In many countries, having relevant work experience is essential or highly favourable for a successful medical school application. While this is not always the case in Australia and New Zealand, there are several good reasons to consider having some medical work experience under your belt. Of course, this is not easy in the current COVID-19 context. Here, we provide some expert thoughts and advice.
In five Australian medical schools, a personal statement (or portfolio) is required as part of the admissions process. These are James Cook University, Macquarie University, University of Notre Dame (Sydney and Fremantle) and University of Wollongong.
While the questions asked in the personal statement differ between universities, it usually includes your motivation for studying medicine, as well as your experiences and activities that support this claim.
Possessing appropriate work experience sends a clear message that you are motivated to study medicine and you understand the demands of the career. It also helps you to stand out among other applications.
Work experience may be advantageous when you participate in a semi-structured medical interview, such as Flinders University, James Cook University, University of New South Wales, and University of Wollongong.
Compared to multiple mini interviews (MMIs), these semi-structured interviews usually have some room to talk about your background and experiences. Having relevant work experience not only demonstrates your motivation for medicine, but allows you to display favourable personal qualities such as proactiveness, commitment and passion.
If you are applying to universities that use MMIs to assess their applicants, work experience will be relevant to bring up in some stations. However, we recommend not trying to force an anecdote about your experience into a response that it isn't appropriate for.
Even for stations that don’t encourage anecdotes, work experience would be beneficial for developing interpersonal skills and for getting to know more about the medical profession in terms of what is involved and what is required.
Furthermore, you should note that often scholarships (university or externally administered) require a personal statement of some sort, and work experience is a great way to enrich your application.
Normally, you can get work experience in the medical field in a number of ways. These include working or volunteering at a GP clinic, allied health practice, aged care facility, community health service centre and support organisations.
Another option is to be involved in medical research as an assistant, volunteer or participant.
Usually, work experience needs to be arranged weeks or months in advance and it can be challenging to organise, but you will be able to find one if you keep trying and are flexible in what hours and services you can offer.
You may be inspired to pursue some work experience, or may have arranged something for yourself already. So what can you do during a COVID-19 lockdown, where not all of the normal work experience opportunities may be available?
Keep practising! A month sounds like a long time, but time will quickly vanish. Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goals such as reaching a certain score by a certain date or time.
Niche down even further on your weaknesses – by this stage you should just be focusing on what you find hardest. Make sure you factor in breaks and days off into your schedule, as well as any important events which you need to attend.
Read the 'Good medical practice' by the Medical Board of Australia if you haven’t already. It will inform you about the different duties of healthcare professionals and how they should respond to different scenarios, which is essential for the Situational Judgement Test section of the UCAT.
Try Medify's Skills Trainers, such as inference scanning for Verbal Reasoning, to maximise your score (these are included in our UCAT ANZ Online Course). Make sure you've also completed plenty of UCAT practice tests.
The UCAT exam is two hours with no breaks in between, so practise at least two hours each time to build your mental stamina. You should also simulate the exam environment as closely as possible – this means treating every mock test as if it were a real one.
For instance, you should sit mock exams at the same time of the day as your actual UCAT exam and ensure there are no distractions. By mirroring the test conditions, not only will it prepare you for what to expect on test day, it should also help to decrease any anxiety leading up to the exam. Otherwise, your brain has to process the ‘new’ way of completing the test.
At this point, you'll know the format of the exam inside out and will have practised the questions enough times to get used to UCAT timings. Don’t give up – keep preparing in an environment where you cannot be interrupted.
Remember, a lot of your preparation will have been done in the weeks and months before this final week, so be careful not to overdo it and become too fatigued. Your motivation may drop or you might ‘peak’ before the test. Your body needs rest too.
Now is a great time to introduce or increase self-care in your regime. Whether it’s watching Netflix, gaming, or just running a bath, it’s important to detach yourself from UCAT revision from time to time to avoid the risk of burnout.
In this week you should also prioritise your nutrition and sleep. Eat well, do not miss meals and keep hydrated. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep in the days before the test by avoiding late night cramming or staying awake into the early hours.
