A career as a medical doctor is highly sought after, and thousands of students and professionals across Australia aspire to study medicine every year. There is no doubt that it is an exciting, challenging, and multi-faceted career, however many can be put off by the equally challenging and multi-stage application process.
Whether you're in high school, studying an undergraduate degree, or already working in another field, you may need to start preparing early if you’re considering a career in medicine.
In this article, we'll take a look at the requirements for both undergraduate and graduate medicine applications in Australia.
Please note: this article in no way intends to substitute official information from the universities and other relevant organisations so always ensure you check with your desired university for their specific entry requirements.
Applying for Undergraduate Medical Studies in Australia
For those applying to undergraduate medicine in Australia, eligibility is generally based on a combination of your high school and UCAT ANZ exam results, and (if offered) performance in an interview. Aspiring medical students should also pay attention to what subjects to study in high school. Of course, studying subjects that provide a solid science foundation would be advantageous, however is not necessarily required by the universities. The University of Sydney have mathematics as a prerequisite subject. Generally, universities that do not have prerequisite subjects recommend that students take Year 12 Chemistry (or equivalent).
The minimum Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) requirements differ between universities, and between students from different backgrounds such as rural or remote. However, students who do not achieve a high enough ATAR should not give up on their medical career, as there are many options for the graduate medical pathway.
Applying for Postgraduate Medical Studies in Australia
For graduate medicine, eligibility depends on many factors. Firstly, applicants must have completed at least a Bachelor’s degree. This does not need to be in an area related to medicine, so students from any undergraduate background may apply. There are also no benefits awarded to applicants from a related background, however Deakin University will award bonus points for prior clinical experience.
Importantly, most universities do not require prerequisite medical studies. The University of Melbourne will be phasing out their current prior knowledge requirements, and the University of Queensland will be implementing prerequisite studies from the 2022 intake onwards.
Many aspiring medical students may therefore choose to take their undergraduate studies as an opportunity to broaden their horizons, however many will decide on a Bachelor’s in Biomedical Science (or similar) to provide a solid foundation before starting medical school. There are of course pros and cons to each approach, and what works best will depend on the individual.
Arguably the most important consideration is how prepared you would like to be for your first few months as a postgraduate medical student. Given that there seems to be an increasing focus throughout medical programs to get students out of the lecture theatre and into the hospitals as soon as possible, having any background in chemistry and biology is highly beneficial.
The sheer amount of content that medical students are expected to learn and retain in such a short amount of time can be extremely challenging, but a background in the medical sciences can help with this. On the other hand, this approach generally requires a high GPA so may not be the best option for every students. If studying chemistry will drag down your GPA and harm your competitiveness, perhaps considering an alternative way to prepare yourself for medicine would be more strategic.
The results you get during your Bachelor’s degree are also important considerations when applying for a postgraduate medicine program. Offers for interviews will be based on an applicant's GPA, which can either be weighted or unweighted and will vary depending on completion of any postgraduate studies, combined with the GAMSAT score.
The GAMSAT exam
The GAMSAT exam is the admissions test for graduate medicine. This test is feared as a great hurdle for many, as it involves a gruelling 5.5 hours of MCQs and essay-writing covering topics across both the humanities and the sciences. Generally (however it does vary greatly), graduate medical schools have a minimum GPA around 5.0 and GAMSAT score around 50. Competitive scores are often much higher than this.
Some medical programs in Australia will require a portfolio
In addition to GPA and GAMSAT results, the University of Wollongong and Notre Dame require applicants to complete a portfolio outlining experiences that demonstrate specific desired qualities for a career in medicine, for example leadership. Applying to these universities can therefore be a strategic move for anyone with a diverse background of formative experiences, such as volunteering, musical, and sporting achievements.
Consider your university based on your GPA vs GAMSAT scores
Universities weigh admissions criteria differently for both interview and final place offers, so being familiar with which a university weights higher can be advantageous to applicants. For example, if you have a low GPA and a high GAMSAT score, you may consider applying to universities that attribute great weight to GAMSAT than GPA in their ranking process.
Every year, GEMSAS, the organisation who facilitate the admissions process for the majority of graduate medical schools in Australia, release a Medicine Applications Guide detailing these criteria. Applicants should carefully read and understand this document. Furthermore, the University of Sydney, Flinders University and Monash University all have individual application systems.
Interviewing is the last step to applying for medical school
Of course, lastly, final offers for a place in a graduate medical school will depend on your performance in an interview. Similarly, to the other aspects of the medical admissions process, each university has a unique approach to interviews, and the University of Wollongong even include an additional aptitude test that students must complete.
Whilst it can seem daunting reading about the necessary preparation and hurdles that students must overcome when applying for medicine, the multi-faceted nature of the applications process is designed to assess applicants’ suitability for a career in medicine. These hurdles are only the beginning of a lifelong of learning and facing great challenges in what may be considered one of the most dynamic, demanding, and rewarding career paths one can take.
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About the author
Elisa is in her final year of graduate medical studies in Perth, Australia, and a member of the team at GradReady, the largest GAMSAT preparation provider in Australia.