An international student's tips for studying medicine

15 Sep 2021 | 4 MNS

Two things make Nur Sabrina’s eyes light up. One is learning about how the human body works. The other is chocolate cake.

“I combined my two passions into one,” says the international student, who is nearing completion of UWA’s Assured Pathway to the Doctor of Medicine (MD). Through her studies, she can not only have her cake and eat it, she can also understand exactly how digestive enzymes get to work on it when she’s done.

It sounds like she is following her dream career path; however, she didn’t arrive there without a great deal of thought and hard work. Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sabrina did her high school study in Ontario, Canada after which she realised she wasn’t completely sure studying medicine was her next step. 

“I'd say the best decision I made in my life was to take a gap year – or two! – after high school, to reflect on what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she says. 

Fortunately, that time away from the classroom only confirmed her desire to study a medicine degree – and she chose UWA as the place to do it.  

“And now, here I am, on my way towards my dream!” She says.

“I chose UWA because the lecturers here, since my first year until now, have been really approachable and don’t mind answering all my questions no matter how many times I ask them to explain again after class.” 

“That’s something really important to me in my learning; having teachers who are patient enough to help me understand all the complicated stuff.”

With her destination decided – both geographically and professionally – Sabrina has spent the last six years splitting her time between her studies, volunteering at the hospital at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre and relaxing either by swimming or ice-skating. 

Sabrina has many highlights from her studies of the course.

“What I really love about the MD is getting to talk to patients and even help out with surgeries,” she says.

“I also love that we’re taught by clinicians and they always teach based on real cases that they’ve encountered in the hospital, so it makes me feel like I’m going to be well prepared to help out patients when I graduate.”

We asked her to look back on her education so far and share her top tips for international students getting started on a medical degree.  

1. Plan ahead… way ahead

“As you might already know, university applications for medicine require a lot more preparation than the usual admissions,” she says. “Ideally, you’ll want to start a year before the deadline to give yourself ample time. Make a game plan, setting small but achievable goals: aim to complete your ISAT/GAMSAT by a certain date and plan your study backwards from there. Make sure you’ve fulfilled the English Language Competency requirement, and get your grades up in time for the application!” 

2. It’s not all about the books

“What do you look for in a doctor?” Sabrina asks. “Someone who’s a top expert in their field, of course, but often, what really brings us back to see the same doctor is their bedside manner. Were they kind, compassionate, and understanding of our circumstances? Or did they look at their notes the entire time and lecture us about our bad habits without first considering our social situation?” 

“To develop empathy and good communication skills, you need to get your noses out of the textbooks and expose yourself to the real world. Before you apply for your degree, perhaps volunteer in your local community – it doesn’t have to be medical-related. Perhaps participate in sports or school clubs where you can learn about teamwork and leadership, or just be a good person in general and give a little kindness every day to those around you. With these enriching experiences, you’ll have great examples of your human side that you can talk about during your admission interview.”

3. Reflect on yourself

“Do you really want to do medicine? You might have heard this spiel a million times already, but it is tremendously important that you get this right early on. Look deep into your heart and ask yourself why medicine appeals so much to you? What is it that drives you to commit your life to it? Many, many times down the road, there will be moments you’ll question your decision to do medicine, and in those moments you need to remember why you chose it. That choice must be strong and true enough to get you back into the game and moving forward. It is difficult to turn back once you have committed yourself to this path, so have a good look in the mirror before it’s too late.”

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

“Once you start at university, don't be afraid to ask anyone for help, be it your classmates, lecturers, librarians, student reps. After all, we're all in this together!”


Find out more: 

Doctor of Medicine

Assured Pathway to the Doctor of Medicine for international school leavers

Graduate entry to the Doctor of Medicine

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