Postgraduate entry into medical school does not achieve nearly as much attention and discussion as it should. Here are some insights and ‘what you should know’ about this entry scheme as well as some tips on how to make the most of your study habits to enter the medical profession!
While this is probably relevant for both Medical schools in New Zealand, my experiences and tips focus particularly towards postgraduate entry into Auckland Medical School.
Disclaimer: this advice is based upon my journey through a Bachelor of Science majoring in Biomedical Science, but there are people entering medicine as postgraduates from various degrees, ages and experiences so do not get discouraged to apply!
First off, I will express how valuable I found entering medical studies as a graduate. I had developed my study habits, knew some of the content already, was familiar with the university environment, and could juggle personal and educational life, as well as do it effectively for this demanding degree!
For information on undergraduate entry, check out our step-by-step guide here.
Step 0: Do You Really Want to Do Medicine?
This may sound rather absurd, but many students who have never wanted to study anything but medicine drop the idea after seeing the gains and experiences in other degrees.
This is probably a prime example of thinking of medicine as the ultimate career due to various influences rather than an informed choice. In reality, explorations of other subjects may lead you towards them with greater fulfilment.
The key tip here is to progress with your degree with an open mind.
Don’t use it only as a stepping stone to enter medicine because you may end up finding it more fulfilling as a career! Personally, I know people who wanted to do medicine but got so attracted to the idea of research they did not even attempt to apply to medicine!
Editor’s Note: I know many students who will see this as “losing” or “straying from the path”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. What is really happening is that they are discovering their true path, rather than being blindly infatuated with the idea of a path.
By this stage, having done at least a bachelor’s degree, sometimes even an Honours or Masters, with relevant experience up your sleeve, if you still feel the drive to go towards medicine, the pathway is open!
Now many would say, “oh you wasted so many years and money already and now you want to waste more?”.
It isn’t a wrong question; it just needs an open-minded answer: “I thought I would enjoy it, I didn’t so I want to go and study medicine for a more fulfilling career.”
Many still ask me, how did you know while doing your BSc that you wanted to apply to medical school? Every time I took my diabetic mother to the doctor for her routine check-ups or other issues, I’d always end up understanding the science behind her problems better because I was learning about it as part of my science degree, but more importantly, seeing it in a clinical perspective. Discussions with the kind family doctor about the career, about translating science into the clinic continued to fascinate and attract me. I knew I did not enjoy lab research nearly as much as I would enjoy doctor-patient interactions. Therefore, I pursued on.
Editor’s Note: And this could even change again after studying medicine for a number of years (as it often does)! As we accumulate more experience and knowledge about our decisions, we reduce the risk of being wrong, but that risk is never eliminated. When we have more information to work with, the wise move is to make the best decision at that moment, with the latest information available to you.
You may still decide to go towards medicine, which is awesome, but you must at least you put sincere thought into other careers to decide where you find most fulfilment! This way, if you decide to do medicine, you would lay the groundwork for all the oncoming hard work and ensure your hard work pays off by keeping you in the career for longer!
💡 TIP: Discuss the career with doctors and medical students to learn about the little details which are important in making a career choice. These details might be otherwise ignored in the fallacy and bias created through TV shows and word of mouth.
✋ Have you checked out SubCut, our medical podcast? We talk about the life and realities of medical school and being a doctor. Find it on Youtube, Spotify, iTunes, or any other podcast player!
Step 1: Choosing Your Medical School
For graduate entry, the criteria for both universities are similar, but with subtle differences.
Auckland Medical School
While the best place to search for this information is on the official website of the university, just as a summary, they require applicants to have completed either of “a Bachelor’s degree, a post-graduate degree or a post-graduate diploma in the minimum academic time” within five years of the date of application.
They specify the grade point average (GPA) requirements as 6.0, however, entry is rather competitive, and you should aim to maintain a GPA of at least 8.0-8.25 for the entire degree! That’s achieving a minimum of A for every paper or balancing every A- with an A+.
Editor’s Note: If you did not do well in the first year of University, bear in mind that the second and third year are more difficult and demanding. It is strongly recommended to invest significant time and effort into improving your study and self-management skills. Students who were significantly lacking in these skills in the first year are unlikely to develop these soon enough to succeed in later years, inevitably repeating their same mistakes every year!
*They define the weighting of GPA as 60% of your entry into the programme.
Otago Medical School
Referring to the official website, they require “a bachelor’s degree, or a bachelor’s Honors degree, or a bachelor’s degree followed by a postgraduate diploma” within three years of the date of application, given that the degree is the first university degree of the applicant.
*While they do not define a minimum GPA as a requirement, it accounts for 70% of your entry.
Keeping these factors in mind, as well as your personal situations (e.g. when you last completed your degree, where you live/want to live, which university’s medical programme appeals more to you), make an informed decision about which medical school best suits your situation.
