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 Clara, a 1st year medical student at the University of St Andrews.
My first year of studying medicine at St Andrews has been incredible, the amazing staff created such a supportive environment to make the transition from school to degree level as smooth as possible for everyone! The opportunity to attend such a historic university with so many unique traditions and to graduate with a BSc in Medicine, before then moving to a larger university for clinical teaching (years 4, 5 and 6) was the main reason St Andrews was my first choice medical school. There’s always lots going on in the med school itself as well as in St Andrews as a whole, all of which you’ll hear more about in this post…
- An Overview of Teaching Methods
- Typical Timetable of a 1st year Medical Student at St Andrews
- The Non-Medical Stuff
- 3 Top Tips For Applying to St Andrews
An Overview of How We Are Taught
St Andrews has an integrated medical curriculum, this means we have 8 or 9 lectures per week which teach us most of the scientific content, and this is built upon in dissection sessions, labs, clinical reasoning classes and clinical skills sessions. Medicine is taught in a systematic way, so throughout the three years of the course we move from the musculoskeletal system in year 1 to the nervous system in year 3, covering the relevant anatomy, physiology and pharmacology at the time.
We usually have one 2 hour dissection session per week, half the year group have dissection at one time but we work in small groups of 4-6 people per cadaver, working on the same cadaver for the whole year. Before sessions we’re encouraged to prepare and read through the information sheet so we understand the structures we’ll be dissecting that session, we have a lot of independence whilst working in the dissection room but there is a medical demonstrator (junior doctors that take a year out to teach) per 2 small groups, so there’s always help on hand if we’re unsure! This experience is really invaluable when learning anatomy, it’s so beneficial to learn from the other members of our group, the medical demonstrators and of course from the selfless people that have chosen to donate their bodies.
We often have a 2 hour lab session during the week, in first semester we do a lot of histology labs, and during second semester there is more of a focus on pharmacology and physiology. These benefit our understanding of the topic but are also an opportunity to learn practical skills and practise writing lab reports etc.
Clinical teaching is introduced from the very first week of med school, we are taught in small groups of around 8 which we keep for the whole year, by medical demonstrators and clinicians. We have practical classes usually once a week, where we learn basic clinical skills, we’re encouraged to practice these in our own time, using the clinical skills suite to video record and reflect on our learning. We also have blocks of communication skills teaching throughout first year, which gives us an opportunity learn how to structure a consultation and take a history, and we can practice this during sessions with volunteer patients. We also have clinical reasoning classes, roughly every couple of weeks. We’re given a clinical scenario to research beforehand, and then we take part in a discussion about the case with our group, this develops our problem solving ability and shows how the science we’re learning in lectures applies to real life scenarios.
In first year we also have one day of clinical placement, this is more of an introductory placement to get us used to the experience, ready for regular placements in 2nd and 3rd year. In 4th year we start at our partner medical schools and start full time clinical teaching.
A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic
Pink is lectures, orange is clinical skills, bright green is an information session, green is dissection and labs and blue is communication skills or clinical reasoning.
The Non-Medical Stuff
St Andrews is a bustling little town, the population is made up of roughly half students and half permanent residents so there’s always loads of events going on. Despite being a slightly smaller uni, there is a massive variety of societies to get involved in, from all sorts of performing arts, student branches of charities, subject specific societies, campaigning groups to a range of special interests and hobbies such as dog walking society, tea drinking society and so much more!
Sport is a big part of life at St Andrews, for a lot of students! There are free ‘give it a go’ sessions at the start of each semester so it’s easy to try something before committing. Most sports facilities are situated at the north end of town, not more than a 15-20 min walk from any of the university residences. This is very close to the North Haugh university campus, which is generally where all the science buildings are, humanities buildings are more interspersed within the town.
The school of medicine is also on the North Haugh, all teaching takes place in this building which is convenient as it is also not more than a 20 minute walk from any university residence, and just 5 minutes from West Sands beach which is a lovely place for a stress relieving walk! St Andrews is nicknamed ‘the bubble’ because everywhere is pretty close to everywhere else, the centre of town is made up of 3 main streets, this sounds tiny but the town is really lively, its packed full of shops and places to eat, and I love that its smallness means you often bump into several people you know whilst walking through town, it really gives a homely feel to the place!
Pros of Studying at St Andrews
• The supportive environment – there is so much support available, both within the medical school and the wider university. You’re assigned a personal tutor for the three years of the course, who is a member of teaching staff at the med school, they can be really helpful to turn to for advice on both academic and personal issues, as they can signpost you to ensure you get appropriate help if you need it. Peer support at St Andrews is also really great, PALS (peer assisted learning) run a mentor scheme to match first years to 2nd/3rd years so we always have someone to turn to if we’re struggling with the work or the adjustment to medical school. St Andrews also has the ASC (advice and support centre), which we can simply pop in to for help if we have any concerns ad want to arrange an appointment to talk about these with someone.
• Opportunity for 3 years of full body dissection – at St Andrews anatomy teaching utilises full body dissection from first semester of first year right the way to 3rd year, we’re able to learn practical dissecting skills as well as giving us a really thorough understanding of the anatomy of the system we’re currently learning about
• The study spaces – as well as the main library in the centre of town (15 mins walk from the med school), which has the most beautiful views of the sea, there’s also the ARC (anatomy resource centre) in the medical school, this is a study space just for medics and as the name suggests there’s lots of helpful resources on hand! There’s also a couple of smaller libraries, the physics library is light and airy and the King James library, which dates back to 1612, inspires me with its history! Most uni residences also have their own study rooms and libraries so there’s plenty of options!
• Early clinical teaching – the variety of clinical teaching in first year builds up our confidence in interacting with patients really well, which will be useful during regular placements in later years. It’s also really exciting to learn practical skills as not only does it show how our knowledge applies to the practise of medicine, but it also makes a really nice break from sitting in lectures!
• The town of St Andrews – I’ve already discussed what St Andrews is like but just wanted to emphasise what a unique student experience it is! The town has such a buzz about it, and all the traditions such as academic families and raisin weekend, pier walks, red gowns and May dip all just add to this! The town and the scenery is so stunning, its such a beautiful place to live with such a homely feel and a great community spirit!
Cons of Studying at St Andrews
• Lack of student selected components – all students take the same modules apart from when we do our personal research project in year 3. Although the content is interesting I would quite like an early opportunity to explore areas that spark my interest!
• Only 1 day of clinical placement in first year – compared to some med schools this is not much placement experience in first year, it was a really great experience so I think it would be beneficial to have more opportunities like this in year 1. I think it would also help with building up more confidence in a clinical environment before our regular placements in year 2 begin.
3 Top Tips For Applying to St Andrews
1. Practise lots for the UCAT and don’t neglect the SJT section – this is used to rank applicants after other requirements such as academics and references have been checked so a fairly high score can be advantageous. The SJT band achieved is also incorporated into the interview score.
2. Gain experience in a caring environment – this can show you have several of the qualities that admissions staff look for such as commitment, empathy & communication skills. This can also show commitment which is necessary as a future medical student.
3. Gain an insight into medicine as a career and write about this in your personal statement – admissions staff want to understand your motivations for wanting to study medicine in your personal statement and during interview, you can do this in a variety of ways, for example through reading medicine related books, attending medical career conferences, speaking with doctors or medical students , and also by reflecting on your caring experience.
Huge thank you to Clara for such an in-depth insight in to St Andrews! For more of an insight into life at St Andrews you can check out her Instagram:
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