What To Consider When Preferencing GEMSAS Medical Schools?

To optimize your preferences for a successful medical school application, it is important to note how the GPA, GAMSAT, and portfolio/statement/CASPer scores work together for YOUR application. Every application will have different strengths and weaknesses, so it is up to you to apply to institutions that will take more notice of the things that make you a strong applicant. If your GAMSAT is very strong, there is a reduced incentive to apply to a portfolio university where there is a possibility of losing emphasis from GAMSAT in the weighting of your application. Conversely, if GAMSAT is weaker, an additional marked portfolio may be what is required to tip the balance in your favour.

Beyond the technical factors, it is also important to consider that you will be studying a rather difficult course. This means that your selected university's location and your preferred course structure are relevant aspects of social support to consider. 

In this short guide, we will walk you through the key considerations you should keep in mind when putting together your GEMSAS university preference list.

Location

This is the first and probably the most important entry of the GEMSAS application guide. Medical school is a psychologically straining course - it is almost guaranteed to be more intellectually challenging and time-consuming than any course or career that most candidates have previously attempted. As such, it is critically important to have access to support networks. These networks can include the local sports team in which you participate, family and friends, as well as your part-time job. While it is understandable that many candidates are passionate about admission into one of many GEMSAS medical schools, you should not take the willingness to travel interstate lightly. 

By the same token, the ‘liveability’ and population of the location where you undertake medical training is an important aspect of medical school admissions consulting. For example, you may find Sydney, a large city with a vibrant culture but extreme living costs on one end of the spectrum. On the other hand, the University of Melbourne offers rural programs that place students in locations such as Wangaratta - some may find such a rotation unique and peaceful. In contrast, others still may consider it is isolating.

Finally, another thought that should be in the back of any aspiring medical student’s mind is the question of where they would like to work following graduation. This is a fairly minor consideration. However, it is good to remember that a medical internship (the first year of work following medical school graduation) is allocated within each state. This means that New South Wales first allocates internships to students who completed their degree within New South Wales. Applications for internships in New South Wales by interstate students are only reviewed once all the local state applications have been processed.

This is the case for all GEMSAS medical schools and undergraduate medical courses across all states. This does not mean that interstate applications are impossible, only that they are more challenging.

Curriculum Structure

Once you have set your heart on a location, the next consideration in applying for a medical school interview is reviewing the curriculum structure of the GEMSAS universities at your preferred location. Contrary to popular belief, medical training is not standardized, and not all courses are entirely identical. While the ultimate qualifications that a student receives at the end of their training are always equivalent, the journey is distinctly different and caters to different learning styles. 

The first major difference between the various courses is the number of clinical years they offer their students. For example, the University of Sydney and the University of Queensland offer medical degrees that are equal parts clinical and preclinical training. This means that you spend the first two years of your training in the lecture theatre, with some intermittent placements. The final two years of such a degree are completely clinical and are spent in a hospital.

This contrasts with the University of Melbourne model, which opts to condense two years' worth of content into a single pre-clinical year, with the three subsequent years of training occurring entirely in the hospital. Both models have their merits, and it is worthwhile to have a frank discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of which with a medical student, or perhaps even your Fraser’s GAMSAT tutor

A second key consideration is a research. To fulfill the requirement of an ‘MD’ program (as opposed to an undergraduate MBBS), the medical course will require students to complete a quantity of medical research. While the research models are dynamic and subject to course re-designs, there is also a dichotomy in this aspect of teaching. While Melbourne University has historically allocated 6 months of the final year of training to a medical project, many other GEMSAS medical schools opt to integrate this aspect of the MD throughout the degree. Once again, distinct arguments are favouring both models. Therefore this too is a question of student preference.

GAMSAT/GPA/Portfolio

Having investigated the geographical and curriculum elements of the GEMSAS universities - it is time to get down to the brass tacks of GEMSAS GPA. A common misconception among GAMSAT candidates is that “Weighted Average Mark'' or “WAM” is effectively equivalent to GPA. This is entirely incorrect - while there is a correlation between these two numbers, the GEMSAS GPA is a more balanced method of calculating student university performance, focusing on consistency.

Each GPA calculation is unique, depending on the university awarding the undergraduate degree. The GEMSAS GPA calculation should be a step in your application process because it dictates how significant your GAMSAT exam mark will play in determining your admission.

A strong GPA can balance a weaker GAMSAT score, and the reverse is equally true. To streamline your GPA calculation process, Fraser’s GAMSAT has created a GEMSAS GPA calculator.

In the inconvenient circumstance that neither your GPA nor your GAMSAT score is particularly high, there is a third way for candidates with a rich life experience. Medical schools as the University of Notre Dame, as well as the University of Wollongong, are unique among GEMSAS medical schools in that they also require a ‘portfolio.’ A portfolio is essentially a structured cover letter, requiring candidates to respond to a series of fixed questions set by the university. These questions are essentially a litmus test of the candidate's motivations and core values, as well as an opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate and reflect on their life experience.

As such, portfolio universities tend to favor candidates with a background of professional and social development. It is unusual for a candidate with an outstanding GAMSAT and GPA but without a remarkable C.V to receive a medical school admission offer at a portfolio university.

Need further guidance on writing your medical portfolio? Enrol now in our Portfolio Course and receive one-on-one feedback specific to the university you apply to & much more!

