Welcome to the 3rd week of the Virtual Medicine Open Day: giving you an insight into each of the UK medical schools and the opportunity to ask current medical students about the realities of studying there!

This post is written by Aleksandra, a 2nd year medical student at Imperial College London.

The last 2 years studying Medicine at Imperial College London have been amazing! I had always wanted to study in a big city, so London was the obvious choice. The medical school at Imperial is unique because we have our own student’s union, with over 60 societies run entirely by the medical school and there’s a really strong sense of community. I can’t imagine studying anywhere else!

Contents

  1. An Overview of Teaching Methods
  2. Typical Timetable of a 1st year Medical Student at Imperial
  3. The Non-Medical Stuff
  4. Pros
  5. Cons
  6. 3 Top Tips For Applying to Imperial
  7. Q&A

An Overview of How We Are Taught

Medicine at Imperial is known to be quite traditional, although it is officially classed as an ‘integrated course’. In my 1st year, I spent less than 1 week overall on the wards or on GP placements. The first two years are very science heavy, with most teaching being lectures, small group tutorials and lab sessions. Anatomy is the only course that is taught differently – we cover content in lectures, living anatomy sessions including looking at surface landmarks on one another and also in dissection sessions where we are able to dissect cadavers in groups of 4-10 students. Although the course is very traditional, we do have one PBL stream, including only 8 sessions (2 cases) throughout the year. In terms of assessment, we are tested at the end of each course in the form of exams. These are usually in March, May and June. Throughout the year, the only work we are assigned is one formal lab report and one PBL write up. 

Having said all that, my year was the last to have this very traditional course. Although there are many aspects that are the same, the year below me (and all following years) have a new course that places much more emphasis on developing professional skills, values and knowledge right from the start. There is much more opportunity for clinical teaching and patient contact in the earlier years. The teaching approach is predominantly case-based and tries to integrate scientific knowledge with clinical care. Anatomy is now taught using prosections rather than dissections, where the part of the body being studied has already been dissected. Students are assessed regularly with ‘progress tests’ every 2-3 weeks which count towards the final grade for the year. If you want to read more about the new course, I would recommend going directly to Imperial’s website as even the students are learning about the course as they go along since it is the first year it’s been running!

A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic

These are two examples of a typical week for me in first year. As I’ve mentioned, the course is slightly different for those who will be applying now, but the number of contact hours is similar, so the timetables are a good guide. Now there are more tutorials and team-based learning sessions in the place of around 50% of the lectures.  

The Non-Medical Stuff

Since Imperial only has courses in medicine, science, engineering and business it is a fairly small university, but being in the heart of London ensures that the university is busy and always full of life! The main campus is in South Kensington and is minutes away from Hyde Park, which is an amazing place for walks, sports and relaxing between/after lectures. The main campus for medics is at Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith, which is a great area for students to live and the night life is pretty good, although people go for nights out all around London (one of the many benefits of being in such a big city). The main campus is right next to the Royal Albert Hall, where there are always amazing events going on including red carpets for some of the biggest premieres and awards – I saw Meryl Streep walking down the carpet once! 

The accommodation offered by Imperial is generally very good, but being in London means that the more affordable (and nicer) the housing, the further from campus it is. The accommodation in South Kensington is minutes away from the main campus, although the prices are very high. Most of the rooms are between 220-290 per week! There is a possibility to have a shared room, but you have no control over who you share with. The accommodation I stayed in was located in North Acton, which is about 45 minutes commute away from the main campus. The rooms are extremely modern and all of them are en-suite! These accommodation blocks are very large, with about 700 students living in each and more are being built each year, so it is a great place for meeting many other students!

There are more than 350 societies at the university, with over 60 run by the medical students union! I’ve found that it’s one of the best ways to make really good friends, as you can join a very niche society and find others that are also interested in the same topic! There is definitely something for everyone, whether you enjoy sports, arts, volunteering, music, culture or anything else! Contrary to popular belief, Imperial students do also like humanities and languages! There is a scheme called ‘Horizons’ which allows students to take an extra course in a language or humanity. The lessons are 2 hours long and take place once a week. I did German in my first year and it was  really nice to have something other than just Medicine! These courses are also graded/assessed, so they appear on your transcript and for many students these can be counted towards credits (although sadly not for medical students).

