own requirements, but broadly speaking you need to:
Check Medify's free Admissions Guide for detailed information on all aspects of your medical school admissions journey.
‘I’ve always been interested in the outdoors and I’m very passionate about environmental conservation, so In the last two years I’ve been volunteering with my local nature conservation group. We’ve taken on projects such as removing weeds from local bushland, picking up rubbish from wetlands, and learning more about natural species. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to learn about my environment and meet a community of people with similar interests, and I’m looking forward to continuing work with the group into the future.’
Claire, James Cook University
While voluntary work experience is not mandatory, undertaking one can help you pick up a range of skills to demonstrate during your interviews, such as communication and teamwork.
Take a deep dive into the academic requirements for medical school.
Make no mistake, to be a doctor you need to excel academically. One way to achieve academic success is to spend time working on your actual study skills - not just learning the syllabus, but learning how to learn.
Michelle Willis, a GP in training, achieved an ATAR of 92.55. For some, this would be considered an excellent ATAR, but for Michelle, this meant that she had failed to get into the University of Sydney to study medicine.
'I felt like a failed medic', she explained.
Due to her ATAR, Michelle decided to complete a bachelor’s degree then apply for graduate-entry medicine. She was not only interested in medicine, but also how culture and social determinants affect the health of people, so she commenced her Bachelor of Anthropology at Macquarie University.
This setback was not the end for Michelle. She graduated top of her class with a Weighted Average Mark (WAM) of 87, and received top marks in the GAMSAT. Due to her competitive WAM and GAMSAT score, and successful interview, Michelle received an offer to study medicine at the University of Sydney.
The UCAT or GAMSAT are yet another hurdle to getting into medical school. These exams test more than just academic skills, but are an overall assessment of your suitability for medicine.
Getting exposure to real-life medical situations can be beneficial for medical school applicants, but this is difficult in Australia and New Zealand and is not a requirement.
There are an incredible number of specialties within medicine. Do you have a specific interest in an area of medicine? You don’t need to figure it out now, but perhaps you’re considering one of the following areas of expertise:
As of 2021, only four Australian medical schools require applicants to include a personal statement/portfolio. These four medical schools are James Cook University, University of Notre Dame (both campuses), Macquarie University and University of Wollongong.
For more information read our article on Personal Statements and Portfolios.
One of the major purposes of the interview is to assess the potential qualities that would make you a successful doctor.
Unexpected questions are to be…expected, as the admissions team wants to see how applicants cope under pressure as they answer questions they most likely didn’t practise for.
If you don’t feel you are ready for a medicine degree after high school, broaden your knowledge with another degree before committing yourself to medicine. You will need top grades in your first degree if you do decide to pursue medicine as a second degree.
Our article about direct vs. graduate medical school entry can help you with this decision.