Becoming a Doctor
Click on any of the following links for more information
- Life cycle of a medical doctor
- Preparing for medical school
- The pathways to medical school
- What will I study during my degree?
- What type of medical student places are available?
- What’s next after graduation
- AMA and AMSA concerns about the medical workforce
Contemporary medicine is challenging, exciting and dynamic. Countless new discoveries are making their impact on medical practice, and the development of many new therapies and treatments arising from research in electronics, genetics and global health will mean future doctors face even more dramatic changes.
Medicine is an exciting and rewarding career. The training required to accomplish this goal will take nearly a decade AFTER high school and be extremely rigorous. Entry into medicine is competitive and you will need to demonstrate perseverance to complete the training, a strong desire to help others, a true intellectual curiosity about medicine in particular, and a love of learning in general. Are you up for the challenge?
In this essential guide we give you an overview of the steps to becoming a doctor in Australia, and provide relevant information and sign-posting where further information can be obtained.
Source: Dr Tim Fazio, AMA VIC member, Doctor in training
#1 Complete year 12 (high school or college) or your undergraduate degree.
#2 Complete any pre-requisite subjects. Taking any science pre-requisites during high school or your undergraduate degree is important, as it's much harder to complete these pre-requisites after graduation. Remember too that choosing high level mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology and english will stand you in good stead as you study medicine.
The University of Sydney has just announced that students wishing to study BMedSc (undergraduate degree) and the Doctor of Medicine (graduate program) will need to meet these new prerequisites from 2019.
Students need to achieve Band 4 in the NSW Higher School Certificate (HSC) Mathematics (not General Mathematics) or similar result in equivalent interstate or IB subjects to enrol in a range of courses.
To assist you evaluate the interstate equivalents, the table below has been copied from the University of Sydney website. We recommend that you visit the site for full information on the new prerequisites and the courses to which they apply.
Subjects listed below are equivalent to the NSW Higher School Certificate (HSC) Mathematics (not General Mathematics).
International Baccalaureate (IB)
Mathematics SL or HL
SL 5 or HL 4
NSW Higher School Certificate (HSC)
Mathematics, Mathematics Extension 1 or 2
Mathematics (Band 4) or Extension (Band E3)
Australian Capital Territory Certificate of Education (ACT)
Mathematical Methods (Major) or Specialist Mathematics (Major)
Queensland Senior School Certificate (QCE)
South Australia and Northern Territory Certificate of Education (SACE/NTCET)
Tasmania Certificate of Education (TCE)
Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE)
Mathematical Methods (CAS) or Mathematical Methods (CAS) CBE
Western Australia Certificate of Education (WACE)
Mathematics: Methods ATAR
Source: University of Sydney website (http://sydney.edu.au/study/admissions/apply/entry-requirements/undergraduate-academic-requirements/mathematics-prerequisite.html (29/03/2016)
#3 Get involved. Take on leadership roles at your school and in your community to demonstrate you can motivate your peers to action, particularly in ways that benefit the school or community. Consider volunteering at a hospital, free clinic, doctor’s office or with a medical researcher. Volunteer work that is not directly medical related such as with a charity or other community service is also valuable.
- Medical schools do not judge applications on work experience, but gaining some work experience demonstrates that you have considered whether the demands of a caring profession is for you and that you are committed to studying medicine.
#4 Take the UMAT or GAMSAT. Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), the organisation that conducts the Undergraduate Medical and Health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT) and Graduate Australian Medical Schools Admission Test (GAMSAT), produces free guides and preparation resources for applicants. Many private companies produce resources and run courses to prepare for these high-stakes tests, which can be very expensive. The Australian Medical Students' Association (AMSA) believes that high-cost UMAT and GAMSAT preparation courses are not necessary to achieve an adequate score and may create inequality for those students from low-socioeconomic and/or rural backgrounds.
UMAT 2017: Registrations open in December 2016 and close at 5.00 pm AEST 2 June 2017 for UMAT test to be held on 26 July 2017. (www.acer.edu.au/umat)
GAMSAT 2017: Registrations open for 25 March 2017 test. (www.acer.edu.au/gamsat)
#5 Choose a university that most speaks to you. To find the right medical school for you, consider academic reputation, size, distance from home, location, cost and of course their medical program. Apply to the medical schools that best suit your ambitions – but try for some you don’t think you can make it into, some you think you have a shot at, and some safety universities.
