Insights for MBBS aspirants

How to Choose a Medical School

Things I wish I knew before entering med school.

Guanghua Building at Fudan University, Shanghai, China. Taken in spring 2015.

you’re reading this, chances are you’re a student who has considered becoming a doctor — be it the result of the recent Fauci effect (or you were inspired by the courageous efforts of healthcare workers battling the pandemic) or you have always dreamed of becoming a doctor ever since you were a kid. Regardless of intentions, here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing a medical school.

Hopefully, they will save you from regrets.

1. Ask yourself: Which country do I want to practice medicine in the future? 🌏

It might seem like a far-stretch considering you have not even entered medical school yet. Trust me on this — time waits for no one the earlier you decide where you see yourself in 10 years time, the smoother the journey; similar to setting out on a new voyage with a compass. By deciding which country you would like to practice medicine, that becomes your compass.

In order to decide upon a country, reading blogs or watching vlogs on Youtube are generally very helpful in acquiring insightful overviews of each country’s medical systems and what to expect during work. Personally, I have been exposed to the idea of working either in the US or the UK. Hence, the sources I use are: The Savy IMG, Road to UK and Med School Insiders.

Ideally, it would be best to enroll in a medical school in the country you wish to work in, as everything would be taught in accordance to their national guideline. Additionally, you’ll gain first-hand experience of their health care system throughout your education and during internship year.

2. If it is impossible to enroll into a medical school in your desired country, are you keen to spend your university years away from home? ✈️

Once you’ve decided to study abroad, have a discussion with your parents whether it would be financially possible, as medical tuition is usually more expensive than other majors. It is also around 6 years long (for the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery program, short for MBBS), compared to the majority 4 year-long undergraduate programs.

If you’re unable to study in that particular country, consider other options if you’re still keen on pursuing your studies overseas and that your parents are supportive of your decision. For an Indonesian who graduated from a med school in China, and currently sitting for the UK licensing exams, I can assure you that your end goal is still attainable. Since there are many ways to get to where you want to be, might as well enjoy the journey right? ☺️

Word of advice: Choose a country where you understand the language, even if the medical program advertises that everything is taught in English. Period.

I could not begin to stress how important this point is.

Almost all of my international classmates who had zero proficiency in the Chinese language had a horrible experience, despite the fact that our program was taught in English. Their challenges mainly stemmed in daily conversations with landlords, shop keepers, admin staffs, counselors and patients during bedside teaching or internship year. What’s even more devastating is finding out that tons of seminars were held in a language you don’t comprehend! RIP.

Bear in mind that medicine goes beyond learning within classroom walls. Throughout your medical education, you will be interacting and communicating with patients. Being unable to understand what they say due to a language barrier is a stressful experience that I wish nobody would go through.

To further strengthen my point on patient interaction, here I present a quote by Sir William Osler, who integrated bedside teaching into the medical curriculum that we have today:

“He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all.”

3. Ensure the medical school is registered in the World Directory 📑

There are tons of medical schools worldwide. The World Directory of medical schools contains a list of universities that are capable of providing their students with a proper teaching program leading to a basic medical qualification. With this qualification, it enables the holder to obtain a medical license (usually after passing the country’s medical license exam, such as the PLAB for UK or USMLE for US) to work as a doctor.

Most government regulatory bodies, such as the UK’s General Medical Council, grant medical licenses to international medical graduates who have their medical qualifications awarded by medical schools registered in the World Directory, provided that they pass the country’s licensing exams of course.

4. Do you know anyone who has attended the university? Where are they now? 💭

What better way to gain insight about an institution than to consult someone who has walked the path before you. Social media is a resourceful platform for your ‘stalking needs’ to get in touch with prospective seniors. Ask about the curriculum; whether they think the university has prepared them well for internship year (which is a simulation of the real world) or during their medical license exam studies; do they regret being in that university, etc,. You may even ask about their take on other countries’ medical schools — it could have been something they considered previously.

Don’t be shy about reaching out — medics are usually friendly and oftentimes more than willing to share their experiences with others — helping people is almost an innate trait for most of us!

Additional tips: 🔖

Lastly, when you’ve decided on a medical school, make sure to search for scholarship offers upon entry into freshmen year. If this is not advertised on the school’s website, be sure to ask during interview day or send the school an email.

I hope this post has been helpful in finding a suitable medical school for you.

All the best in getting enrolled! You’re in for a treat.

See you in the next post.

Love, Alice ❤️