Welcome to the 4th 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 Anna, a 2nd year graduate entry medical student at the University of Southampton.
I’ve been studying at Southampton for two years now and can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. The medical school has such a welcoming and friendly vibe that I knew as soon as I arrived that I couldn’t see myself studying anywhere else. In this post I’ll talk a little about the different courses on offer at Southampton, how they’re structured and give some application tips.
- An Overview of Teaching Methods
- Typical Timetable of a 1st year Medical Student at Southampton
- The Non-Medical Stuff
- 3 Top Tips For Applying to Southampton
An Overview of How We Are Taught
Southampton has a few different courses on offer. The way students are taught can be quite different between these courses which are known as BM4, BM5 and BM6.
BM5 (standard 5 year course)
BM5 is the standard 5-year course that the majority of students will be on. The course is initially largely lecture based and takes an integrated approach, meaning you’ll get patient contact early on.
The first two years are your pre-clinical years where you’ll spend the majority of your time in lectures studying the basic sciences that underpin medicine. This includes subjects such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and ethics. This takes a systems based approach so you’ll study topics related each body system in turn. A typical week might involve some lectures, anatomy practicals and GP placement.
Anatomy at Southampton is taught through prosection. This means that qualified anatomy demonstrators have already dissection the specimen before we enter the lab. I think this is a huge advantage as some of the structures you’re looking out for are so tiny and hard to find that it would be extremely difficult for a first year medical student to dissect clearly. I think anatomy dissection is something best left to the professionals. However, if dissection is something you’re really keen on, I believe you can opt to do it for one of you student selected modules later on in your degree so the option is still there for you.
Something unique to Southampton is the Health Care Support Worker placement in year 2. This involves you working on a ward in a healthcare assistant type role, which really helps you understand the hospital environment and the roles of different professionals on the ward. A hidden bonus is that after this placement you’re qualified to work as a Health Care Support Worker so can pick up shifts when you’re free and earn an extra bit of money.
Southampton has a strong research focus, and this really shows in year 3. Every BM5 conducts their own research project at the start of this year. There is a huge array of different research opportunities on offer which allows you to really explore an area of personal interest. Completion of this project not only looks great on your CV but leads to the BMedSci qualification. If you’re really interested in research, there’s also opportunities to take an additional year to study an integrated masters (MMedSci) specifically designed for medical students. Southampton are also really supportive of you taking external intercalation opportunities, so if there is something you’re really interested in that’s not on offer at Southampton you are able to take a year at a different university to pursue this. For example, next year I’m going to Cambridge to do a masters in Genomic Medicine which I’m really excited about. On the whole Southampton is really flexible, there are multiple student selected units and opportunities to conduct research which is really great as you can shape the degree to follow your own areas of interest.
The second half of year 3 is spent in your first clinical placements, where you’ll carry out three 8-week placements in Medicine, Surgery and Primary Care.
BM6 (widening participation course)
BM6 is our 6-year widening participation course. This course is identical to BM5, with all the same opportunities, but with an additional year termed “Year 0” before starting the first year of BM5.
This additional year aims to build skills and confidence in scientific and professional practice. You’ll learn physiology, biochemistry, sociology and ethics as well as taking placements in healthcare settings.
BM4 (graduate entry course)
BM4 is Southampton’s 4-year graduate entry accelerated programme, and the course I’m on. Graduate students are expected to undertake more self-directed study during the week, guided by a list of weekly learning outcomes and (huge) online bank of resources appropriate to those objectives. The course is more suited for independent learners and lectures aim to facilitate your own studying rather than teach you everything you need to know. A bonus of this set up is that we get a decent amount of time off!
The first year and a half is roughly equivalent to the first two years of BM5. Each week has its own topic around which all teaching will the focused. We mainly learn through PBL-inspired graduate groups, lectures, anatomy practicals and something that I think is unique to Southampton – plenary sessions. Plenary is the last thing to take place on Friday afternoon, and is hosted by a consultant (an expert!) in whatever the clinical theme is for that week. Instead of preparing a lecture they will stand at the front of a seminar room and answer any questions given to them – these can personal such as “what made you pick this speciality?” or academic. These sessions as so useful as any tricky topics you haven’t managed to get your head around by the end of the week, they can usually explain really clearly. I’ve had quite a few lightbulb moments in these sessions!
