Important factors to consider include location, course structure and competition ratios; offer types, year size and cost; quality of research, the teaching hospitals available and whether there is a compulsory intercalated year. Some of these are discussed in more depth on this page.
Would you like to live in a big city, in a small town, by the sea, in the countryside, or Wales, Scotland or London? It is not just the location of a medical school that you should consider but how you feel about the school itself when you visit. Go to an open day; look at where you would have your lectures, the library,and the hospitals where you will train and where you might be living. Imagine whether you could be happy there. Importantly, do you like the vibe of the medical school and its city or town? Your years at university will be a great time to meet new people and to explore the place where you will be studying. Talk to current students and check out the area and the facilities.
There has been a move by the GMC in the last 10 years to diversify the way schools teach medicine, recognising that traditional lecture-based teaching is not the best way to equip all students to be pragmatic doctors.
Roughly speaking, three main types of teaching are used at medical schools in the UK which are discussed below.
The traditional method is similar to secondary school, just bigger! Features include: full-body dissections, subject-based teaching, lectures, a distinction between preclinical and clinical subjects, patient contact occurs later, less self-directed learning and often degrees are intercalated.
PBL is quite different to secondary school and requires a lot of student motivation. Anatomy is taught by prosections and virtual teaching, the curriculum focuses on clinical context and teaching is systems based and students are self-taught in small groups.
Different doctors will tell you different things with regard to how well these different teaching methods work. Some say that knowing the basic sciences in depth is the most important foundation for doctors. Others say that case-based learning is the best way to learn how to treat a patient in all aspects of their care; not just focusing on the pathology but taking other factors such as social issues into account. Most medical schools offer PBL to some degree, so consider how much you think it would suit you. Could you drift off in a lecture but stay motivated by having to do your own research around a patient scenario? Or would you prefer formal teaching first followed by independent work to help to develop your understanding?
Peter – Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, QMUL
‘When I applied to my four medical schools, I did not make teaching methods my main priority, instead choosing to focus on location and entry requirements. However, I was accepted to a medical school which focused heavily on PBLs which really suited my learning style. I am truly grateful for this as I don’t think I would have enjoyed a lecture-heavy course at all.’
UK medical schools are continuously changing. The following questions may help determine what course is right for you.
Such knowledge of the curricula of the medical schools you are applying to is essential, as you are essentially signing up to spend a significant part of your life there, as well as trying to impress the university in interviews.
An intercalated degree allows a student to study an area of interest to a higher degree i.e. Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. Some courses offer compulsory intercalation, including those at Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh; St Andrews, University College London and Imperial College London. Every other UK medical school offers the option for intercalation which students can apply for after their second, third or fourth year.
The benefits of intercalation are the time out from medicine to focus on an area of interest, to develop your research, writing and studying skills and to explore avenues broader than medicine, such as global health, journalism or art. Many students use their intercalated year to carry out research, which they hope to publish.
Some potential disadvantages are the cost of studying for an extra year, the loss of continuity in medical training or perhaps choosing a degree topic that you do not find interesting and fulfilling, although this is unlikely.
For many, intercalating offers a great year out and an opportunity to gain extra points, which help with applications to junior doctor posts.
Anna – University of Exeter
’I was unsure about whether I wanted to intercalate, so I decided to apply to medical schools which gave me the option of doing it rather than making it compulsory. By involving myself in some research during first year, I quickly realised that I preferred the clinical side of medicine rather than the research side. This allowed me to make a more well-informed decision to not pursue an intercalated degree. ’
Callum – Imperial College London
‘I knew I wanted to get involved in medical research during my time at medical school which is why I applied to medical schools that either made intercalation compulsory or provided it as an option. Knowing that I was planning to intercalate after my third year allowed me to plan my time effectively to ensure that I spent my longer summer break well!’
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