Medicine @ Newcastle | Q&A
These questions have been answered by Simone (2nd year), Lynn (4th year graduate entry) and Sam (1st year graduate entry) medical students at the Newcastle University.
Simone’s questions + answers:
Is the competition at Newcastle intense?
The competition to get into Newcastle for medicine is around the same as other medical schools in the country. When I started medical school, the playing field (at least to me) felt like it had been evened. Medical students come from lots of different educational backgrounds, but you’re all beginning a new and unique experience together. The academic atmosphere here is generally quite relaxed, but there are lots of opportunities for more academic involvement if you would like, such as medical specialty societies, research opportunities, optional lectures/conferences. The academic support system in the medical school is really good and your tutors will be able to help you out if you ever need it.
Is Newcastle a diverse medical school?
I think the answer to this question will depend on what you’re used to in your life at home/current school. In terms of racial diversity, we have slightly more BAME students in medicine than the UK proportion of BAME people. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, the faculty have recently pledged to increase diversity in the medical curriculum including: revising case vignette material to increase diversity and inclusivity; reviewing teaching materials to ensure students are prepared to treat BAME patients (particularly with respect to dermatology); and additional learning resources and student representatives dedicated to inclusivity education across the medical degree. In terms of socioeconomic diversity, the medical school is dedicated to encouraging non-traditional applicants into medicine at Newcastle through the PARTNERS scheme. This is an incredible opportunity for students who maybe otherwise would not have been able to access the opportunities that facilitate entry into medicine. I was a PARTNERS student and can honestly say it changed everything for me. I’d recommend looking into access schemes to see if you’re eligible.
How big is Newcastle as a medical school – approximately how many medical students are there?
It’s quite a big medical school! For A100 there were around 350 students in my year, with about 25 in A101. This sounds daunting at first, but you still do get to know staff members well. It’s also nice to have such a big medical community at the university.
How far can placements be in first year?
Placements can be in any of the hospitals and general practices associated with the medical school. These cover the North East and Cumbria. I was worried about travel before I started but the medical school is really helpful with it. If your placement isn’t easily commutable then the medical school will organise transport for you. Generally anything more than a short bus/metro ride would mean that the medical school will provide transport. There are travel bursaries available and if there are any other reasons you can’t organise your own transport, the medical school will be happy to help you.
How many base units do you experience in clinical years? Do you stay in the same one and just move hospital over the year or just move base unit each time?
Usually students will have a different base unit in years 3, 4, and 5, with applications taking place in the October of the preceding year. The base units all offer an equally good education but we rotate around them in order to interact with a wide range of people (patients and clinicians!) and to have varied experience. However, if there is a particular reason why you would need to stay in one base unit/area then that can definitely be accommodated for and will be explained to you once you get to the point of base unit allocations.
Is there a particular accommodation or area that medics tend to stay in?
Not particularly – there are medics at every Newcastle accommodation! The halls that are closest to the medical school (Park View and Castle Leazes) will likely be more popular among medics though.
I know you are taught clinical skills, as well as that do you have dedicated communication skills teaching?
We do. There is a big focus at Newcastle on developing strong communication skills from the beginning of the course. Communication skills are woven through all clinical skills sessions (whether it be a consultation or a practical skill). In addition to this, we have dedicated communication skills seminars where we learn skills such as active listening and structuring a consultation. We also have sessions about adapting communication skills to suit different people (e.g. people with vision or hearing loss). Communication skills have to be demonstrated and signed-off throughout the year, and there are lots of opportunities to do this.
How do the seminars in first year run and how many do you have for a case? Do they work like PBL would?
The number of seminars varies between cases, but it’s usually around 1-3. They are run in groups of max ~15 by one of the lecturers or a tutor who is also a doctor. We usually have to complete a small amount of pre-reading for each one to familiarise ourselves with information we will be using in the seminar. There is a mixture of didactic teaching and activities in the seminars. Sometimes the seminars will include working through a patient case from presentation to treatment, but this depends on the seminar topic. Other times we could be asked to do a mock consultation and reflect on it, prepare a short presentation, or answer questions then feed back to the group.
Lynn’s questions + answers:
What’s the workload like each week at Newcastle?
I would say in first and second year there are around 15 contact hours per week. These will include lectures, seminars, anatomy teaching and clinical skill sessions. Apart from these, I would say that around 15-20 hours per week need to be spent in self-study going over the different topics and preparing for upcoming sessions. Some topics also need to be covered by self-directed learning. Lecturers will point students into the right directions but it is up to us to then cover the required learning in our own time.
How do you know what you need to study for exams if everything is case based?