The final half of second year (roughly equivalent to BM5 third year) are your first clinical placements. All BM4s do these in Basingstoke – don’t worry accommodation is provided and travel is reimbursed. You have three 6-week placements in each of Medicine, Surgery and Primary Care. This is the point where you start feeling like a mini-Doctor and get to test out all the clinical knowledge you’ve gained so far. It’s a lot of fun and these placements have definitely been the highlight of my degree so far.
The final two years are the same for everyone regardless of which course you initially started on. So BM5s will finally get to meet their BM4 colleagues. This is the point where we start learning how to actually be a junior doctor. Over these two years you rotate through a series of different specialities in hospitals all across the south of England – you an even go to the Isle of Wight or Jersey if you want to!
A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic
BM4 (graduate entry) timetable
Each week follows the same pattern for BM4s:
- Monday – starts with small group teaching known as “graduate groups”. In this session you talk through clinical cases with a facilitator and assign learning objectives for each member of the group to cover over the week. This is followed by some lectures.
- Tuesday takes place in Winchester hospital. The morning involves teaching from the clinical team usually lecture or workshop styles. The afternoon is more practical and could involve you going up on the wards, talking to expert patients or learning new clinical skills. The afternoon sessions are smaller, with half the year returning on Weds afternoon (as seen in this timetable).
- Wednesday involves more lectures – occasionally we will have Wednesday free!
- Thursday starts with an anatomy practical and is followed by more lectures at the hospital
- Friday starts with another graduate group where each member will present the learning objectives assigned to them on Monday. This is followed up by plenary to clear up anything you might not have got to grips with so far.
BM5 (undergraduate) timetable
The BM5 course is mainly lecture based in year 1. This is an example of a musculoskeletal week.
The Non-Medical Stuff
The medical school at Southampton is based in the hospital so you’ll spend a good amount of time in the hospital even when you’re in your pre-clinical years. The medical school has a library, private study rooms, a common room, lecture theatres and an anatomy lab (which you can visit out of hours to revise) so it’s really well equipped.
The rest of the university is based on a campus in Highfield which is located just north of the city centre. I find the campus (and Southampton on the whole) feels pretty safe and is really well suited to students. The area around the university is filled with student-friendly bars and clubs, and you can go into the city centre really easily for more choices too.
Pros of Studying at Southampton
• The amount of clinical experience you get, and how early this starts. In BM4 you spend a minimum of one full day a week in Winchester hospital. Here you’ll have talks from different healthcare professionals, learn clinical skills and most excitingly start seeing your first patients. You’ll be on the wards within the first few weeks of starting and this really helps you get used to talking to patients and being comfortable in a hospital environment before you start your clinical years. There is also GP placement for one afternoon a fortnight to introduce you to the primary care setting and you may even be able to take your first consultations here!
• Amazing pastoral support. Studying medicine is a long journey (at least 4 years!) and you don’t know what difficulties you might end up facing during that period. From my personal experience, the staff here genuinely want you to succeed. On BM4 at least, the majority of teaching staff will know you by name and face which is something I think is pretty rare at university level! If you do come across problems, the faculty are exceptional are doing absolutely everything they can to make sure you’re supported to reach your own potential. It’s hard to describe the environment at Southampton in words, but I would really recommend visiting to get a feel for how friendly and supportive it is!
• Research opportunities. From the BMedSci project to intercalating at masters level, there is an abundance of opportunity to get involved in some really interesting projects.
• Free bus pass for first years who are in university accommodation. This means it’s really easy to get to campus or the hospital regardless of which halls you end up staying in.
Cons of Studying at Southampton
• Southampton are UCAT-heavy when selecting candidates to interview. This means if you don’t perform strongly on the day of your exam you might not get the chance to show them your potential.
• There’s a fair bit of travelling involved on BM4. In a single week you can have teaching sessions at Highfield campus, Southampton hospital, Winchester hospital and in a GP surgery. Sometimes it can feel like you’re wasting time travelling between different sites
3 Top Tips For Applying to Southampton
1. Make sure you read your personal statement before your interview as the interviewers will have a copy of it with them – they had annotated and highlighted bits of mine. Be ready to talk about anything you’ve written about as they’ll pick up on bits they found interesting
2. Be yourself in the group task because they’re not looking for the loudest or the person who talks the most. They just want to see how you genuinely interact with other people so relax!
3. Research the Southampton course before your interview. The interviewers will expect you to really understand the ethos at Southampton and will expect you be able to talk about why you decided to apply here.
A huge thank you to Anna for providing o much detail in explaining the different courses and realities of studying at Southampton! You can find her on Instagram:
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