Career disaster 1: “Poor GCSEs are killing my chances! Can anything be done?”

by     13 Comments    Posted under: Career, Career disaster, Personal Statement


how do you get into medical school

We’re getting lots of emails lately from people with unorthodox career and education histories who are desperate to do medicine. Who can succeed? Who should give up? Is there something simple that can fix or cover up a major CV disaster en route to medicine?

We will endeavour to research each query fully and post a comprehensive reply here under “career disasters.”

This is the first in the series and it features a common problem in our inbox. As always, comments are welcome.

Please help me Doc eat doc, you’re my last hope.
I want to apply for medicine this year but am afraid of getting rejected again. I want to know if there’s anything easy I can do to strengthen my CV.  My A-level grades are one grade off most requirements but worse still, I have Ds for GCSE maths, science and English (A’s and B’s elsewhere).

Should I be retaking those GCSEs and perhaps one A-level, or taking a different degree and then going for graduate entry?

I have done plenty of work experience, including in the developing world with aid programmes etc, and can demonstrate my commitment to medicine well. Ultimately I want to do public health or development medicine / tropical medicine.

Oh and I’m 22. I worked abroad and travelled a bit!

Can I ever become a doctor? Help!


We think the UK medical school system is too rigid to see the value in candidates like you. Sadly you you will have a tough time getting in. The main factors against you are those science, English and maths GCSE grades and to a lesser extent your missing A-level grade.

You say you want to do public health or something related. It’s a shame, because if you did get in to med school the public health docs would love to have you – they’re crying out for trainees at the moment.

The way we see it you have THREE options.

1. Take a year out and fix those GCSEs and that A-level too before you even think about applying.

Your work experience sounds unique and if your personal statement can reflect that, you will stand out against the competition. Follow the personal statement advice closely and the doc eat doc template on this site and ensure you spin your story in the best way possible. Retaking GCSEs is indeed looked upon negatively, but if that’s the only problem you have in a years time, we should be able to help you ease your way into a med school place.

2. Study public health or international development NOW

Do it as a separate degree and forget the fixation with medicine for now. Yes, you may be able to apply to medicine afterwards but those GCSEs will still be an issue for graduate entry even if the A-level is not.

If you are genuinely interested in public health and development work you may find that you’re doing what you love and the struggle for med school won’t seem so worthwhile. Your work will be largely similar to that of public health doctors anyway. It’s easy to get too fixated on one thing.

Remember that if you speak to doctors they’ll tell you that medicine is slowly being deprofessionalised in the UK (and elsewhere) and at the same time other allied professions in public health, psychology and even podiatrists are gaining more autonomy and more variety to their work.

3. Apply abroad

In our view this is a serious option that is overlooked too often. It needn’t be expensive or difficult, it can be enjoyable and you can practice as a doctor anywhere if you play your cards right. There is an upcoming article on this very soon.

In short, do something decisive and don’t waste time sending off a useless form that has no chance of getting looked at seriously.

And 22 is young, but do have something clever to say if asked what you’ve been doing!

13 Comments + Add Comment

  • Excellent advice. I’ve personally had it with senior careers people giving a faint hope to students with glaring problems with their application.
    Better to give up or take a year out and fix problems in a targetted fashion.

  • Retake GCSEs are a big no at most if not all med schools. How can this be spun into anything other than failure.

    • Not always. It’s a weakness that can be factored against by ensuring the rest of your app form can counter it. I’d always contact the med schools you’re intending to apply to first too.

  • Why does nobody tell you this at GCSE time?

  • Nice article guys… I’ve subscribed and so should also thank you for the free template. Hope you keep them coming as I’m planning on 2013 entry and this is all good stuff for me.

    • Thanks xtc1993.
      There are plenty of insider tips coming your way.

      Do drop us a line if there’s anything more specific you’d like to see covered here.

  • Bear in mind that neither public health doctors, nor international development types that are non-medical necessarily do much doctoring in the traditional sense. However, both offer more opportunites for travel than almost anything else within the field.

    I was always struck by Jonathan Kaplan, the war surgeon who found that the public health types could always save more lives than he could through surgery.

  • Thanks Leo,

    There are plenty who’d benefit from this.

    When is the overseas thing likely to be covered by you guys?
    I’d love to study away if I could afford it, and if I were guaranteed a respectable degree upon my return to the UK or US.

    • It’s coming very soon. We’re checking out some of the facts with the relevant med schools and speaking to people who have done it successfully.

  • My GCSE grades are Bs for science and maths but Cs elsewhere. No A’s and no D’s.
    Does that count me out for med?
    Need to know whether it’s worth attempting to apply next year or just go for GEP as I can’t hack doing GCSEs again.

  • The minimum gcse grades are often not enough. If you’re equal on points with another candidate you may get into trouble if your gcse grades are borderline ok.

  • I would suggest that individuals with poor gcses retake them at the earliest opportunity.
    Yes you will be asked why you took an extra year, but you can answer that with any good excuse some of which are mentioned on articles here.
    And yes it will suck haing to reread julius caesar whilst your mates are studying some biochem at A2 but at the end of the day Graduate entry programmes are too difficult to break into and. Ow too expensive for some too.

  • Hey Leo,
    I have unfortunatly achieved a grade C in English in GCSE, however all my Sciences and Maths are a B and above. Will this mean that there is no chance of me getting into a Medical School? Also I have only lived in this country for a short period of time, 2 years