There are two types of medical degrees available in Australia:
- Five-year or six-year Undergraduate Bachelor degree
- Equivalent professional entry Masters level degree
Medical education is provided by university medical schools accredited by the Australian Medical Council (AMC), of which there are currently 19 in Australia. A number of medical schools have recently moved to a doctor of medicine (MD or MChD) program where graduates receive a master’s qualification. All medical degrees offered by medical schools in Australia are equivalent for the purposes of commencing practice as a doctor.
Undergraduate entry medical programs
Generally, all medical programs require completion of year 12, or the overseas equivalent. Many undergraduate programs require applicants to complete year 12 Chemistry.
You do not need an ATAR of 100 to study medicine. The entry requirements for medical programs differ across schools and from year to year, so it's not possible to predict a "minimum" requirement. Your ATAR is considered by medical schools alongside your UMAT and interview scores to calculate your ranking for entrance.
You can maximise your chances of entry by getting a good ATAR, but also keep in mind that an ATAR of 100 does not mean you will automatically gain a place.
The Undergraduate Medicine and health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT) score is required to apply for undergraduate admission to 7 of the 19 registered medical schools in Australia. You will be assessed on your skills in critical thinking, problem solving, understanding people and abstract non-verbal reasoning - abilities considered important to the study and later practice of medicine. A good score on the UMAT, in combination with good grades, a high university entrance ranking and volunteer experience will stand you in good stead your medical school application.
- UMAT is designed to complement your academic results not replicate them. It is not a personality or IQ test. UMAT is not applicable for admission to graduate-entry programs. Prospective applicants to these programs must take the Graduate Australian Medical School Admission test (GAMSAT).
- Please note that JCU does not require UMAT for entry to its medical degree course. Visit www.jcu.edu.au for further information.
- Please note that Bond University does not require UMAT for entry to its Bachelor of Medical Studies and this, combined with its Doctor of Medicine program are required for registration. Visit www.bond.edu.au for further information.
You will need a UMAT score to apply for 2017 undergraduate admission to any of the following Australian universities:
New South Wales
- University of Newcastle / University of New England
- University of New South Wales
- University of Western Sydney
If you are applying for a five or six-year undergraduate medical program, an interview with the medical school is usually part of the selection process. If you are invited for an interview, it is important that you are sufficiently prepared. Seek guidance from your school careers adviser and opportunities to take part in practice medical school interviews.
An interview provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate your awareness of what studying medicine and becoming a doctor will entail. You may be asked questions about your motivation to study medicine, your understanding of the course, your study at school, hobbies, personal interests and current medical topics in the news. A key question will be your reasons for wanting to become a doctor.
Graduate entry medical program
If you are applying for a four-year graduate entry medical degree you will need to have completed a bachelor degree in any discipline. However, all medical programs have special access schemes for students with unique circumstances, for example those with significant experience in healthcare and a strong motivation to be a doctor. You should check with each University for more details.
A science degree is not a prerequisite for graduate-entry programs and academic excellence in the humanities and social sciences is encouraged and recognised; however, knowledge and ability in the biological and physical sciences will also be needed in order to succeed in the GAMSAT. Keep in mind that some graduate programs require completion of first year subjects in anatomy, physiology and/or biochemistry.
You will need to sit the Graduate Australian Medical Schools Admissions Test (GAMSAT) and attend an interview as part of the selection process. The GAMSAT will assess your ability to understand and analyse written and graphically presented material. It measures skills and knowledge acquired over a long period of time, as well as test your ability to reason, make logical deductions and form judgements.
Eleven medical schools admit graduates into a four-year medical degree program:
Australian Capital Territory
New South Wales
- University of Notre Dame Australia (Fremantle and Sydney)
- University of Sydney
- University of Wollongong
Current medical courses integrate theory and practical components with clinical experience incorporated from early on in the course. However, the most significant clinical exposure will occur in the latter years of your degree in a range of settings and via simulating clinical situations.
While the courses offered in medicine vary between medical schools they will give you the solid basic knowledge of medicine and the training in clinical skills that you need to pursue the many career paths available in the medical profession. Each medical school can give you detailed information on the courses that they offer.
There are three types of medical school places available at Australian universities.
There are three types of medical school places available at Australian universities:
- Commonwealth supported places
- Bonded places
- Full fee-paying places
Commonwealth supported places
Commonwealth supported places are university places subsidised substantially by the Australian Government. It funds each public university for an agreed number of student places. Students are only required to pay a 'student contribution' amount for their units of study rather than tuition fees.
Commonwealth supported places are available to Australian citizens, New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. They are not available to international students.
As a student you will pay for a component of your degree – $10,440 per year for medical students in 2016 – and the remainder is subsidised by the government.
Australian citizens and permanent residents can get access to HECS-HELP to help students pay their student contribution amounts through a loan or upfront discounts. You can find out more at the Australian Government’s Study Assist website.
