Postgraduate Medicine – An Alternate Pathway

Posted on September 25, 2015 by Nigel Tse

Current Matrix Physics teacher, Nigel Tse undertook his undergraduate studies at the University of Sydney, and graduated from a Bachelor of Medical Science with Honours. He also has a Masters in Neuroscience from the University of Sydney. Nigel recently completed the GAMSAT Exam, and shares his knowledge and experience of the postgraduate Medicine application process.

 

What I aim to achieve in this article is to inform students aspiring to undertake postgraduate studies in Medicine. A postgraduate degree in general is any tertiary level degree that can only be undertaken if the student has already obtained and graduated from a bachelor’s degree from a tertiary institution such as a university. Therefore students opting to take up postgraduate Medicine must have a completed undergraduate degree.

 

Postgraduate Medicine vs Undergraduate Medicine

The underlying reason why Medicine exists as a postgraduate degree is because it selects students who are more mature and professional in their demeanour in comparison to students enrolling straight from high school. This is not to say undergraduate Medicine is lesser of a course because it mainly only enrols high school leavers. Medical schools with an undergraduate program will compensate by concentrating more time on building professionalism and maturity in their students, which is theoretically assumed to be inherent in postgraduate students since those qualities are assumed to be acquired during their undergraduate studies.

There are clearly more differences between undergraduate and postgraduate medicine which can be found through researching undergraduate and postgraduate medical school websites. The purpose of this article however, is to briefly inform students on how they can go about enrolling in postgraduate Medicine and what needs to be achieved before they are eligible for enrolment.

 

Do Your Research

Before enrolling into a postgraduate Medicine course, you need to ensure all criteria are met at the time of application. Different medical schools have different criteria for eligibility but they all have 3 essential requirements:

  1. A completed undergraduate bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) from a recognised institution
  2. A high Grade Point Average (GPA) from your undergraduate degree
  3. A competitive GAMSAT score

Obviously, the most important component in achieving eligibility is the undergraduate course. If your ultimate academic goal is to take postgraduate Medicine, make sure you do your research before choosing and enrolling in your undergraduate course. In general, postgraduate Medicine courses do not require a specific undergraduate course to be taken for meeting the eligibility criteria. However, it is advisable to pay close attention to your medical school of choice because some universities require certain prerequisite subjects that can only be studied within certain degrees.

To put things in perspective, most students that undertake the postgraduate Medicine route of study come from undergraduate degrees with science or health-related course backgrounds. However, researching your preferred postgraduate medical school criteria is crucial before commencing any undergraduate study. A list of universities that currently offer postgraduate Medicine is shown below. I encourage you to check each medical school’s website and have a search around on the internet for additional information regarding each university’s medical program before coming up with your shortlist of preferred universities.

 

Enrol and Begin Your Undergraduate Degree

After selecting your shortlist of universities for postgraduate Medicine, you can go ahead with your undergraduate course selection. You do not need to attend an undergraduate course within the same university as your preferred postgraduate Medicine course. However, a few postgraduate medicine universities do favour and give preference to students who have completed an undergraduate course at their university (eg. Flinders University). But, as I said, this favouritism only applies in rare cases. Most postgraduate medical schools do not take into account the origin of your undergraduate study.

Pick the undergraduate course that interests you the most and worry less about meeting any postgraduate medicine criteria. Otherwise, you’ll end up tolerating your undergraduate course rather than embracing and enjoying it. At the same time, pay attention to any prerequisite subjects and courses that your preferred medical schools have enforced. Additionally, most postgraduate medical schools require that the undergraduate degree be a minimum of three (full-time) years in duration for eligibility into their postgraduate medical course. Whichever undergraduate degree you choose, just enjoy it! Who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy it so much that you opt out of studying Medicine and move in to other career opportunities that you fancy!

 

Your University Grades Count

Relating back to the three essential requirements for enrolment into a postgraduate Medicine course, you need to ensure that you are doing well academically in your undergraduate course. It is important to do the research and preparation for entry into medicine courses, but if in the end you fail your undergraduate course subjects, it really puts you in a difficult situation where getting into a medical school with low grades will be almost impossible.

Most universities track academic performance in undergraduate degrees with the GPA, which is a point system that basically takes the average of all your subjects within your degree to obtain your overall GPA score. Different universities have different methods of calculating GPA’s but the general rule is that credits give ~5.5 scores, whilst distinctions in subjects gives ~6.5, and high distinctions 7. Taking the average score of all your subjects results in an overall GPA that is out of 7. Clearly, the closer your GPA is to 7, the greater your chances of obtaining admission into your medical school of choice. Some medical schools have minimum GPA requirements whilst others take the average of your GPA score and your GAMSAT score, so make sure you become familiar with your medical school’s academic requirements.

A group of universities that offer postgraduate Medicine as a degree also go beyond the essential three selection criteria to incorporate their own criteria that they take into consideration when selecting eligible medical student candidates. One common criterion involves looking into a student’s participation in extracurricular activities (e.g. the University of Wollongong). Extracurricular activities that are taken into consideration are those that reflect the medical student ethos, such as participation in overseas volunteer aid programs and running charity events.  Not all medical schools look into a student’s extracurricular portfolio, but it’s still great to participate in such activities for life experience!

 

The GAMSAT Exam

After obtaining an undergraduate degree (and also doing well in it academically), the next step is to take the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT). This exam is run externally by the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) and is held annually in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. All universities that offer postgraduate Medicine use the GAMSAT score as a way of ranking and comparing the academic ability of candidates.