All the cases are based on a list of learning outcomes set by the university and based on the GMC curriculum guidelines. Exam questions will be based on these learning outcomes. So for example, a case could be about a 57-year old man having chest pain and later being diagnosed with a myocardial infarction. The learning outcomes during that case would then be based around the anatomy and physiology of the heart with exam questions based on these outcomes. As Newcastle use a spiral curriculum, not everything about a topic is covered in one block but topics are revisited over the 5 years.
Are all materials put on a web platform so you can easily access them to study from?
We have an online platform that lecturers use to upload relevant learning resources. These include lecture notes as well as additional materials that will help with covering all the learning outcomes. The platform also contains a list of all the learning outcomes, sorted per lecture, that are expected to be covered either by the lecture itself or by the students during self-directed learning.
What do you think about learning clinical skills in the clinical skills rooms vs other med schools that allow you to learn clinical skills in a GP or hospital?
At Newcastle we start learning clinical skills from the beginning of medical school. During the first and second year clinical skills are taught in the clinical skills suite at the medical school using volunteers from the community. This allows us to practice clinical examinations on real people while being closely supervised by clinical teaching fellows. Personally, I feel that practicing in a low-pressure environment allowed me to develop my clinical skills to a level that I felt comfortable to go out and practice on real patients in 3rd year. Besides the structured clinical skills teaching, students have the opportunity to practice their skills and get feedback from clinicians while on GP and hospital visits. There are also opportunities to book onto extra clinical sessions in different specialities during the first two years to get further exposure to clinical teaching.
When do you have your first OSCEs and what are they like?
The first OSCE is during the summer exam session in 1st year. However, this OSCE is mainly to get students used to this format of examination. The OSCE is a practical examination of usually 10 stations, each lasting 6 minutes. The format can be compared to an MMI interview. In each station, there will be a specific task for the student, such as taking a blood pressure or doing a respiratory examination. In the first two years, the OSCEs are not so much about finding clinical signs and coming up with a diagnosis but rather about remembering the right things to do during an examination and having a good bedside manner.
Do you think there will be a greater number of applicants for 2021 entry as more will defer due to online teaching?
I am not sure how the current situation will affect the application in the coming years. I know that Newcastle gives incoming students the option to apply for deferral but I personally don’t think that this will majorly affect the applications for 2021 entry. There shouldn’t be a greater number of applicants as deferred entries will not have to re-apply, however there might be slightly fewer places if more people defer their entry. However, as the current situation is not comparable to anything we have experienced before, I think it is extremely difficult to predict what will happen with applications in the coming year.
What would you say makes Newcastle unique as a city?
Newcastle has a good mix of big city as well as small town vibes. It is very walkable and the medical school as well as the city centre are easily reached from the popular neighborhoods of Jesmond, Sandyford or Heaton. Each of these neighborhoods has a good selection of small cafés and restaurants as well as little parks to hang out with friends and relax, while still having easy access to the city. There is plenty to do and see around town. Some of my favorite places to go to are the Quayside, Jesmond Dene (especially Pet’s Corner) and Ouseburn Valley. Another great aspect of the city is that it is only a 20 minute metro journey away from the sea, which is a great place to go to to relax and get away from busy city life for a bit. The lake district is also only a short car journey away and I can highly recommend going for a weekend trip.
Sam’s questions + answers:
How many cases do you cover in first year?
The undergraduate course complete cases 1-13 in year one, and cases 14-25 in year 2. On the accelerated course (A101) we do 25 cases in our first year (which is year 1 and 2 of the undergraduate course (A100) combined) as well as three weeks of ‘Foundation’ learning to get everyone up to scratch with the basics of physiology. These cases are usually 1-2 weeks long for accelerators and 2-4 weeks for undergrads, depending on the content. As a rule of thumb, the accelerated medics get half the time to complete these cases compared to the undergraduates.
Do you feel as though being given the opportunity to engage in dissection would have benefitted you more than just using prosections?
I had this thought when I first applied to Newcastle but I’ve enjoyed learning from prosection. I thought because I’m quite a ‘hands-on’ learner, dissection would have been more beneficial. Having only done a small amount of dissection during my A-Level Biology studies, I have little to compare it against but some of the pros of prosection are:
- You get to focus on the organ/system you are studying at the time. The specimens are specially prepared to highlight specific structures which can make them look similar to pictures in anatomy textbooks, making them easier to revise.
- You can utilise your time in the anatomy rooms more efficiently. You don’t have to spend time actually dissecting and can inspect the specimens straight away. It also means that no one gets to hog all the dissecting.
- Everyone gets to experience the same specimens as you rotate around them.
- There are often a variety of specimens, some show the variations between individuals or pathological features. If you are dissecting and only ever doing this on the same cadaver, you may not experience as many of these anatomical variations.
I think I would like to have some medical dissection practice for the sake of the experience and to feel a bit like a surgeon but all in all I don’t think it’s affected my anatomy learning.
How are you assessed throughout the course?