From the 2016 academic year, 28.5 percent of all first-year commonwealth supported places in medical schools are expected to be bonded through the Bonded Medical Place Scheme (BMPS).
In simple terms, the government sets aside medical school places for students willing to meet certain obligations when they complete their training. This is called the return-of-service obligation. If you apply for a bonded place you must meet the same entry requirements to medical school as other applicants.
In accepting a BMP place, you commit to working in a ‘district of workforce shortage’ for at least 12 months after you complete your medical degree, and to completing this return-of-service obligation prior to, or within five years of, finishing your specialist training. District of workforce shortages are usually outer-metropolitan, regional and rural areas and indigenous medical services.
Bonded students do not receive financial assistance, scholarships or other incentives for either their basic medical degree or postgraduate vocational training, and must pay their HECS-HELP debt in full.
If you choose to undertake your return-of-service obligation after completing your medical degree, but prior to admission into a training program leading to fellowship, you may complete your return-of-service obligation in any geographic area that is classified under the Modified Monash Model as a category 2-7 location.
The Modified Monash Model is the classification system used by the government to categorise metropolitan, regional, rural and remote areas according to both geographical remoteness and town size. More information on the classification system and how it applies to the BMPS is available in the Bonded Medical Place Scheme student information booklet for 2016.
If you choose to undertake your return-of-service obligation after starting a specialist training program, or when you become a specialist, you may complete it in any district of workforce shortage other than an inner metropolitan location, or in any geographic area that is classified under the Modified Monash Model as a category 4-7 location. Specialists (other than general practitioners) may also work in an inner metropolitan location if the location is classified as a district of workforce shortage for their specialty.
Following acceptance of an offer of a BMPS place, you will receive an agreement containing the terms and conditions which form part of a legal contract between you and the Commonwealth of Australia. You should seek legal advice to ensure that you fully understand all the terms and conditions before signing the BMPS agreement.
Find out more about the Bonded Medical Places Scheme here.
Things to think about before accepting a bonded medical place
Full fee-paying places
Many public universities offer undergraduate and graduate entry full fee places to international students. Private universities are able to offer full fee places to Australian students.
Public universities generally cannot offer full fee places to Australian students, the exceptions being some of the Doctor of Medicine postgraduate medical degrees offered by some public universities.
As a full fee-paying student, the Australian Government does not contribute towards your study costs. Instead, you pay a tuition fee for each subject in the course, which must be paid in full and upfront.
On average, a standard full-time year of study in the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) can cost over $60,000 for domestic students and $70,000 for international students.
In 2014, 20 per cent of all medical students were fee-paying with nearly two-thirds of these occupied by international students.
International full fee-paying students are not guaranteed an internship following graduation from medical school, and may have to continue their training overseas.
On completing your medical degree, you receive provisional registration and enter the workforce as an intern or postgraduate year 1 (PGY1) doctor. This part of your training lasts for 12 months (47 weeks full time), and is usually undertaken in a public hospital - although interns will increasingly spend part of their training in general practice, community-based settings and private hospitals in the future.
As an Intern, you will undertake a series of work rotations designed to expose you to a range of clinical situations and environments. This stage will help inform career choices for many graduates by providing experience in different medical specialties including general practice and provides grounding for subsequent specialist training.
Your 12 month internship will incorporate the following:
- 8wks – emergency medical care
Providing assessment and management of patients with acute undifferentiated illnesses – including acutely ill patients. Can be undertaken in emergency or in some general practice settings that provide equivalent experiences.
- 10wks – medicine
Caring for patients with a broad range of medical conditions. Participating in assessment and admission of patients with acute medical problems. Managing in-patients with a range of general medical conditions.
Discharge planning (including preparation of discharge summaries and other components of handover) to the patient's GP and sub-acute/long-term care facility or ambulance care.
- 10wks – surgery
Caring for patients with broad range of acute and elective surgical conditions and/or who exhibit the common features of surgical illness including metabolic response to trauma, infection, shock and tumours (neoplasia).
- 19wks − a range of other approved positions in areas such as aged care, anaesthesia, general practice, palliative medicine, psychiatry, rehabilitation medicine or surgery.
The AMA has written to Health Minister Sussan Ley outlining serious concerns that rural Australia is not attracting and retaining sufficient doctors to meet current and future need, and offering solutions.
AMA President, Professor Brian Owler, said the Government must set more ambitious targets to get Commonwealth-supported students with a rural background into medical schools, and increase the proportion of medical students required to undertake extended rural clinical rotations.
