What It’s Really Like Studying Medicine (Part One)

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I’m barely qualified to talk, seeing as I’ve only just finished my second year of medicine (MBBS2) and have years and much development to go before I graduate in 2017.

However, the first two ‘pre-clinical’ years can be viewed as a segment separate to the rest of the course – it is largely based around lectures covering physiology, anatomy, pathology etc, and contrasts to the approach of the subsequent years due to its relative lack of contact with the public.

The medicine course at King’s is in a state of flux. When I completed my first year, we had a term of ‘Phase One’ to get everybody up to speed. We then progressed to ‘Phase Two’, which is based around clinical scenarios and focuses on the relationship between structure and function. I think the format of the first year has changed since I completed it. If this concerns you, I’m sure the King’s website can provide answers.

I’ll share with you now my experiences studying medicine at King’s College London. Part 1. 

It’s a pretty big subject to cover, so I’ll split it up into components over several blog posts. First of all, I’ll explain the format of the course.

The first two years are based around mastering the basics of the hard sciences – ranging from stretching young minds around the intricacies of cell biology, the inner physiological workings of the kidneys, to the larger scale study of the anatomy of the human body – memories engrained with the smell of formaldehyde.  We also get exposure to the community through half-day placements at GPs and hospitals, but our time spent with ‘real live patients’ is severely limited. Assessments are common, and the end of year exams can be brutal.

We learn through a steady diet of lectures, seasoned with intermittent tutorials and ‘problem solving workshops’. The practical sides of the course such as Anatomy and Clinical skills have their own associated sessions, with more active student involvement.

The teaching method at King’s aims to ‘present material in an appropriate context integrating basic and clinical sciences, and to revisit and extend material with progress through the course’.

So, imagine a the course as being structured like a wall, with topics represented by bricks. Each layer of the wall is a year of study. The first year of study forms the wall’s foundation, representing the initial basis of understanding of each component. The bricks are stacked onto each other to form layers, being developed and built taller in subsequent years of study.

I like this system, as we are constantly reminded of things we need to know. Ideas are built upon, and I definitely feel learning by repetition has the knack of helping me remember things.

Furthermore, I feel this system promotes independent learning – there is little instruction to revisit topics we studied in the first year, however it can be very useful to ground yourself in a topic again to lay firm foundations for new knowledge.

I even like having structured lectures – the amount of information we need to know is huge and it is a relief to have your workload set down in front of you in physical form. Instead of dealing with imaginary abstract estimates of how much work I have to do to meet a deadline, I can just map my progress through comparison of the sizes of ‘learnt’ and ‘to-learn’ piles of paper stacked in my bedroom.

Even within the first week of MBBS, the differences between courses is apparent. Sometimes it can seem that friends on other courses, with 6 hours of contact time and an essay per month, cannot understand the rigour of having 9AM starts day in, day out. Studying medicine is difficult, and I feel it takes a certain type of person to be successful. Grit, determination and tenacity are qualities I’d recommend to have in large reserves.

My next post will focus on the more crucial bits – The reality of exams and holidays. I’m moving onto Phase 3, which is the clinical section of my medicine course. I hope to post more regarding my experiences, being closer to becoming a ‘real doctor’! If you liked this post, please subscribe to keep up-to-date in the future.

Thanks for reading, please leave me any feedback in the comments below or drop me an email.

Many thanks to a.drian for the above image.

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