The Path from School to Surgery

Final Years of School

The first step on a career path to becoming a surgeon is to study medicine at university. There are over 30 medical schools throughout the UK, with most courses taking around five years to complete. The requirements for entrance to each medical school vary; some may require particular subjects and also require you to sit additional examinations (such as UKCAT or BMAT) for entrance, as well as achieve a particular standard of grade. In every case, it would be wise to start the foundations of your application a long time before your UCAS form is due to be submitted.

When thinking about applying to study medicine it is worth spending some time thinking about where you would like to study and why. Look through the various entrance requirements, but also look at the way courses are structured and how they are taught, as although the curriculum is the same, there are various ways that medicine is taught and learned in the UK. Some universities use a problem-based approach to learning, while others use an integrated systems-based style or teach with a traditional pre-clinical/clinical split. Your school careers staff member should be able to help explain each type of course and give you an idea of what to expect.

You will need to work towards achieving the required grades for entrance during your final years at school, but you will also need to think about building up some relevant work experience. Contact your local NHS trust or your own General Practitioner for details about work experience placements, and consider looking into other opportunities like working as a volunteer in a care home or hospice. Showing that you are willing to do some hard work in a hospital/care environment will look good on your application and also give you some valuable experience. Also think about the activities you do outside of the classroom like sports or music. Anything requiring teamwork and which shows you are a well-rounded person will be appealing to a medical school and stand you in good stead for a medical or surgical career.

Ensure that you get the appropriate vaccinations needed to start medical school in plenty of time - the Hepatitis B vaccination is required by some schools at the start of the course and can take 9 months to complete. It is also vital that you work hard on your personal statement. Don't leave this to the last minute, and make sure that you ask someone to read over this, to check for typing errors and ensure that your statement is as clear as possible.

Your Interview for University

If you manage to get an interview at a medical school or schools, well done. You are one step closer to achieving your goal. There are several key things you can do to prepare for these interviews. The most important thing you can do is to practice as much as possible. Use teachers, careers advisors, parents, friends; whoever you can, to ask you practice questions.

If you don't already, it is worth keeping up-to-speed on any medically related stories in the media. Start keeping an eye on publications designed for medical students so that you know of any relevant issues, and make sure that you read around any current stories so that you understand all points of view.

You should also ensure that you have given much thought to your reasons why you want to study medicine, and why you want to apply to a particular medical school; these are questions that you will almost certainly be asked. It is also worthwhile having a good knowledge of the roles of other healthcare professionals, to know the various career paths that might follow post graduation from medical school and how long they might feasibly take, and to be aware of the characteristics and skills needed for a career in medicine/surgery and how well your abilities fit in with these.

Mature and Overseas Student Entry

The entrance requirements and procedures for mature and overseas students vary between universities. Please visit the medical school websites for more information.

At University and Beyond

While you are at university you should consider joining the College's Affiliate Network which is open to all medical students with an interest in pursuing a career surgery.

Beyond your years at medical school, you can look forward to many further years of training to become a surgeon. Immediately after finishing medical school, all graduates are required to work for two years as foundation doctors, which involves work in a hospital, and sometimes in a GP surgery doing several different rotations, in both medicine and surgery. Most foundation doctors will have decided by the end of their foundation years which specialty they wish to pursue and at this stage will begin applying for training posts.

After completion of two to three 'core' training years, and having successfully passed the Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) examination, surgical trainees then begin several years of working and training to acquire all the skills necessary to pass their surgical fellowship examinations (FRCS) and become a consultant in their specialty.

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