“The Government has significantly boosted domestic medical student numbers and there are now record numbers of medical graduates, which is encouraging,” Professor Owler said.
“But, despite this, it appears that rural Australia is still struggling to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of locally trained doctors.
“The ‘trickle down’ approach to solving workforce maldistribution is not working, and simply boosting medical student numbers even further will have little or no impact on this problem.
“In fact, it could have the opposite effect by placing more pressure on an already stretched medical training pipeline - a problem acknowledged in modelling undertaken by the former Health Workforce Australia.
“Health Workforce Australia identified that Australia has enough medical students, and the focus must now shift to how to better distribute the medical workforce.
“At the moment, medical schools must meet a benchmark of a minimum 25 percent of students with a rural background, and the number of students who must undertake extended rural clinical rotations.
“Currently, just under 28 per cent of commencing domestic medical students come from a rural background, with this number having increased slowly over the years.
“We need smarter solutions. The targets must be lifted significantly - from 25 per cent of students to a third.”
The AMA recommends:
- the targeted intake of medical students from a rural background be lifted from 25 per cent of all new enrolments to one third of all new enrolments; and
- the proportion of medical students required to undertake at least one year of clinical training in a rural area be lifted from 25 per cent to one third.
There is good evidence that medical students who undertake extended training in a rural area, and those from a rural background, are more likely to take up rural practice upon graduation.
While existing policy settings have sought to promote this to some extent, rural workforce shortages persist. The latest data from the Medical Students Outcome Database Survey (MSOD) reports that 76 per cent of domestic graduates are living in capital cities.
Professor Owler said the AMA is urging the Health Minister to act quickly, amid speculation that the Government has no interest in raising the targets beyond existing levels.
“The implementation of more ambitious targets may prove challenging in the short term, but there is evidence that this approach would be more successful in getting more young doctors living and working in rural Australia than simply funding more student places.
“We need to do more to promote the rewards of rural medical practice,” Professor Owler said.
Along with its recommendations to increase the targets for students with rural backgrounds and rural training rotations, the AMA is pushing a range of initiatives to attract young doctors to rural practice, including:
- the Community Residency Program (https://ama.com.au/submission/community-residency-program);
- Regional Training Networks (https://ama.com.au/position-statement/regional-training-networks-2014); and
- the expansion of the Specialist Training Program (https://ama.com.au/submission/submission-review-specialist-training-program).
For more information on what the AMA’s policies and views are click here (link to AMA website – media)
For more information on AMA Career Advice services, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Make vocational training the top priority: AMSA
The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) has called on the Federal Government to make investment in training positions for junior doctors in rural Australian communities a top priority, rather than new medical schools.
AMSA President, Elise Buisson, said on Wednesday 25 May 2016 that new medical schools will not resolve the health disparities faced by regional, rural and remote Australia.
Ms Buisson said that while many medical students and junior doctors were passionate about becoming rural GPs and specialists, upon graduation, they found there were few opportunities because of a shortage of accredited training positions outside of the metropolitan centres.
“We need to use evidence-based approaches to address rural workforce shortages, which includes making the funding of rural specialty training positions a priority,” said Ms Buisson.
“Funding for health and health education should be done on the basis of rational, health workforce planning as opposed to making politically attractive and opportunistic decisions.”
Leading up to the election, AMSA has thrown its support behind the Doctors for Rural Communities plan, an evidence-based proposal that would see an immediate injection of doctors into rural communities. Under the plan, a $46 million investment by the Government would allow 306 doctors to undertake an annual year of training, or 61 doctors to undertake five years of their training, in rural, regional and remote Australia.
Just $32.5 million would be enough to fund 216 doctors to complete a year of specialty training in rural communities.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) have both joined in calls for the major political parties to commit to evidence-based and effective initiatives to improve health services for people in rural and remote Australia, including Doctors for Rural Communities.
Doctors for Rural Communities is also supported by respected rural doctors, Dr Darryl Mackender, at Orange Base Hospital and Dr John Preddy, a Head of Department at Wagga Wagga Rural Referral Hospital, who have already put forward their support for the above proposal.
“Representative stakeholders for rural health and healthcare in Australia stand united on the need for expanding our rural training workforce, as opposed to funding new medical schools,” said Ms Buisson.
“We cannot hesitate to act on rural health any longer. Not only is the potential for economic wastage immense, but the people of rural Australia deserve increased access to much needed medical staff, including more general practitioners and specialists.”
“We welcome the attention and investment being given to medical training and research, but investment in vocational training will deliver much greater benefits for rural Australians than more medical schools.”
To find out more and to pledge your support, visit www.dfrc.org.au.
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