Some key factors worth mentioning in this section are:
- Both universities require you to sit the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) in your year of application, i.e. the year before you would likely start the medical programme. Entry weighting for Otago is the remaining 30% of your entry, while at Auckland, only 15%, although it accounts for a lot more recently because a large percentage of applicants achieve near-perfect 9.0 GPA.
- The University of Auckland requires you to complete a Multi Mini Interview (MMI), worth the remaining 25% of your entry for which you are only shortlisted if your GPA requirements and UCAT belong in the top range of all applicants. The University of Otago has no interview requirements.
TIP: Explore both the UCAT and MMI carefully. You may find it easier to score or prepare for one over the other. Remember you can apply to both schools within the same year if you choose to, given you meet the qualification requirements.
QUESTION: “Can I apply once after completing my bachelor’s degree and if unsuccessful apply again after completing a postgraduate diploma?”
In a simple answer, yes!
Step 2: Choosing the Correct Post-Graduate Pathway
This is another daunting prospect but truthfully, engineers turn doctors, scientists turn doctors, teachers turn doctors and nurses turn doctors! There are numerous graduate pathways you can take leading up to medicine, but I think this can be divided into two categories:
#1 After an unsuccessful first year of University.
This category tends to form a large part of graduate entrants.
When people move on from the experience of not getting accepted, there are a certain number of pathways you can take.
- Continue as is – You could continue the journey you started; for example, BSc, majoring in Biomedical Science and run that to completion while taking papers defined by the university under that major, or…
- Continue with changes – You could continue with the same degree i.e. BSc, but change your major to practically anything which is offered under that degree. This may see people changing their majors to Psychology, Physiology, Food Science and many more and taking courses outlined under the respective courses. This may seem like the whole first year is wasted but it is a lot easier to do than most people think. This is because a lot of first-year papers tend to be common to these different majors, so you don’t need to do them again, but rather alter the future courses you take and tailor them to your desired major.
- Restart – You could also completely disregard the first-year courses and switch to an entirely different degree, for example, a Bachelor of Engineering, or Commerce or Law or anything else and still try for medicine in case you don’t enjoy that too! Again, just one year “wasted” is trivial compared to the decades of studying you are going to be travelling down, and it’s an investment that may pay off significantly in the long-run, especially if you have an interest in merging your two fields later in your profession (e.g. medical law, medical engineering and technology, medical management, etc.)
- Restart with conjoint – There is also an option to include another degree with adding another year to your studies and do a conjoint, for example, a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Business conjoint which rewards you with two separate degrees! Still not satisfied? You can try again for medicine after this pathway too!
- Continue and post-graduate studies – Or you could complete your degree, add another year to graduate with Honors following a research project if you want to explore whether research suits your careers goals better and come back to medicine if it doesn’t fulfil you!
Don’t forget to utilize the university degree planning services and website to find a major which is best suited to your interests so you can keep that GPA up! It’s easier, more enjoyable and more useful to get a high GPA in a difficult field of interest than an easier field of boredom!
Each of these pathways offers their unique advantages. Identify where you want to take your career and how you can best build the pathway you most desire. Your “chances” of medical entry depend overwhelmingly on your study and self-management techniques anyway, so each pathway can be considered realistically equivalent in terms of entry probability, although there may be some marginal differences theoretically.
#2 After completing an entirely non-medical degree within the time frame, but then wanting to do medicine.
This is the other group which may encompass people all the way from a Music to a Nursing background.
While I must commend this category’s courage to pursue a complete change in career, they may have to put in a little bit of extra work to make up for the science background they may lack. It doesn’t mean you won’t be considered for medicine, it just means that if you get accepted into the programme (which will be from Year 2 onwards), you may have to compensate for some background science papers which are required and truly helpful for knowledge and principles before beginning your medical degree.
These are not exclusive to this group and are taken by all medical students in the first premed year of the medical programme.
💡 As far as deciding which pathway to take, know that there are more than you think. Explore the university website and get in touch directly with the university to find the pathway which works best for your goals and experiences. But it is handy to know that you can come back for medicine graduate entry in multiple ways!
Step 3: Maintaining Your GPA
When you have laid the groundwork, decided you want to pursue medicine, ensured you know as much as you possibly can about the realities of the career, its time to do the hard yards.
In a typical bachelor’s degree, you would take three years to complete 360 points, typically spread over 24 individual papers with around 4 papers every semester. It is important to keep certain things in mind when going ahead to choose papers in your degree:
#1 – Gain an insight into the course before you embark on it for an entire semester
The university website does a great job of explaining individual course structures, its contents as well as assessments and their weightage as part of the course. Remember we need to try for that A+ in every course throughout the degree!
Some questions to consider are:
- Does the course content appeal to you?
- Are you going to enjoy the course and put in efforts to achieve a good grade?
