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Is there a doctor in the college?

DAVID Lowe, principal of Cambridge Tutors College, sends an annual clutch of 26 overseas students to medical school.

By doing so, Lowe, who is also the chairman of the Conference of Independent Further Education Colleges "eats up our entire quota for overseas student doctors," Professor Susan Standring, dean of admissions of the country's biggest medical school, told CIFE's annual conference at Arundel at the weekend.

Susan Standring, professor of neurophysiology at St Thomas' Hospital, London, and dean of admissions of the newly merged Guy's, King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine (GKT), said there was a 7.5 per cent limit to overseas admissions - and that's a total of 26 students.

Every year, 3,600 young men and women apply for places at GKT. Of these 1,200 make it to interview stage and some 350 of these might win an offer of a place.

But she said: "We are genuinely blind to colour and gender. There are so many myths. It is quite untrue that we admit only Oxbridge students."

And Professor Standring presented the leaders of Britain's major independent tutorial colleges with a step-by-step guide of how a would-be doctor could secure a highly sought-after place.

She dispelled the widely held assumption that the most important "passport" was a clutch of high-grade A-levels. Even half a dozen starred As "is not enough to qualify for entry". Being academically bright, though important, was not the only criterion.

"Most of our applicants have starred As - and the young man or woman who is top of the class or school, suddenly find themselves part of a crowd. Competition is fierce."

Students who go to "crammers" to improve their grades by re-sitting the exam (now a much rarer activity than in past years) migt just as well not bother, she said. "Often those who re-sit, failed to make the grade because they were academically weak and continue to present problems, such as poor study skills and time management," Professor Standring said.

Would-be doctors would do better to take a different degree altogether, then apply for med school as a graduate. Alternatively, they should go off for a year, do something useful and apply for deferred entry. "The year out gives a student a head start. We want people who show maturity. Some young male applicants have the maturity of a hedgehog. We want life-experience rather than work experience."

But what of those academic qualifications? General studies are not acceptable; nor is the European baccalaureate (though the French and International bacs are).

Applicants should have at least a B in GCSE English language, maths, physics and biology or a combined science; and three A-levels at ABB plus an AS. They should include chemistry and biology.

Above all, students must be able to communicate and not be afraid of taking decisions.

They must display good time-management skills and be computer literate - today's doctors have to consult databases and produce reports by word processor. Successful candidates would: show intellectual curiosity; an interest in the social as well as biological sciences; be capable of writing more than two decent sentences and thinking laterally; be team players and able to lead the team.

It costs pound;200,000 to train a doctor and, although the drop-out rate is just 5 per cent, applicants should realise that a career in medicine was more than just a job. "It is not just a matter of five years' study and that's it, but is a lifelong vocation," she declared.

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