Does my study load affect my chances of getting into medical school?
September 30, 2008 6:41 AM   Subscribe

Does my study load affect my chances of getting into (an Australian) medical school?

1.5 years into my undergraduate science degree, my AUSTUDY was cut off because I am living with my partner. This was 3 or 4 weeks into my 4th semester and I decided to withdraw so that I could concentrate on finding employment without it affecting my studies. My GPA is good and I didn't want it to drop just because of the added stress of fitting in at a new job.

I ended up taking on two jobs and I am really enjoying them; I decided to keep working full-time for a further 6 months. It worked out good because I am simultaneously studying Maths B to satisfy a pre-requisite for a better uni with a better science program.

I am saving up a lot of cash to help me out next year when I will not be able to work very much due to my studies. In Semester 1, 2009 I'm thinking of studying science (at this new university) part-time so that I can (a.) save more money, & (b.) concentrate on biochem and physics (etc.) without the pressure of other subjects, so I can ace my GAMSATs.

Then Semester 2, 2009, I will commence studying full-time again, and also go to summer school so that I can complete my degree ASAP.

My only worry is this: Will medical school boards wonder why I took a year off? Will doing 6-12 months part-time make them think my good GPA is only good because I took it easy whenever I wanted to? Will they view my "inability" to complete a 3 year undergrad degree in exactly 3 years as evidence that I may not be able to handle the medical school workload? Even if my GAMSAT score, GPA and interview were strong?

And if the answer to that is "yes", or "maybe", what's the best thing to do?

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posted by anonymous to Education (8 answers total)
I don't know how the application process works, but surely you can explain your circunstances somewhere?

In fact, you can probably spin it as an advantage. When your funding was cut off, you considered the implications and managed to find and excel at two separate jobs to stay solvent. You then re-assessed your prospects and worked hard to get into a better uni while still working full-time to support yourself. You showed foresight and resourcefulness then (hopefully) got great grades, which is much more impressive than someone similarly smart who drifted through school relying on their parents' funding and without any problems to overcome.

Make sure that they do wonder what happened to that year, then try to impress them with your answer.
posted by metaBugs at 7:12 AM on September 30, 2008

What exactly is AUSTUDY? Is your reason for loosing it academics or disciplinary based?
posted by warriorengineer at 7:50 AM on September 30, 2008

It shouldn't, but have you thought about how you're going to support yourself through med school? Very little time for work there, and difficult to do if you don't have financial support (family/ partner or govt). What you've outlined here might flag up for the admissions board that you don't have a solid support base, and that you might be more likely to have to drop out for financial reasons, which might, in turn, lead to them viewing your application less favourably. If the question arises, see if a 'personal reasons' response will suffice, but maybe don't bring it up otherwise. One of the main reasons they moved to graduate entry was to ensure early-career doctors had more life experience before being let loose on the world, but if competition for places is fierce you want as few disadvantages as possible.

But start saving and researching financial assistance now! There are quite a few scholarships available if you are willing to practice in a rural area after graduating, for eg. The med school you're interested in should have a links page.
posted by goo at 8:31 AM on September 30, 2008

On non-preview: Austudy is a government financial support scheme for students in Australia. If you are living with a partner who has income above a certain level then you become ineligible (your partner is supposed to support you). Nothing academic or disciplinary and nothing to do with the university, but even welfare states have conditions and limits. I wouldn't have finished university as quickly as I did without it.
posted by goo at 8:37 AM on September 30, 2008

Just looking at UQ's entry requirements for medical school (Queensland's only option) and they list it as Approved Degree with a GPA of 5 or better. They do not state, must have never gone part-time, or any other quirk. That's it, approved degree with GPA 5 or better. As someone who used to assess students for another graduate program at UQ (not medical at all), I can tell you, it's vital that the assessor follow the rules in assessing a student's eligibility. The student, afterall, can contact a number of bodies if they are not happy with the result. I can also tell you from the program I worked in, students who had gaps (explained or otherwise) in their undergraduate degree were not treated any differently. Often, their statement about why they wanted to enter our program was far more important (provided of course, they had sufficient qualifications).
posted by b33j at 1:30 PM on September 30, 2008

I don't think it gets factored in. The Graduate Medical Program, as I understand, weighs up the GPA, the GAMSAT score and the interview separtely. And the interview is done independent of your studies (i.e. they don't ask you any questions regarding your GPA - I doubt the interviewers even know it).

The GPA is just a number, so I really can't see how it matters if you took 3, 4 or 10 years to do your degree.

For anecdotal reference, I have known mature age students who did Honours years after their degree, just to get the GPA up and get (successfully) into Med.
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:28 PM on September 30, 2008

I know a bunch of people who have gone through med school (mostly in Queensland) and I do not think it will be relevant. metabug is totally correct that you should be able to spin it well at the interview in terms of Life Challenges I Have Overcome. Far more pressing is goo's point about supporting yourself through med school - it's harder (timewise) than normal undergrad.
posted by jacalata at 9:35 PM on September 30, 2008

follow up from the OP
metaBugs, great idea! It's a great opportunity to show how I can overcome obstacles, isn't it? And probably the perfect opening to discuss what goo brought up - how much thought I've put into how I intend to support myself through medical school. They'll be wondering anyway so I may as well beat them to the punch.

I've put a fair amount of thought into it. My partner agrees to support me for the four years of medical school (I just didn't want to ask him to do it during undergrad: seven years of financial support is pushing it!) I am also considering applying to a medical school in my mother's city so that I have her home as a backup, in the (unlikely) case of a breakup between my partner and I. Then there would also be the option of living separately from my partner during medical school (because if I lived at my Mum's, I could continue to get AUSTUDY.) Further, I am saving as much money as I can now and putting it in a term deposit. I will apply for whatever loans and scholarships I can, and a rural scholarship is not out of the question at all.

My plan is not to work during medical school, just because I will need all the energy I can get, but if necessary I can work one day a week at my current job, which pays double time on Sundays and might be enough to make ends meet. I am already teaching myself how to live on the basics, in preparation for being broke! I am breaking down my weekly menu into a fine art and sticking to a budget. It's not easy but I have to do it.

And finally, b33j, THANK YOU - that insight really helps. Really really really.
Thank you all; I feel very relieved after a restless sleep. Any further insight is welcome.
posted by jacalata at 7:39 PM on October 2, 2008

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