The admissions test is an intensive 6-hour examination that tests many aspects of a candidate’s academic ability. Advice on preparing for the GAMSAT is beyond the scope of this article, however information on the test itself and study tips can be collected via online resources and through the official GAMSAT website. In brief, the examination is split into three sections1:

Section Duration Topic Areas Tested
Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences 10 mins reading time
100 mins writing time
Multiple choice questions based on comprehending information on written stimuli such as poems and novel excerpts
Written Communication 5 mins reading time
60 mins writing time
Written section that involves writing two essays on two topics given during the exam
Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences 10 mins reading time
170 mins writing time
Multiple choice questions based on science topics: biology, chemistry and physics

Notice from the above table outlining the general format of the GAMSAT Examination, that there is a section which tests knowledge of biology, chemistry and physics. In theory, Biology and Chemistry are examined at first-year university level, and Physics content is examined at high school level. Clearly, this is the reason as to why most candidates that do well in the GAMSAT and ultimately gain admission into a postgraduate Medicine course come from science undergraduate backgrounds. However, this is not to say that non-science-orientated individuals will find it impossible to gain admission. Entry into Medicine can come from all types of undergraduate courses.

The GAMSAT score is valid for 2 years, and the GAMSAT Exam can be taken during the penultimate year of your undergraduate degree. For example, if your degree runs for 3 years full-time, then you could take the GAMSAT during the second year so that by the time your degree ends, you can apply for postgraduate Medicine with that GAMSAT score. You can sit the test once a year, for as many years as you like. Students are then allowed to pick which score they would like to use during medical school application time. Ideally, this would be your highest score, but remember, GAMSAT scores only last for two years, that is, two medical school admission cycles.

 

The Medicine Interview

Once you have obtained your bachelor’s degree with a (hopefully) high GPA, together with your GAMSAT score you can finally make the effort to apply for your preferred medical schools. There are a few things you need to keep in mind when applying. Firstly, some universities allow you to apply during your penultimate year of your undergraduate degree so keep a close eye on eligible application times for your university of choice. Secondly, many universities that offer postgraduate Medicine are part of an overarching organisation known as the GEMSAS Consortium, listed below:

  • Australian National University
  • Deakin University
  • Griffith University
  • Monash University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • The University of Notre Dame
  • The University of Queensland
  • The University of Western Australia
  • University of Wollongong

 

The GEMSAS (Graduate Entry Medical School Admissions System) consortium of medical schools aims to provide convenience when applying for medical schools within the consortium. GEMSAS allows candidates to make a single application and only have to sit a single interview, even when applying for multiple schools. The system allows candidates to select medical schools in order of preference, much like the UAC method of selecting preferences when making your undergraduate degree choices.

 

There are aspects that you need to be aware of when applying for a GEMSAS medical school. First, even though all universities under GEMSAS use the same application system, they each have their own eligibility criteria, which is why I encourage you to do your research early on. Secondly, there are some universities that offer postgraduate Medicine that are not affiliated with GEMSAS, such as the University of Sydney. Therefore, if you intend on applying for these unaffiliated medical schools, you will need to make separate applications and sit separate interviews. Finally, over time some medical schools may opt out of the GEMSAS group due to a variety of reasons. Therefore, it is important that you keep track of which of your preferred universities are part of the consortium and which are not.

 

All medical schools (except the University of Queensland) require that eligible candidates sit an interview before being considered for entry into postgraduate Medicine. Being offered an interview means you have met the university’s selection criteria and it is your ticket into studying Medicine at your preferred university! There are two main methods that universities adopt when carrying out interviews. There is the semi-structured interview (SS) and the multiple-mini-interview (MMI). After the interview, the university will rank you against all other candidates based on 3 main criteria:

  1. Your undergraduate GPA
  2. Your elected GAMSAT score
  3. Your performance during the interview

 

A more detailed analysis of how each university calculates ranked scores shown in the table below. Keep in mind some medical schools take portfolios into consideration2.

GPA GAMSAT Interview Other
Australian National University 25% 25% 50%
Deakin University 33% 33% 33%
Flinders University 33% 33% 33%
Griffith University 25% 25% 50%
Monash University 40% 60%
The University of Melbourne 33% 33% 33%
The University of Notre Dame 17% 17% 50% 16% Portfolio
The University of Queensland 100% N/A
The University of Sydney 50% 50%
The University of Western Australia 33% 33% 33%
The University of Wollongong 50% 50% Portfolio

Hopefully we have provided a feasible description of postgraduate Medicine. There is obviously a lot more detail to the above information and the facts shown are always subject to change throughout the years. But hopefully, it will help you get the ball rolling with your postgraduate medicine study research. Good luck!

 

Please note that the information provided in this blog article is subject to change without prior notice by the institutions mentioned above. Matrix Education bears no responsibility for any inaccurate or outdated information. Please refer to each university’s website for the most up-to-date information.

 

Sources:

1. The Australian Council for Education Research 2014, GAMSAT Information Booklet 2015, Victoria, Australia, viewed 16 September 2015, <https://gamsat.acer.edu.au/files/GAMSAT_Info_Booklet_15.pdf>

2. Ellipsoid 2014, Criteria and Weightings, viewed 16 September 2015, <http://www.ellipsoid.org/gmi/admissions-info/criteria-and-weightings>

 

 

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