CSP Vs. BMP Vs. FFP

Selection of fee structure is one of the more technical aspects of the medical school application process. There are essentially three common fee structures when it comes to GEMSAS medical schools. The first is a CSP or ‘Commonwealth Supported Place.’ If you are an Australian citizen completing an undergraduate degree locally, the chances are high that this is the type of university placement you are currently enrolled in. A CSP place is essentially a discounted medical school enrolment subsidized by the government. Students can defer all university payments via the HECS-HELP system, and you are under no obligation to pay these fees until you are meaningfully employed. This type of fee structure is the most competitive.

The next possible fee structure available in the GEMSAS preference machine is BMP. This type of enrolment is somewhat unique to the medical degree. BMP or ‘Bonded Medical Place’ is an admission to medical school that costs the same as CSP but is conditional. This means that before commencing your studies, you sign a contract that legally binds you to spend a portion of your professional employment in a rural or remote ‘area of need.’ The geographical definition of these areas is dynamic, as is the duration of the bonded contract. The duration of time that a young medical graduate must spend in rural areas varies between years, depending on the government legislation at the time of your medical school admission.

This type of fee structure is often second preference to CSP and is, therefore, less competitive. However, it is worth recognizing that the reality of the Australian medical training system is that almost every doctor will spend time specializing in a rural area, regardless of their CSP/BMP contract obligations. Furthermore, there is also an expensive alternative to fulfilling a BMP contract - you can pay your way out of fulfilling your obligation. Unfortunately, the cost of this often numbers in the tens of thousands of dollars. 

The final fee structure worth discussing is an FFP or a ‘full-fee place.’ There is no denying that the cost of such an admission is high, as it is not subsidized by the government, unlike CSP and BMP places. In fact, an FFP price tag is so inflated that the cost of a four-year post-graduate medical degree exceeds the maximum value of HECS-HELP. This means that approximately half of your university fees cannot be delayed and must be paid up-front. In certain universities, the GEMSAS preference machine allows candidates to rank CSP, BMP, and FFP in terms of desirability. In these cases, students should be wary of opting to rank FFP highly on said list.

Interview Styles

The final point to consider when preferencing medical schools in the GEMSAS application is the style of the medical school interview. Interviews can be grossly divided into two categories - MMI and panel interview

The MMI interview (multiple mini interviews) is designed to test candidates. This format consists of multiple rapid-fire interview ‘stations’ that test a student's capacity to communicate effectively and reason, and empathize under pressure. These interview structures may also contain questions about knowledge of the Australian healthcare system. The MMI is not an opportunity to develop a strong rapport with your interviewer over a long and nuanced discussion of your life story, motivations, and values. In fact, the MMI interview is the exact opposite - representing a live test of your cognition. The great advantage of multiple mini interviews is that (much like any test). It is also a great alternative for candidates with limited lived experience that does not have a remarkable personal journey towards medicine. 

Understandably, however, the MMI medical school interview format is incredibly stressful. Therefore universities such as Flinders offer a more traditional, structured interview. The format of such an interview is long, and rather than impressing individual interviewers across multiple stations, a candidate now has to engage with an entire panel at once. The panel interview format is much more an opportunity to charm the admission committee with your personality, life story, and personal values. The questions in a traditional interview are much more open-ended.

This is distinctly different from an MMI medical interview that requires students to discuss high specific, structured scenarios. As a consequence, traditional interviews may be more difficult to prepare.

Having said this - Fraser’s Interview Training has a very extensive library of practice interview questions, as well as experienced tutors that have successfully passed every format of the medical interview to guide you on your GEMSAS admissions journey.

Additional Bonuses - Some Final Tips:

Griffith, Deakin, and ANU Bonuses

Both Deakin University and Australian National University will boost their consideration of your GPA and GAMSAT in light of a few circumstances.

Deakin is a unique institution. They overtly prefer applicants who have a background in healthcare, a history of study at Deakin, residence in the Geelong area, or substantial financial disadvantage. Financial disadvantage gives an applicant an additional 2% in their application. A background in healthcare gives a bonus of 4% and an additional bonus of 2% should the applicant have also practiced for a period of 1 year.

Additionally, there is also a general employment bonus of 2% if you have worked for an equivalent of 2 years in any field full-time, and a 4 – 8% bonus depending on your location of residence. Finally, Deakin alumni receive a 4% bonus on their application. *(Phew..)*

Australian National University awards a 2% bonus for the completion of honors or masters and 4% to complete a Ph.D.

Griffith will award an instant 7.0 GPA to anyone with a Ph.D. and a maximum GPA for a full-time Master's course by research each year.

You should note that if you have these bonuses available, that puts you at an advantage in the application pool. Conversely, if you are ineligible for these bonuses, you have a harder competition to contend with.

Debunking Myths

You may have heard along the grape-vine that your preference order is passed onto the respective universities and that it plays a part in determining whether or not a university offers you an interview or not. If so, it is important to take note that this is unfounded and implausible. If a medical school were to be privy to a student’s preference listing, it would break the system. For all intents and purposes, you should assume that medical schools only look out for their own best interests and choose students with the best ranking, irrespective of preference order.

As such, when deciding on the order of your preferences, the main things to take into account are 1) whether or not you have a feasible chance of getting into that university, and 2) if you would be happy to attend that university. That is all. Just remember, do your best not to waste any spots on your preference list, and hope that it works in your favor.