Flashback to three years ago this September: I was just coming into year 13 and found myself staring blankly at a screen choked with open day dates. I mean, I knew I wanted to study good ‘ol medicine. I understood that to do such a thing required picking a University. Putting the two together, however, wasn’t so easy – How on earth was I meant to narrow down where I wanted to spend the next five years of my life from thirty or so medical school’s to just four measly choices?
If you’ve found yourself in a similar position, don’t worry! I managed to get through, and have a little bit of wisdom to share on the topic. Starting with the most important question…
Where do I see myself for the next five years?
Well, let’s begin with the basics. How far away from home do you want to go? If you’re an international jet setter this probably isn’t much of an issue for you, but if you’re a bit of a home-bird (or your parents/guardians would like you to be!) it might be an idea to apply somewhere in the vicinity of your home-town. Living close to home can be practical as well – I found myself in a position where I had to ferry my stuff home at the end of every term, which necessitated multiple six-hour round trips from Liverpool to Leicester for my poor parents. That’s not to say you should apply to the Uni next door to your family home – indeed, I would seriously recommend against doing such a thing – but definitely have a think about the pros and cons of applying to Aberdeen when you live in Cornwall.
Cost can also be a factor – I can officially reveal that Leicester has been rated the UK’s most affordable student destination in terms of living costs, with London and Oxford topping the list of most expensive. That’s a big plus for my wallet, and allows me plenty of extra cash to buy more textbooks. And of course, coffee.
What course do I go for?
While the majority of medical school content is GMC prescribed, that doesn’t mean that the medical minds in charge of the curriculum have to deliver it in any particular way. This means that teaching styles between medical schools vary slightly, and can be categorised into three major groups – PBL (Liverpool, Glasgow), Integrated (Leicester) and Traditional Lecture-Based (Oxford, Cambridge).
PBL, short-hand for “Problem Based Learning”, essentially involves shoving students in a room and handing them a clinical problem to discuss, dissect and dismantle, with the idea that learning information in a clinically applicable way will allow students to think as a doctor from the get go. Thus, instead of being told “A myocardial infarction occurs due to the blockage of a coronary artery”, you will instead be presented with “Mr X, a middle-aged, overweight gentleman collapsed on the squash court this afternoon and was rushed into A&E – what could be the problem?”. This is brilliant for those who thrive on finding information for themselves, but is less suitable for people who like to absorb information from a tutor.
Traditional Lecture-Based courses generally have much more of a lecture focus, and clinical work is often delayed until the second half of the course (the final 2.5/3 years). It’s perfect for those who fancy a firm scientific base of knowledge before being unleashed on patients, although a major negative is the absence of early clinical work.
Integrated Courses, of which the medical degree at Leicester is one, combines small group “problem-solving” sessions with the more traditional lectures, allowing a firm basis of practical and theoretical knowledge. At Leicester we also get early clinical exposure – Indeed, I was attached to a patient in my very first term, which was a wonderful way to connect theory to practice, and gain a little confidence in my communication skills!
My personal preference was for courses leaning towards the integrated/traditional side of the spectrum – PBL just seemed a little loose in terms of what I was going to learn, and what on earth was I paying £9000 for if I was going to have to teach myself the course? However, this is just my own personal bias – I’ve also heard wonderful things about PBL from those going through it. A key tip if you have any questions about a courses structure is to talk to a current student (easily found hanging around open days looking for something to do and/or by commenting here!).
Now we come to the all important question – What entry requirements match the strengths of my application? There are a whole host of0 hoops to jump through to get into medical school, with GCSE’s, AS-Levels, A-levels, UMS, UKCAT and BMAT all potentially contributing to your application. The key here is to apply to your strengths. Got a high UKCAT? Go for a University which likes that kinda thing, like Leicester or Sheffield. Got 9 A*’s at GCSE? Sounds like Birmingham or Oxford would be a place for you to consider. Worried that doing both BMAT and the UKCAT might be too much pressure? Choose to apply to a set of University’s which take one or the other.
That being said, as long as you have fairly decent grades, you shouldn’t be put off applying to the Uni you always wanted to go to just because you’re strengths don’t quite match up to their requirements. You are after-all going to be spending the next five years of your life in this medical school, so it’s advised to apply somewhere you want to go!
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, it’s time to head out into the real world and attend some Open Days. September is choca-bloc with University’s opening their doors to potential future students, so it’s a perfect time to convince Mum and Dad to hit the road one Saturday and take a peek at student life. I ended up applying to all four of the Universities I visited, funnily enough – it’s amazing how easily you’re able to say if a place feels right once you actually visit.
So, that’s about all for now – best of luck to all those trying to decide where you want to go! At the end of the day, where you go doesn’t matter all that much – it’s almost always about what you make of it yourself. This is true for medicine in particular, as no matter where you end up, you’ll come out with the same degree and the potential opportunities to get you favourite foundation year jobs as the rest of your national cohort.
As for me, I’m back at the wonderful Leicester University, getting stuck into third year. Wish me luck!