If it puts your mind at rest, you can check last year’s UCAT scores, but remember that this is all about your personal journey and performance, so don't get hung up on that information!
We do not advise doing a mock this close to the exam. Revision won't help you much at this stage and can actually leave you worse off. Instead, use this time to wind down and get yourself into a relaxed state. This will enable you to perform at your best on test day.
Try to get to bed early and avoid things that can affect sleep, such as looking at your phone before bed. If you think that you will struggle to sleep on time, you could try doing some exercise during the day to tire yourself out.
Exercise can boost your brainpower by oxygenating your brain, helping you learn and aid sleep. Plus, activity makes your body release endorphins, which can reduce anxiety and stress levels.
Make sure you double check your UCAT test centre information, the travel route to the test centre, the time of your UCAT exam, and so on, so you’re well prepared for test day. If someone else is giving you a ride to the test centre, it’s worth reminding them.
You should start the day off with a nutritious breakfast and give yourself enough time to arrive early to the test centre to avoid feeling flustered, rushed or stressed.
Remember that buses and trains can be late and that traffic may be heavier than you had hoped, so allow extra time whichever way you are travelling. Find out how to choose a UCAT test centre.
Make sure you know how to get to the test centre – for instance you could consider taking a map with you. If you’re using your phone for directions, make sure it’s sufficiently charged and that you have spare data (otherwise you can download the map ahead of time to use offline).
On test day you will be expected to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled test time to complete the check-in process.
You need to bring:
When you arrive at the test centre, it’s likely that you’ll be experiencing a heightened sense of adrenaline. This is completely normal, but it could be helpful to learn some mindfulness tricks to reduce your stress levels. For instance, you could focus on your breathing to help you relax.
Don’t forget, during your test there are one minute introductions between each subtest. You can skip these, but we recommend using the time to mentally refresh yourself.
If you’ve stuck to your revision plan, and followed our advice above, the best thing you can do on test day is to try and keep as calm as possible. Take solace in the fact that you have prepared for weeks/months to get to this point, and channel any nervous energy into doing the best you can during your UCAT test.
You should think about your diet well ahead of UCAT test day. Focus on foods that release energy slowly (that is, which have a low glycaemic index, or GI) which will stop you from feeling hungry. These are ideal for UCAT preparation, as well as on test day itself.
Try eating protein and low-GI carbohydrates, such as meat or baked beans, brown (whole grain) rice or pasta, or wholegrain breakfast cereals or muesli. However, do not stray far from your usual diet on the day of the test in case you feel sick. You may want to try these foods out at the same time of day a few weeks in advance.
Be wary of energy drinks and coffee. If you’re not used to them then don’t drink them, especially in large quantities. Caffeine can acutely increase anxiety, and the sugar rush of an energy drink is soon followed by insulin slamming on the brakes, leaving you feeling worse than before. These products are no substitute for a good night’s sleep, eating properly and exercising.
No food or drink is allowed in the test room so eat a healthy meal before your UCAT test and ensure you’re hydrated. While you should make sure you’re drinking enough water, do not overdo it, otherwise you might need the toilet while the timer is ticking.
Please note, access arrangements are available if you have a disability, learning difficulty or long-term medical condition. You may be entitled to extra time and/or rest breaks, and allowed certain items, such as water, at your test centre workstation.
This image shows a typical UCAT test environment:
There is no audio element to the test, but you can request earplugs to block out any noise that might disrupt your concentration.
You will have access to a basic onscreen calculator which may be useful for the Quantitative Reasoning and Decision Making sections.
You will be given a laminated notebook and marker pen. Consider using these for:
If you require an additional notebook and pen, you can raise your hand and ask the invigilator. Although the invigilator will check that your pen is working before the test, we advise double-checking this to avoid seeking assistance during the test.
Do you need help preparing for the UCAT ANZ? Head over to our UCAT ANZ Online Course and we’ll get you signed up to guide you through the whole process.
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