These are key to maintaining the high GPA requirements for medicine! A great resource to gain some past students’ insight is Student Course Review. Some brutal truths and sometimes handy tips to tackle different papers are on here. Another great resource is SAMS UoA (Student Association for the Medical Sciences). They review and break down individual papers, especially the Biomedical and Physiology degrees at Auckland
#2 – Set up good study habits and improve efficiency
Critical to maintaining a high GPA for an entire programme is consistency! Early on in your university journey, which is indeed very different to high school, while your friend may only learn best by attending lectures physically, you may achieve best in saving that time to study and rely on online lecture recordings to fit your learning techniques.
A lot of first year goes in to adjusting to the university environment, but unfortunately grades may suffer! To avoid falling into this situation, use resources available efficiently to define study methods which work best for you! Just because your friends learn best by using one technique, does not mean you will.
Explore all resources and define efficient study techniques early on and while the freedom university offers with schedule and attendance, force yourself to stick to an efficient study schedule and learn to retain knowledge, not just sit an exam!
⚡ This article is a good starting point, but there are also resources posted daily on Dr Justin Sung’s Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram (@drjustinsung). If you’re looking for a full course, visit Finding Gravity, which specialises in this.
#3 – Time Management
It cannot be stressed enough that progressing through a degree only gets more difficult from first through to the third year. Lecturers often give you a basic concept and encourage you to go out and read publications to extend your knowledge rather than spoon-feeding you facts you can recite back in the exams.
Imagine reading about two articles for every paper you take in each week, besides your lectures, labs and assignments. The workload piles up quickly, therefore, time management must kick in quickly!
Time management tips are also posted on Dr Justin Sung’s Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram (@drjustinsung). If you’re looking for a full course, visit Finding Gravity, which also includes a time management section.
#4 – Consistency and Reflection
Effort can be undermined if you are not consistent, especially to maintain the high GPAs needed to enter medicine. A successful semester does not guarantee another successful semester without the consistent effort and work which goes into it.
For those who are closed-mindedly only using a degree as a stepping stone towards medicine, I suggest open-mindedly reflecting on papers you study in your degree and analyze how and what you do to get a certain grade, both at an individual paper as well as semester level. Compare that with other techniques which may have worked better and work to improve your grades if need be.
#5 – Try and include UCAT and MMI preparation into your routine
It is easy to fall into the trap of leaving UCAT and MMI preparation for the last few months, but in all honesty, a key advantage of postgraduate entry in comparison to undergraduate entry is the number of years you can put into the preparation. Inter-semester breaks and summer breaks in which people are undeniably having fun, a keen medical applicant would utilize these days to prepare for the daunting UCAT!
Editor’s Note: This isn’t to say you can’t have fun! But it may be prudent to dedicate at least some regular time during these down-periods to prepare more comprehensively.
Setting up time weekly to consistently prepare for the test rather than ‘fluking it’ gives you a better chance, especially because UCAT and MMI are major determinants of medical entry. They say “hindsight is 20/20”. But this isn’t something you want to be saying at the end of your degree!
#6 – Don’t study only to get a good grade for medical entry
This may sound rather obvious but don’t study only to get a grade and forget about the learnings after the final exam.
Surely and truly, especially if you have science-based subjects, what you learnt in your degree is what you might encounter in medical studies as well. So, having the knowledge and only needing to reinforce rather than re-learning them is easier and more efficient! This is where step two plays key!
Similarly, don’t forget to maintain those awesome learning habits and discoveries, because entry into medical school is not the destination, it is the beginning of the journey you have been working so hard to begin in the first place!
#7 – Keep up with university course and degree requirements and have a backup plan
It can be easy to forget university requirements amidst juggling university altogether.
Do not forget to keep up with the university’s degree planners where they outline some ‘core’ courses which are essential to complete a given degree and electives which we can use to fill up rest of the gaps to have a correct number of courses to finish that degree.
Editor’s Note: The University can (and has done in the past) change requirements for your future application in the middle of your degree. You need to be able to keep up and adapt to these changes.
Furthermore, keep in mind the requirements for any other programmes you might be applying to study. Unforeseen circumstances always arise and having a backup plan increases your safety without taking away from your determination to achieve Plan A.
For example, my back up plan was to do an Honors year in Biomedical Science if I did not get accepted to medical school for which I had to have completed at least six papers at Stage III, therefore I ensured I met that requirement if things did not go as planned.
There are many paths up the mountain and each has it’s own distinct advantages.
Think with an open mind and follow the tips in this article to maximise your chances (and experience)! All the best with your journey through education whether it focuses on medicine or not. Don’t forget to learn, explore and improve your efficiency. Graduates bring a lot of insight, ideas, maturity and knowledge into medicine!
And don’t be discouraged by the majority who take the first-year pathway!
This article has been checked for quality and reliability by…
Dr Justin SungMBChB, BMedSci (Hons – First Class), Cert Adult Learning and Teaching
Justin is a medical doctor, University of Auckland graduate, published research author, certified teacher, and founder of JTT. He has assisted thousands of students into healthcare careers since 2011, making him New Zealand’s individually most experienced medical entry expert. He regularly works with schools and organisations to help students and professionals learn more effectively.