Medicine @ St Andrews | Q&A

These questions have been answered by Catriona, a third year medical student at the University St Andrews.

Do you like the aspect of changing uni after 3rd year and why?

This is one of the reasons why St Andrews was my first choice – medical degrees are long, and I didn’t want to spend the whole 5 or 6 years in the same place. To quote Hannah Montana, it’s the best of both worlds! I get to spend 3 years in a small, historic university town, and then spend the last 3 years in a big city.

Do you think changing unis will be hard, especially starting all over friendship-wise?

I know I will have to get used to a different style of teaching and learning, but this is the case in most medical schools as you move from your pre-clinical to clinical years. Friendship-wise, we transfer with other students from St Andrews so there will always be someone you know at your new school, and you won’t have to start totally from scratch. Something important to remember is that our friendships naturally change throughout the course – a lot can happen in 6 years, and you’re unlikely to always be in the same classes and on the same rotations as your friends.

How is it decided what partner university you will end up going to?

When you apply to the course, you apply for a specific route – England or Scotland. Your offer will also specify what route you have been allocated to. In second year, you rank the universities on your route (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen for Scotland; Manchester and Barts for England). Where they can’t allocate everyone their first choice, the school uses your academic performance in the first semester of your second year for allocation. To put it simply, the best-performing students get to pick first. However, the majority of students do get their first choice of partner school.

Do you know if there is any extra support available to help make a smooth transition to your partner university?

Third year is aimed at preparing you for your clinical years, and you will find that the teaching becomes more clinically-orientated as a result. We are put in touch with our future peers, and we’re encouraged by the partner schools to come and visit and have a tour over the summer. They also come and do talks to help you decide where you want to spend your clinical years. I’ve been told there’s a uni-specific program in third year too, but I don’t have any personal experience of it as I’m yet to start it!

What kind of things should be emphasised in our personal statement?

The most important thing to communicate is why you want to study medicine. Don’t just write about what you did on your work experience, tell the admissions staff what you learned about a career as a doctor, and why that appeals to you. Talk about your achievements and extracurricular activities, but in the context of the skills they’ve given you, and why they make you suitable for a medical career. St Andrews don’t use the personal statement too much – they check that you’ve talked about work experience, and that you sound sincere about medical school, but your UCAT score is more important for an interview invitation. However, other medical schools do place a lot of weight on the statement so you want to make sure it’s good!

Would you say scientific knowledge is prioritised over clinical skills?

To some extent – we need to have a strong knowledge base to be awarded the BSc (Hons) Medicine, and as you only complete your pre-clinical years at St Andrews, knowledge naturally needs to come above practical skills. However, this knowledge includes the aspects of diagnosis and treatment that you will need in clinical practice – it’s not all science, the application is a big deal too. We have clinical teaching every week, through placement, online infection control modules, communication and clinical skills classes, and the things you learn in these sessions are all examinable, both in your written papers and in your OSCEs.

Can you share a bit more information about the personal research project in 3rd year and how that works?

In the second semester of third year, we do a personal research project, either based on lab work or a literature review, that culminates in a dissertation, and the awarding of our BSc (Hons) Medicine. You can focus on any aspect of the medicine you have learned so far, and if you complete your project to a high standard, you could publish it. You are allocated a supervisor from the medical school staff to help you with the logistics of your project, and you spend most of the semester working on it.

Is the atmosphere at St Andrews competitive?

Not particularly. In my cohort, we are happy to help each other out with the content, and the clinical skills suites are always busy with groups practicing clinical skills together. I’ve personally found the small year groups to be really friendly, and there’s certainly a family-like atmosphere. We’re all in it together!

What are the exams like?

We have a mid-semester multiple choice paper, and at the end of semester, we have two written papers (one of which is multiple choice, the other short written answer) and anatomy (APEs) and clinical skills exams (OSCEs). They’re rigorous, but the pass mark is always set at the level of a safe and competent medical student for that stage of training.

How many placements do you have in 2nd and 3rd year?

In second and third year, we have one day of placement every fortnight. Additionally, in the summer holidays between second and third year, we have the opportunity to do clinical consolidation blocks (CCBs). We can choose to spend a week in a wide range of settings, all over Scotland – from surgery and general practice in the remote Shetland islands, to anaesthetics and intensive care in Fife.

How far do you go out for your clinical teaching? Do you have it in St Andrews?

We go all over Fife for placements, to a mix of settings, from GPs  and hospitals to child development and addiction services. The GPs and the community hospital in St Andrews also take our medical students for placements. The distance doesn’t really bother me, as the medical school organises taxis to take us to placement, so there’s no need to navigate public transport or expenses claim forms!

Is St Andrews a diverse medical school?

One thing I love about St Andrews is that our medical students come from all over the globe – there are dedicated routes for Canadian and international students, and I can guarantee that you will meet friends from a whole variety of places. I was worried that most students would be from very well-off backgrounds, but my peers come from all walks of life. We are admittedly less diverse than bigger city universities, but we are also much smaller in our class sizes.

Is there spare time to do evening language classes and still take part in low-level sports/societies?

Definitely! In first year, I took French classes on a weekday evening, and also had plenty of time to keep up with sports and societies. We have Wednesday afternoons off to facilitate matches and society events, and the medical school really encourages you to get involved in things outside of your studies. Time management is an important skill to have in medical school, but as long as you keep up with your studies, you aren’t limited in what you can take part in.


Thank you to Catriona for for answering these questions! You can find out more about her on Twitter:


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Posted by:Life of a Medic

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