Welcome to the 6th 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 Bolin, a first year medical student at Newnham College, Cambridge.

I’ve absolutely loved my first year at Cambridge – it has definitely lived up to the hype! In this post I’m hoping to shed some light on the Cambridge Medicine course in the hope that you might love it too!!


  1. An Overview of Teaching Methods
  2. Typical Timetable of a 1st year Medical Student at Cambridge
  3. The Non-Medical Stuff
  4. Pros
  5. Cons
  6. 3 Top Tips For Applying to Cambridge
  7. Your turn to ask questions!

An Overview of How We Are Taught

Cambridge takes a very traditional approach to teaching Medicine. The first two years are pre-clinical and consist of mainly lectures and practicals. In these first two years we study seven science “subjects” which are:

  • Functional Architecture of the Body – no one knows why the name is so fancy, but it basically means anatomy! This also includes embryology which is taught during lectures.
  • Homeostasis – this is the physiology or organ systems, plus fortnightly Histology practical classes.
  • Molecules in Medical Science – this is more like your pure biochemistry, mixed with some cell biology and genetics. As well as lectures and practicals, we also have termly PBL sessions where we work in small groups to research and present the answer to a given question.
  • Biology of Disease
  • Mechanisms of Drug Action – this is essentially our pharmacology subject!
  • Neurobiology and Human Behaviour – this is pretty much everything to do with the central nervous system, along with some psychology
  • Human Reproduction

The practicals are kind of like more advanced versions of those done during A Levels. This year, they have varied between doing gel electrophoresis on protein samples to looking at each other’s oxygen levels after exercise!

Whereas all the other subjects have heavily lecture-based teaching (with some practicals to support our knowledge), anatomy is taught largely via more interactive methods. We have full-body dissection twice a week which is quite unique! For dissection, we work in table groups of eight, slowly dissecting and examining different anatomical systems throughout the year. There are also prosections, ultrasound machines and interactive electronic dissectors to help you get the most out of each session. Our clinical anatomy is taught to us by a combination of lectures and clinical sessions in the dissection room. In these, we get presentations as well as hands-on activities like practising catheterisation on rubber dummies. My favourite part of these sessions, though, is the talks we have from guest patients!

In our first two years, we also take three more clinical “subjects”:

  • Introduction to the Scientific Basis of Medicine – this looks at epidemiology of disease
  • Social and Ethical Context of Health and Illness – this is a great subject that allows us to begin to examine the ethics of the medical profession, as well as the social factors that may impact health. As well as lectures, this subject is also taught via discussions in group seminars.
  • Preparing for Patients – as the name suggests, this involves going out into the community and speaking to patients about their own experiences. In first year, we spend one afternoon at a GP and another on a home visit.

Third year at Cambridge is for intercalation, and then fourth to sixth years are clinical and are spent almost entirely in various hospitals and medical practices.

Throughout the Medicine degree, we have frequent “Supervisions” which are basically small group teaching sessions. These are quite unique to Cambridge and are a little more reminiscent of traditional secondary school-style teaching, with a supervisor going through lecture material and setting homework. The homework usually consists of an essay, practical paper or MCQs (or a combination of them!). In my first year, I had three to four supervisions a week, each with two to five total students.

A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic

The Non-Medical Stuff

Cambridge offers a HUGE amount of societies and extra-curricular activities, and depending on what you choose, you may end up with not a lot of free time!! For example, I am involved in a lot of theatre and a fair amount of orchestras and choirs. As a result, a week with not too many contact hours can easily turn into a VERY hectic week! This is my calendar from a show week back in February: (dark purple is all my medical timetabled contact hours)

You quickly find out what works for you and what activities you may have to sacrifice to make sure you still have time to eat, sleep, socialise and study! For example, many medics decide to do rowing as the outings are mostly early in the morning, before the first lecture. This allows them to keep most of their afternoons and evenings free.

