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Getting Accepted into an Australian Medical School

Medical schools all over the world are tough to get into but entry into Australian medical schools is not as simple as achieving the highest marks in year 12 or obtaining high distinction in undergrad studies. You also need to do very well at an aptitude test and then shine brightly at the interview. No wonder that more than half of Australia’s Nobel laureates are from the field of medicine!
BY Rajyasri Rao |   2012

Indian-born Australian citizen Niyati Sharma wears her successes as a stellar medical student in a highly competitive discipline lightly. During a week of work experience compulsory in year ten of school, she chose to serve as an apprentice at a hospital, and decided for good that medicine was indeed her calling. BrainGain’s Rajyasri Rao talks to Niyati about what it has taken to get where she has and what advise she can offer for aspiring medical students.

The University of Melbourne is rated to be the best in Australia and one of the best in the world. How difficult is it to get into its medical school/course? On what basis did you make it?

Medical schools all over the world are very difficult to get into but entry into medical schools in Australia in particular is not as simple as achieving the highest mark in year 12 for a undergraduate med school entry or HD (high distinction ) in undergrad studies for post-grad medicine.

I did the six year undergrad medicine program at the University of Adelaide which comprises of PBL (problem-based learning). As a year 12 student, I had to take 6 subjects of which English and Math was a prerequisite for entry into medical school.

In the midst of this, I had to sit for UMAT, an aptitude test which ranked me against all applicants nationally and put me in the candidature for interviews. I was successful in obtaining a certain mark in my UMAT exam to entitle me to obtain a seat for an interview for the schools I had applied.  Out of the three I applied to, I got accepted to two interviews. 

Prior to receiving your final year 12 mark, you have to attend an hour long interview at the university you have applied to, which I did.

Every university has its own style of conducting interviews. In some I had to answer ethical questions such as ‘If you made a wrong decision and the patient had adverse effects, what would you do?’ In others I was asked why I chose to do medicine, give an example of teamwork that went well or didn't go well and why and so on.

The interview can have up to three people on the panel depending on the university.

After the interview, each university ranks their candidates according to the UMAT score, interview Score and Year 12 score. You then get offered a seat if you are in the top 120 seats that the university has.

So you can see the process is not simple but also there is no answer to what makes an ideal candidate.  Of course, the more outspoken you are and the more extracurricular things you have done make it easier to standout in the interview. 

Post grad medicine is just as hard to get in but the only difference is that the UMAT is replaced by the GAMSAT exams.

Although you are a resident of Australia and choosing to study in the same country you live in must have felt natural, what is it about Australia's reputation in medical science and its teaching and practice that made you not want to apply to say the US or UK?

In Australia, not many people think of travelling to another country to study, in fact not many even move interstate!  This information is not readily available to all students (some like my brother who went to the top private school in Australia were provided with information and mentorship to do so which is why he went to study at Yale University in the US after school).

The other factor is that if you want to pursue do Medicine or Dentistry, it’s very hard to practice outside the country you have studied in since the degree is not recognised in any other country. 

What in your view are the key strengths of Australia's medical schools at the undergrad and post grad levels?

Australia is consistently looking at ways to improve.  They offer great facilities and resources to students to better their learning, like online modules and the famous PBL (problem based learning approach) as well as the opportunity to do an elective in remote areas of Australia at no extra cost to the student (which is only available to Australian citizens). There are no real differences between the undergrad and post grad levels except that the post grad is usually of a shorter duration.

The chief weakness of studying medicine in Australia is that you don’t get that much exposure to patients as you would in third world countries.

Which specialised fields are the most coveted and why?

The ‘ROAD’ to medicine are generally the most coveted, that is, R-radiology, 0-ophthalmology, A-anaesthetics and D-Dermatology.  This is because they offer great remuneration and offer a fantastic working life due to limited on-call/nightshifts and emergencies. 

What would be your advice to South Asian students aspiring to study medicine in terms of opportunities available to them in Australia?

I’d say do not make it your first choice unless you want to live in Australia permanently.  Medicine is a great course/career but it also comes with many responsibilities like long hours (average 80hour/week), night shifts, adverse impact on family/social life, constant studying and so on.

The only thing is that doctors in Australia get paid very well, and that may inspire some students from India to pursue it in Australia rather than in India.   

Never forget that to study in Australia especially the field of medicine for overseas students is very expensive.

Niyati Sharma completed her MBBS from the University of Adelaide in 2007 and will be specialising in Dermatology from the Australian College of Dermatology, Sydney.

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