Eva Brencicova on admissions to medical school

Eva Brencicova The procedures of admissions to medical school are extremely varied around the world. Yet they seem to have one thing in common – success is considered a huge deal. At the next family reunion, you are bound to have enchanted relatives patting you on the back, dropping comments about how you make them proud. Are such complements now slightly premature however? What made you stand out amongst the many applicants, allowing you to fish a letter of acceptance out of your mailbox?

My own experiences of the admissions process to medical school in Germany have been far from positive. The first step is an application submitted to a central authority responsible for allocating approximately 80% of university places nationally. This vast majority is assigned depending on rigid criteria, of which the results achieved at A levels are by far the most crucial. The competition is tough these days, and in order to succeed and get hold of one of the sought-after places, the aspirants have to provide exceedingly high marks.

The acceptance test for medical studies, focusing on the candidates´ knowledge in natural sciences, as well as their retentiveness, concentration and spatial imagination, is currently being (re-)introduced at several universities. Achieving a high score and/or fulfilling any of the auxilliary selection criteria, such as having completed an apprenticeship in a medical field (e.g. nursing or elderly care) or a voluntary year of community service, will increase your chances, but remain of minor significance. Even superb achievements in these additional qualifications can hardly compensate for average A level marks.

Roughly 20% of the places available are assigned by the respective universites after they have conducted personal interviews. Unsurprisingly however, only those able to provide immaculate school reports are afforded the chance to convince face-to-face.

I feel disappointed at the narrow approach to distinguishing between candidates in Germany; an intricate issue is being reduced to rigid technicalities. Fundamentally, we need to consider a range of criteria which will allow a more multi-faceted assessment of the applicants, better demonstrating their true “suitability” for medical school. The question is though, how much refinement is feasible considering the mass of applicants universities must process?

Establishing a fair system seems to be a hard nut to crack. Universities in various countries are struggling, as the variety and frequent change in admissions policies clearly demonstrates. Local students are rightly voicing their dissatisfaction (such as in Portugal), but reactions of the responsible authorities still leave a lot to be desired; perhaps this is because they too are at their wits´ end.

Increasingly I find it is those students who pursue a range of interests, whose company I have enjoyed the most. What concerns me is that these are the students who frequently face considerable difficulties in achieving their goal of gaining a place in medical school. The extra-curricular activities in which they eagerly engage have made them open minded and aware of the world beyond the classroom. They are often more mature than their peers, and possess an array of soft skills that cannot be taught. It is true that their academic credentials upon leaving secondary school might not be the most impressive, but should we not consider more than simply exam grades when trying to decide who will become the medical professionals of the future? Are these applicants not a priceless enrichement to the collective? I believe so, but wonder if there is a way to save this increasingly rare species.

Eva Brencicova is medical student, University of Freiburg, Germany.

Competing interests: None declared