Pros of Studying at Imperial

Location – This is a huge benefit of studying at Imperial. The area around campus is very exciting with museums, music halls, parks and restaurants, although it is also a hub for tourists. It is also extremely easy to commute to many other exciting areas on the tube very quickly!  

Many opportunities – Imperial’s research-focus and central location makes it a hub for opportunities. Some of the best medical research happens right above our lecture theatres and also on other campuses owned by Imperial so there is plenty of scope for conducting summer projects. In addition to research, there are many student conferences happening on campus – on average, there are about 1-2 medical ones each weekend! This is a great way to learn more about cutting-edge research or even present your research! I’ve been lucky enough to help with organising multiple conferences, which has been an incredible opportunity. Most of these conferences have students from all over the country (and world) attending! 

Very international – Imperial is the most international university in the UK by percentage of international students, with most coming from outside the UK. This is something that really appealed to me as I spent a lot of time in international schools in a few different countries and didn’t want to lose that diverse environment when I went to university! 

Intercalated BSc and opportunity to pursue a PhD – this was huge for me! I’ve always loved the idea of being able to do a PhD within my course, which is something offered by only Imperial and UCL (there might be some others, but those are the only ones I know of). This means that after completing a BSc in fourth year, medical students are able to apply to undertake a PhD before returning to clinical medicine. This means that you have a MBBS degree, BSc and PhD within 9 years. Although this seems long, it is a short time to achieve all of these degrees! 

Cons of Studying at Imperial

Very competitive environment – As with all medical schools, the people who are accepted are typically those that were top of their year at school, so it is likely that any medical school will have some level of competitiveness. The difference between other medical schools and Imperial is that the faculty tend to select students who are more interested in the academic side of medicine and are interested in pursuing research at some point in their career. This is definitely not the case for all medical students at Imperial, but the majority will have research projects over summer and a few publications under their belt before graduating.

Long commutes – this is especially true for medics because our hospital placements can be anywhere from 10-90 minute commutes depending on where you live. Cheaper housing tends to be a little further away, so this might be even longer! 

Only surrounded by science/business students – this can be seen as a pro or a con, but for it is definitely more of a con. It’s always nice to be able to talk to someone who is studying something completely different to you. 

Expensive – this is inevitable due to the location and will be the same for most universities in London or other big cities. There are definitely ways around the prices and many students share tips with one another about how to minimise costs on going out, food, accommodation etc., so it shouldn’t be something that puts you off if you really want to study in London like me! 

The social life is not as good as at other universities – many students are happy to stay in and work most nights (some courses definitely require this more than others). This should definitely not deter you from coming to Imperial, as there are plenty of people who love going out (myself included)! Your social life definitely depends on how much you want to socialise! 

3 Top Tips For Applying to Imperial

1. Do your research – Imperial is a research-focused university and most students are genuinely interested in the scientific basis of medicine, just as much as the clinical side. The first two years are heavily science-focused and there are certain terms that are entirely devoted to doing research. If this is not something you are interested in, I wouldn’t recommend Imperial. 

2. Have a variety of work experience in your personal statement – Imperial is interested in seeing that you are passionate about Medicine as a science and as a vocation. You should try to have some work experience in clinical medicine and some in a research-based setting, although this is definitely not necessary! You can also write about lectures you attended/watched online, scientific books you read or articles that inspired you.

3. Don’t be intimidated by the rumours surrounding Imperial – many people believe that the workload at Imperial is huge and that people never have any fun. Although there is a huge amount of content to learn, there are plenty of opportunities to have an amazing university experience, especially since the course is pass/fail (except for the BSc year)!


A huge thank you to Aleksandra for such an interesting and detailed overview of Imperial! Find out more about her on her social media and check out her own site:


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Posted by:Life of a Medic

2 replies on “What’s it Really Like To Study Medicine at Imperial College London?

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