Lessons From Those Who’ve Come Before

By Edward Blignault

Welcome. If you are reading this, you are part of a select group of crazy individuals who consider the smell of hand sanitizer a delicacy. People who dream of wearing what amounts to adult pyjamas to work (we call it scrubs just to feel unique) and who value life, sometimes at the expense of their own.

You see, whatever stage of school or postgraduate studies you find yourself in, you are bound to realize that information about studying medicine in our country is deceptively scarce. This book, therefore, will serve you well no matter your level of education. As a high school junior, the book may illuminate some early steps you can take in order to increase the likelihood of being a successful applicant. As a senior, you may become aware of certain pitfalls and nuances that are to be navigated on your path to obtaining the sought-after title.

The first, and perhaps foremost, we shine much-needed light on the national benchmark tests (NBTs). Many pupils are unaware of the existence and importance of this standardized test. The mark you obtain here can constitute as much as 40% of your selection mark. The NBTs are written on a single day and consist of academic- and quantitive literacy (AQL) and pure mathematics (MAT) components. The tests are each three hours long with a break in-between. No calculators are allowed and the multiple-choice question format is used. The purpose of these tests is to find a nationwide standard assessment tool that is used in the selection criteria.

We discuss the process of registering for these tests in detail in the book, but it is advised that you write the tests as late as possible during your matric year, usually around June. This allows you to cover as much work in matric as possible before writing the tests. As far as preparation goes, there are extra-curricular courses available that help you become accustomed to the type of questions that are asked. This is extremely helpful as a lot of hopeful candidates become flustered during the tests as a result of the types of questions that are asked.

All these intricacies are discussed in detail in the book, together with various other interesting and noteworthy pitfalls. You see, dear reader, the road to becoming a doctor is an unfamiliar one and we wrote this book to ease your application process and career choice as a whole. We faced the same uncertainty as you and can provide unique advice from a new perspective. Too often we here of worthy candidates not being accepted as a result of misinformed choices. Things such as community service are wrongly emphasized during school when in fact, a balanced lifestyle and the NBT results are much more important. Many unsuccessful candidates were unaware of the importance of the NBTs and are left confused as to why they were not selected. The NBT website provides you with up to date information on where to write, how to register and the fees involved. An important point to consider is that medical schools do not consider a second attempt with the NBTs, as with most other degrees. This means that adequate preparation is essential to have a successful first attempt. The book also provides valuable insight about what marks you should aim for in order to have a successful application. The most valuable aspect of having an NBT preparation session, in my experience, was getting accustomed to the types of questions that are asked. You will be able to answer the questions, but in order to do so, it is imperative that you understand what is being asked. This is were a preparation session is invaluable.

Some universities do not incorporate the NBTs in their selection criteria and this is also discussed in detail. This year, no medical school has considered the NBTs as part of their selection criteria. This is due to Covid-19, the lockdown and possible restructuring of the selection criteria. 2021 will, in all likelihood, see the return of the feared NBTs and we will provide up to date information in the second edition of this book, as it becomes available.

Should you not be selected during first-round placements, do not lose hope. Many people are unaware of the fact that the University of Pretoria accepts roughly 30 students from the BSc group into medicine after 6 months of first-year studies. This route requires a lot of dedication to be in the top 30, but the opportunity is there. Furthermore, many accepted students do not inform universities when they choose to attend another institution. This results in a few last-minute placements at the beginning of the year from various universities. Small details like these are what give you an advantage over other candidates and will distinguish you from the roughly 36000 students that hope to be selected. Pure academic achievement is often not enough as extracurricular activities contribute significantly towards your selection mark. Many candidates make the mistake of only focusing on academics during their final two years in high school. I implore you to reconsider. Both Francois and I had different experiences in high school but the common denominator was that we both participated in various activities at different levels of achievement, with academics being foremost.

We offer you an in-depth look at both our experiences and answer all the questions you can possibly have. We know the uncertainty you face and offer you a unique perspective of final year students who are still in the system, at ground level… We tell you the truth of what to expect before, and after being selected.

Another mistake most applicants make is not applying to all the medical schools in South Africa. There are various factors to consider, not the least of which is the distance from your support structure at home. However, there are slight differences in selection criteria which may give you an advantage at one or more universities. The quality of teaching and clinical programs at each university are tightly regulated by the HPCSA and ensure a high standard of teaching at all South African universities. We do not suggest that you miss out on an MBChB degree due to your institutional preference. Attend as many opening days as possible and consult our book on each university.

We want to help you to become successful medical students in the near future. Too often we hear of worthy candidates who were unsuccessful as a result of misinformation. This book will likely clear up all confusion that you may have and answer the questions that plague you at night. Our aim was not to provide a guaranteed entrance to medical school but to illuminate the path to success. There is no short cut on the road to becoming a successful clinician, but the right guidance from those who have come before is an invaluable asset that will serve you well before, during and after your medical studies. Here’s to seeing you soon on campus and in practice.