So, you’ve decided that Medicine is definitely for you and you’ve started doing some work experience. Now you need to start thinking about where it is you want to study. With 34 Medical schools in the UK and Ireland alone, along with many more overseas, narrowing that list down to 4 can be a nerve-wracking task. No two schools are the same and so you really need to take the time to figure out which ones are suited to you.
There are many factors to consider when selecting your Medical School and we will go through them here. They are:
- Course structure
- Do you learn better in a lecture-based environment or through practical, hands-on training?
- Entrance exams
- Which schools need which exams, and do you feel confident in getting high marks in these exams?
- What grades do each if the Medical schools need and do they match up with your predicted grades?
- You will be living in this place for up to 6 years so make sure you actually like it there
- Foundation years and intercalated degrees
- Some universities offer a pre-clinical year and the opportunity to gain a bachelor’s degree during your course
There are 3 broad types of course structure when studying medicine. Each one has its pros and cons and not everyone will be suited to each one. Take some time to read up on which structures each university uses and think about whether that will be the best learning environment for you.
This structure works usually with 2-3 pre-clinical years of teaching in the form of lectures and tutorials followed by 3 clinical years which may include GP placements and ward rounds. These pre-clinical years will be purely science-based, focusing on the theory of medicine including fields such as Biochemistry, Physiology and Anatomy in a broad sense rather than looking at individual cases. You may still have tutorials and lectures in your clinical years but they will be there to compliment any clinical learning you undertake.
Traditional courses are perfect for those of you that really enjoy learning about the strong scientific facts that underpin medical practice. They are also ideal for people who prefer to have a good knowledge base to back them up for when they begin their clinical work. The tutorials themselves are carried out in small groups generally with an expert in the field that is being studied, providing a fantastic opportunity to really learn a lot about a particular subject. However, many can find this type of learning quite an intense and nerve-wracking experience, so think about whether this is the best learning environment for you. Essay writing is a large part of the traditional course structure which can be helpful practice for life as a doctor, however, it may not be suited to your particular learning style.
If you are the type of person who likes to dive right in and get hands-on with lots of practical work, then Medical Schools offering the traditional course structure may not be for you.
Integrated courses follow a similar structure to traditional courses however they incorporate clinical work far sooner, with scientific knowledge being delivered at the same time as clinical training. The way in which subjects are taught also differs from integrated courses, learning the material by topic rather than by discipline. For example, while a traditional course would teach anatomy as a whole, an integrated course would teach a topic such as the digestive system and discuss the anatomy related to this particular topic.
Integrated courses are a very good mix of clinical exposure along with strong scientific teaching in the form of seminars and lectures. It allows you to learn the relevant material first before getting hands-on, using your studies as a grounding to apply your knowledge in a clinical setting. However, the fact that you will be entering a clinical setting so soon may leave you feeling a little overwhelmed and underprepared. If you are the type of person who prefers a more thorough theoretical preparation, then you may find yourself more suited to a traditional course. Some integrated courses can involve problem-based learning, so look into university prospectuses to see exactly what the practical structure is for each medical school.
Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Courses:
PBL courses put the main focus of learning on understanding via problem-solving through peer-to-peer teaching and small group work. Lectures will be used to supplement your studies but will not be the primary source of learning. Different medical schools will offer differing levels of PBL, with some only having a few sessions a week or term and others using PBL as their sole teaching method. Take some time to study prospectuses to see what individual schools offer.
A key part of PBL is that you yourself will be coming up with your own learning objectives based on the scenarios you are presented with. You will be presented with a case study or problem in small groups and will need to brainstorm solutions, figuring out what you have to learn to solve the problem at hand. Through private reading, lectures and clinical placements you go away and gather the necessary information before presenting your findings to your group and professor.
PBL courses work best for those of you that are proactive and thrive in a self-directed environment. They are an ideal course structure for those who enjoy group work and case solving rather than amassing a large knowledge base through lecture-based learning. Extreme motivation is required to tackle this type of course to determine if this type of learning is right for you. If you prefer a higher level of academic engagement and work better independently then perhaps an integrated or traditional course structure may be better suited to you.
For undergraduate degrees, you will find that most Medical Schools will require an entrance exam to be sat. This can be either the UKCAT or the BMAT. The amount of importance placed on the results of these exams varies from university to university, with many holding a threshold mark that you must get higher than to be considered for interview. Take the time to look at how big a part your score will play in the application process. As you find out your UKCAT score the day you take the exam you will know what mark you have when you complete your applications. If your mark is lower than the university requires don’t waste an application on that university. You will not find out the results of your BMAT until after you complete your applications and so generally, we suggest not applying to more than 2 BMAT universities.
When it comes to applying for Medical School your A-level grades are incredibly important as they will ultimately dictate which medical schools you can apply to. Take the time to look into the grades and the subjects that each individual medical school requires, whether they base their criteria on predicted grades and how much they take into account your current AS level results. Medical Schools get hundreds of applications and the first thing they do to cut down that list is discard those applicants that haven’t met their required grade boundaries. So don’t waste one of your few options on a university that you don’t meet the requirements for. There are plenty of websites that list medical schools and their entry requirements so you can view these quickly and easily side by side.
We can’t stress enough that it is important to find out which course is best for you, and that should be one of your first ports of call when deciding upon a Medical School. However, the location is an incredibly important aspect of deciding upon your final 4 choices. You will be living in this place for at least 6 years so it needs to be somewhere that you will be able to call home. Take the time to visit universities and their surrounding areas and see if this is somewhere you can see spending vast amounts of time. Also, check out the facilities, you will be studying in these buildings’ day in day out, so you need to feel comfortable in them. It’s also important to remember the social aspect of university. Studying is important but check out what each university offers in terms of clubs and societies for those days when you need to put your brain on ice and get some fresh air.
If you are considering applying to Oxbridge you can only pick one; Oxford or Cambridge. You cannot apply to both and as they both take on the traditional course structure it is wise to visit both to see the differences in the two before you make your decision.
Foundation Years and Intercalated Degrees:
A foundation year offers a useful way into Medicine for a variety of students such as those coming from overseas, those who didn’t get an offer first time, those who didn’t study the correct subjects at A-level and those who didn’t quite meet the required grades. A foundation year prepares students by giving them a pre-clinical year of science-based teaching to ease them into the Medical degree. Not all universities offer these courses so check prospectuses to see if this is something you feel would be useful to you.
An intercalated degree allows you to get a Bachelor of Science degree (BSc) during your medical studies, usually taking place between your third and fifth year. This can be great for students who wish to focus on other topics and learn about a subject outside of medicine. As it takes some time out from studying medicine it can be a good breather for those of you who like a bit more of a change up from time to time, however if you are the type of person that struggles to get back into a topic after a hiatus you may find this option is really not for you. Really do your research about which universities offer these courses as for some it might be a compulsory aspect of their medical degree, for example, UCL, while for others it will depend upon your grades whether or not you can do this.
How can we help?
As we’ve previously mentioned we host several exhibitions all across the UK, filled to the brim with the country’s top medical schools. These are completely FREE for you to attend and we cannot recommend them enough as a way to get a real insight into each medical school. You will be able to talk with professors, medical students and admissions officers alike and that is one of the best ways to find out exactly what a medical school is like and whether it is right for you.