WITH a string of top grade A passes predicted, a magnificent seven students from Emmanuel College have applied to be among the next generation of medics.
Their anticipated success in subjects like biology and chemistry are a prerequisite for pursuing careers as doctors and dentists.
But, in response to patients’ demands for better bedside manner among physicians, students are now tested more closely for their aptitude for the job, as well as on their academic performance.
Unusually, prospective medical students from the college, in Gateshead, are drawing on opportunities offered to them in drama and public speaking to support their future careers.
While some universities remain committed to the traditional interview for prospective students, others demand candidates take part in MMIs, or multiple mini interviews, designed to test their ability to respond to challenges they are likely to encounter on the job and the moral or ethical judgements they may have to make.
In addition, students have to begin their application process by taking the UKCAT, or clinical aptitude test, a timed online exam taken at a regional test centre that contributes to their application and how they are assessed by universities. They are also restricted to applying to just four universities and may have to wait weeks before they hear if they have been successful, so patience is another virtue.
Molly Bowden, 18, of Low Fell, has been through the MMI at Dundee University.
“There were ten stations mostly of practical tasks that tested how you would react and deal with things rather than why you want to do medicine,” she explained.
“Most of the tasks involved role-play scenarios. They had actors who performed different situations, such as being an aggressive patient, and there were people observing you. We had one minute to read each task, which lasted seven minutes each, then you had 30 seconds to get to the next station. It was quite stressful.
“It was a lot more challenging, but I can see how it tested if you’d be calm in handling certain situations. It was more of a test of character. I also had a 20 minute interview.”
Other than being told she would have to do MMIs, Molly was given no information in advance.
“I did my own research to try and get an idea of what it would be like,” she explained.
Isabella Bosanko, 18, of Washington, said: “As a doctor you can be thrown into all sorts of situations and I think the MMIs help the universities to judge your character for the job better.”
Emma Hill, 18, of Whickham, has been told that her MMIs at the University of St Andrews will involve six stations, including one with an actor, and that she will be asked some ethical questions.
“I’ve been looking at the type of issues that might come up,” she said.
“In the sixth form at Emmanuel we also have the chance to follow a London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) public speaking programme and there’s a lot of emphasis on character so we can handle these situations. It’s not so daunting for us,” added Emma.
Alex Ip, 18, of Felling, added: “Coming to Emmanuel College has definitely helped me develop my character. We have to host visitors and talk to a lot of people we’re not familiar with and all that helps build your confidence.”
While aspects of the application process seek to pinpoint better the right candidates for medicine, other initiatives are designed to open up the profession to a broader cross section of students.
Alex is partnered with Durham University and Peter Stanton, 18, of Heaton, is hoping to get a place at Newcastle University, with which he is partnered. The system aims to encourage access by students from certain postcode areas or whose families have no record of university education.
Matthew Bell, 18, of Whickham who is partnered with Newcastle University to study dentistry, said: “It is a pressure because you can’t pick and choose which university you go for. I really want to go to Newcastle because it’s a great course in a great city. Being partnered with them takes the pressure off a little bit.”
Being partnered has other advantages, such as early university experiences.
Alex added: “During the summer holidays I attended a summer school where there were lectures for first year students, an exam and group projects. It was really good as an experience of what it’s like to be a med student at Durham.”
At Emmanuel, students state their career interests on joining the sixth form, where there are some places each year for pupils from other schools.
Each student is allocated an academic tutor, who may not be one of their subject teachers but has relevant knowledge of their chosen higher education path.
Ibrahim Muhaidi, 18, from Newcastle, said: “I would like to study dentistry because it is a profession that allows me to combine both my love for science and business. Along with this, I will have the opportunity to positively impact people’s daily lives in terms of their confidence and their quality of life.”
Prospective medics can join Dr Howe’s Doctors’ Club to learn more about the application process and the experiences of past, as well as current, students.
Dr David Howe, who teaches biology; said: “Medicine is an extremely competitive course of study and there are a number steps our students can take to improve their chances of gaining a place at university.
“Our Doctors’ Club gives students the opportunity to support one another through the process, to meet outside speakers to discuss medicine in a wider context and to practise their interview technique. I think this extra input gives our students a competitive edge.
“We have managed to achieve a very good applicants-to-offers ratio in recent years, with a record 11 students going on to study medicine or dentistry in 2014. I’m hoping the current cohort will impress this year, they certainly deserve it.”
Peter Stanton said: “Our tutors are realistic with us. They know what grades we’re capable of and if we have the aptitude for the UKCAT. They’re encouraging, but realistic. Dr Howe is always there to help us with any queries.”
For now, the students are waiting for interviews and keeping their fingers cross for conditional offers, while, on the horizon, are the exams that they hope will lead them to being the doctors and dentists of the future.
* Emmanuel College is hosting a sixth form information evening on Wednesday, February 3, at 7.30pm. For more information, tel: 0191 460 2099.