This story is part of a series of articles from our University Counsellors highlighting the stories of alumni and the paths they have taken after graduating from SMUS. This second article of a three-part mini series focuses exclusively on pathways to direct-entry medicine not offered in Canada. You can find links to other stories in this series at the bottom of this post.
Dave’s strong SAT score helped him demonstrate his readiness for the rigours of Cambridge. Sidestepping the more general UCAT medical exam, he instead self-studied and wrote the BMAT, the exam for Oxbridge and other top medical schools like Imperial College. (NB: The BMAT has been scrapped, and the future of the UCAT is uncertain.) He completed many, many high school courses, some online during the pandemic, earning excellent grades, and even took some university courses. Like all Oxbridge applicants, he understood that he would need at least 5 APs (AP Chemistry and AP Biology among them) with a top score of 5. The late release of AP exam results can make applying to the UK very stressful: applicants with a conditional offer likely won’t know until July whether they earned the scores required for their program. With Cambridge as his goal, Dave rejected all his other offers and admits he had no plan B.
Dave is now in his second year studying medicine at Cambridge. He admits he found it “daunting” at first and even wondered whether he deserved his spot. He quickly reminded himself that he was there for the challenge and threw himself into it. He’s proud to have finished 6th in his medicine cohort of 264 in first year exams, his solid 1st class marks earning him multiple awards, scholarships, and research placements due to his academic prowess. He now feels like a legit medical student, especially on lab days where, among other things, he dissects cadavers.
While he had initially chosen Gonville & Caius College for practical reasons—it offered the most medicine places out of all Cambridge colleges (25)—he has come to love its rich history of science and is proud to follow in the footsteps of illustrious alumni, such as Stephen Hawking and Francis Crick. He now calls it “the best college not just for medicine, but in all of Cambridge!”
He appreciates the small group tutorial system which allows him a close relationship with his assigned professors, with about 5 meetings (supervisions) per week. He has adapted to the pace of writing three-to-four essays per week, but still feels pressure before tutorials. “During tutorials the profs quiz us and ask questions about the material. It’s kind of like SMUS… teachers make sure you keep up. They’re pretty strict, too.” Dave was okay, but he saw the profs focus on some students who weren’t doing very well on their assignments or exams. Five to seven percent of students fail, but since they can do rewrites, Dave has concluded that “It’s hard to get in but hard to fail out!”
Dave’s advice for SMUS students who apply to UK medicine? “Build good relationships with your teachers. Their comments on your UCAS Counsellor Reference are really important.” And if students are lucky enough to get an interview? “Review your personal statement so you can talk about anything you wrote and show you’re a likable person. And be prepared to be ‘interrogated’ on how much you like medicine.” Dave himself had written a very academic UCAS essay that opened with an anecdote about a family member whose illness and symptoms got him really interested in medicine. The professors who interviewed him asked about his family story, he recalls. Dave also advises prospective students to reach out to SMUS alumni who have been through the interview process. Dave is grateful to SMUS alum Paul Mueller (‘21) who received an offer from Imperial College, for his advice in preparing for interviews. Dave kindly offers current SMUS students the opportunity to contact him if they want help in applying.
When he finishes his six years at Cambridge, Dave has set his sights on the US. It’s not the usual path for a Cambridge grad, but given his track record, we’re sure Dave can accomplish any goal he sets for himself.
Congratulations Dave, on being awarded the prestigious Governor General's Academic Medal for your outstanding performance in your final two years at SMUS. We are thrilled for your well-deserved recognition. You embraced and worked through rewarding and challenging learning and life experiences, demonstrated passion, and consistently upheld our school values of honesty, integrity, respect, and service.