Cambridge itself is quite a small city, but this definitely does not stop it from being busy! There are regular high-street stores and restaurants, as well as smaller cafes and shops more targeted at tourists.  As Cambridge uni is collegiate, you will experience a different level of “busy-ness” depending on how far your college is from the city centre. Each college differs in terms of accommodation, but it is mostly just a short walk from the city centre. Some of the colleges and their accommodation are a little further out, but Cambridge’s roads are well adapted to cyclists and the transport links are also pretty reliable. Although some collegiate accommodation has excellent kitchens for self-catering, for most of the colleges catered is the preferred option. Newnham has great kitchens so I personally like to do a bit of both!

One of Cambridge’s most famous activities is our formals! Every college holds formals, some more regularly than others. We all get to dress up in our gowns and eat a delicious multi-course served meal. Some colleges even hold their formals by candlelight which is so magical! As guests are allowed, formals can be a great way to celebrate a birthday or other event – they are usually also more affordable than going out for a meal.

Whether Cambridge has a good night life or not…haha I guess that’s up to personal opinion!

Pros of Studying at Cambridge

The city! It is going to be hard to find a city with architecture more beautiful than Cambridge! There are also many famous tourist landmarks like King’s Chapel and the Bridge of Sighs that we get to see every day for free! Living in Cambridge literally feels like something straight out of Harry Potter.

Supervisions! This style of small group teaching is pretty much unique to Oxford and Cambridge, and they are truly an amazing opportunity to ask questions and better your understanding of course content. I genuinely don’t know where I’d be without the help of my supervisors!

The academic teaching staff are some of the top researchers in the country, and they are also all super open to questions. This is great if you don’t understand something in a lecture, but also if you are interested and want extra info on a certain topic!

We get fully written lecture notes and slides for the vast majority of our lectures which really helps save time during the revision process. It also means we can focus on listening and absorbing content during lectures, instead of frantically making notes.

I personally love the collegiate system! It’s like having a second, huge, supportive and not-completely-med-students family! 

Cons of Studying at Cambridge

Supermarket choices can be limited: Cambridge’s city centre only has two supermarkets which are both on the more expensive side. Some college accommodation is closer to other more affordable supermarkets, but for most colleges these are a pretty substantial walk away! Ways around this is to order online – I like to split my order with friends to save on delivery fees too. The local market can also often be more affordable (and plastic-free!) but this can be time consuming if you’re in a rush.

The course is kind of research-orientated. Medicine at Cambridge is a very content heavy degree! As a result, more time needs to be spent fact-learning than perhaps other unis. We also have many scientific practicals, similar to pure science degrees, and not much clinical experience in the first three years. This style of teaching definitely isn’t for everyone, but it is a definite pro if medical research is something you’re interested in!

Essays – Some of our exams are essay questions, so a large amount of our time is spent writing essays and making essay plans. Essays are a great way of organising and connecting info in your brain, but they’re definitely not my definition of fun! This may not be a con though if you do enjoy writing essays!

3 Top Tips For Applying to Cambridge

1. Really get to know your science specifications as Cambridge’s Medicine interviews are very science-heavy. The interviewers will know which exam boards you take, and also which topics you’ve covered so it’s a really good idea to brush up on your knowledge beforehand.

2. Think about doing some super-curricular activities! This is any academic learning that is beyond your exam specification, including reading medical books, doing some of your own research, watching med-related TedTalks… there are loads of options available! All of this further “reading” will demonstrate your enthusiasm for the subject and will help you stand.

3. Don’t worry being pooled! It’s always nice to get your first-choice college, but every single person I know who was pooled loves their current college just as much as the one they originally applied to – sometimes even more!

Thank you Bolin for such an interesting and detailed insight into Cambridge! Find out more about her on Instagram:

Your Turn To Ask Any Questions!

Thank you for submitting your questions, they’ve now been answered by a current student – click below to read the answers!

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Posted by:Life of a Medic

2 replies on “What’s it Really Like To Study Medicine at Cambridge Medical School?

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