Medicine is one of the most challenging subjects to study at University, and this interview with Lydie and Hazal who attend Barts University will shed some light on what it's like to study Medicine.
SnapRevise: What did you study at A-level?
Lydie: I studied Physics in Year 12, and then French, Biology and Maths.
Hazal: I studied Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Further Maths.
SR: Is there a typical day in the life of a medical student?
H: There isn't really a set day - Monday to Friday is quite varied because of the different types of things that we need to do. In terms of a weekly overview, we have between 7 and 10 lectures and then we have anatomy sessions, where we'd be in the lab. We have physiology sessions, histology sessions, GP placements.
L: Yeah also some problem-based learning and clinical skills classes. If we had to narrow it down to a day, we'd typically get up in the morning and get into university for 9 am lecture, and then have an hours break at 11 am. We might then be over at a different campus in the afternoon. A lot of these sessions are in labs, so it's small groups. It does vary a lot. Every day is different. GP placements are usually one location, so that's nice!
SR: What drew you to the course at Barts?
H: The course is really varied, which appealed to us. At other medical schools, the first two years can be just lectures, but at Barts, they keep it interesting by doing different things early. The fact that every day is different keeps it interesting.
L: As well as the variety, we get to have early patient contact. Some medical schools you don't get to meet patients until the third or fourth year, and I think it's really important to yes learn the scientific part of things, but also to learn the holistic things too, where you actually get to see the patient and how it affects them and their lives. When you have that real-world example, it helps you remember it more, rather than just learning from the textbook.
SR: Did you always want to study medicine?
H: From GCSEs onwards maybe? I always said growing up that I want to be a doctor, but I think when I really decided that I wanted to study medicine was in Year 12 when I had done some work experience, went to some medical events and conferences, and I could see myself in their position and that it was what I wanted to do.
L: I was stuck between business and medicine, I really liked both of them. I liked talking to people and I could see myself communicating as a doctor, but I made sure that the decision I made was informed, so I looked into both on them - but my heart was definitely set on medicine after that. The good thing about medicine is that you can do other things with it, you can teach, you can do business within it.
H: Even when you're a doctor, you could for example go into surgery and there are hundreds of different specialities you could go into. I don't think you'd ever get bored, there's always something to do, even research.
SR: How has it met your expectations?
L: I think I underestimated the workload in my first year, I just expected it to be less than it was. Older students would tell me that early medicine content was easier than A-levels, so something I learnt the hard way was that there is a lot of content, and while it might not be the most complicated subject to understand, it's definitely the volume of work that you have to do in a given period of time that is difficult. It did live up to expectations in the sense that I do enjoy what I'm learning and patient contact.
H: I would agree, I think something that restores your faith in doing a degree like this is the patient contact, because sometimes you go weeks and it's just lectures. You can get bored with that. But then you go into a GP or a hospital and you realise this is why you're doing this. This is why I want to continue on with the degree, so I guess in that sense I underestimated how useful and beneficial the clinical placements were going to be for me.
SR: What are the main differences between A-levels and University?
L: There a lot... The independence that you're given at medical school is crazy! At A-levels, I felt like I was independent, but I didn't know independence until I got to medical school. You are given a timetable and that's it. You decide if you're going to go to lectures, or if you're going to stay on top of your work, or if you're going to make your deadlines. There is a greater responsibility, which makes sense as you're at a higher level of education.
H: Yeah, you're not spoon-fed anything. At A-levels, you get resources, if you don't understand what's on a slide your teacher will sit down with you and explain it - you don't get that at university, the lecturer will continue on regardless and you have to catch up on your own time. The main thing is the volume of content though. A-level exams are also harder in the sense that the grade boundaries are very different to pass. You don't have to really aim for the highest percentages, whereas A-level Chemistry can be 88% for an A*, which is quite different.
L: There's also no specification. So at A-level, you have a framework that you work from, whereas with medicine, you never know what will come up or what you have to know.
SR: What is the application process like?
L: After you decide you want to do medicine you have to sit an aptitude test - this could be the BMAT or the UCAT depending on what university you're applying to. The UCAT usually takes place over summer and the BMAT has dates in September or October. After that you have to write a personal statement which is usually due around October 15th, depending on the UCAS deadline. You want to get across why you want to do medicine and what experience you've got already that shows that, your understanding of medical careers. If you're successful you'll be interviewed by a panel of people.
H: As you can see it is quite different from a normal university application, which is why it can be quite tiring and longwinded. Even though the application in itself does take a lot of effort, just getting through that should be something that you celebrate and congratulate yourself on because it is not easy. Even the personal statement is different from other applications. You have to be very reflective on the experience that you've done and how that's going to help you in your studies and as a doctor in the future.
SR: What is some A-level advice you would give to our students?
H: I think I would tell my GCSE and A-level self just to calm down a bit! I used to stress so much about small things. I understand it is a really high intensity and stressful period, but I could have made my life a lot easier just by calming down, taking each day as it comes and just trusting in myself and my own ability because I had a lot of self doubt. If I just believed in myself and trusted in my ability, I think my whole application process would have been easier. If you're out there and you're like me and you stress a lot - I know it's easier said than done, but trust me, take a breather and a day off if you need to and things will go well if you work hard for it.
L: Yeah, if you're someone who can panic a lot, who is scared they might not get into medicine or whatever they want to do the first time, there are people who have got in the second time, who have taken a gap year or done another degree and come back and that's been beneficial for them. Just trust in the process and in yourself and know that everything will be fine, regardless of what happens you're going to be okay and end up exactly where you're supposed to be.
You can watch the full interview here: https://youtu.be/sm20gi-Bhtc