There are four main areas you are assessed at Newcastle
Exams: There are two main types of exams at Newcastle (SBA and SAP). You are given a Red, Amber or Green mark depending on your grade. You will be given a green status if your performance is more than 5% above the threshold, amber status if your performance is within 5% above the threshold and red if your performance falls below the threshold.
- SBA (Single best answer exams): These exams are multiple choice and are usually 100-150 questions long. These can be tricky as sometimes all the answers are correct but one is ‘most correct’.
- SAP (Short answer papers): You are presented with a series of questions which can involve clinical scenarios or data interpretation. You will need to write a few sentences/bullet points to answer these questions.
Assignments: On the current (accelerated) curriculum there are three pieces of coursework. The first is a patient information leaflet for which you get a selection of topics. You are also assigned a patient who you get to visit and interview about their experience with a medical condition. You will make a poster and powerpoint presentation based on your patient’s condition and their experience, respectively.
Clinical skills: There is usually a new clinical skill(s) associated with each case. You will be taught these by the medical school teaching fellows. Usually after each session you will be able to get your examination and/or communication skill signed off and saved to your portfolio. Whilst you mostly practice these skills on other students in your class, the medical school will sometimes arrange for real patients to attend.
Professionalism: Any medical student in the UK is held to quite a high standard. The university tracks your attendance to compulsory lectures/seminars/clinical skill sessions. If you miss these sessions (or forget your student ID) without a valid reason you receive ‘professionalism points’. You can also receive these points for missed deadlines too. At the end of each period of monitoring you will receive a red, amber or green professionalism status. Your academic mentor will arrange a meeting with you to discuss any underlying issues. There is quite a high threshold for this so it’s generally okay if you happen to miss one or two sessions per term.
What’s the student support like at Newcastle?
In short, very good. I cannot fault the course directors and case leaders, they are really receptive to feedback and want to do everything to help you succeed. Lectures are usually more than happy to explain things to you and there are some fantastic study resources. You are assigned a mentor at the beginning of the year who is there to help you with any queries (both personal and academic). The students union also has some great resources for academic and personal troubles.
What would you recommend doing before starting in September?
I’d honestly suggest taking the summer to relax. Use the time to do non-medical stuff as your life will be consumed by medicine soon. I spent my summer before medical school working to save up money, I went on holiday both abroad and in the UK. Try and see your friends and family too.
If you really want to get stuck in, Newcastle Medical School sent us some topics that would be featured in our foundation modules, such as: structure and function of cells, organisation of the genome, basic anatomy and histology terms etc.
Is there anything you wish you had known before starting at Newcastle? Any advice for people starting this year?
I don’t think there would be any one thing that would have been useful to know about the university. All the basic information about things like teaching style, university facilities can be found on the medical school’s website.
Advice wise, there are a few things I’d suggest:
- Stay on top of your notes. Especially if you’re studying accelerated medicine. I tend to treat my studying like a 9-5 job in order to stay on top of things. You then have your evenings to go out, relax and do what you enjoy.
- You don’t have to know everything.
- Do your pre-reading before clinical skills and anatomy sessions. Even if it’s just a quick glance over the blood supply to an organ or the demo video of how to do a respiratory exam.
- Imposter syndrome is very, very real. There will probably be some point where you will doubt yourself. You’ll think that everyone else on the course is smarter than you and the university made a mistake by letting you in. But the thing is almost everyone feels that way at some point. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and struggles you don’t always see. It can be hard to accept that you’ve gone from the top of your class to the middle or even lower down the rankings but try to focus on yourself. Medical school can sometimes feel like a competition but it really isn’t. Focus on yourself. At the end of the day a pass is a pass and you’ll still be a doctor at the end of it.
- Don’t forget to have fun outside of medicine. Medicine can become a little bubble and it feels like medical students vs. the rest of the world. Make time for your hobbies and non-academic stuff. Explore the city and surrounding areas, go on nights out with your friends, join societies and sports clubs.
How would you recommend taking notes in first year?
This is very specific to individuals. A lot of people on the course like to download the lecture slides and write on them (either on paper or iPad). Some people like to write notes with pen and paper, some like to type. I, personally, like to write my notes by hand but this can make it difficult to keep up with the lecture and is time consuming writing up your notes afterwards. Most of the time I use Microsoft OneNote to write lecture notes as I can copy and paste images and text. I then add detail to these notes when I write them up later. Another benefit of this method is that I can use the search function to quickly find a keyword or lecture title.
You may find it takes a few weeks-months to really figure out an efficient note taking method. It’s okay to chop and change and is very personal so just because one person is getting good results from one method, it doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same.
Thank you to Simone, Lynn and Sam for for answering these questions! You can find out more about them on their social media below:
Lynn’s Twitter and Instagram:
Sam’s Instagram and Blog:
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