Medicine @ Lancaster | Q&A

These questions have been answered by Katie, a 4th year medical student at Lancaster Medical School.

Does each PBL module cover a different body system? E.g. the respiratory system

Simple answer is yes, but sometimes there can be a little bit of crossover! In first year PBL normally covers anatomy and physiology. So for example my first PBL scenario was on the upper gastrointestinal tract (from the mouth to the small intestine). Our objectives included the anatomy and physiology of upper GI, but I remember other objectives such as basic anatomical terminology and identifying all the bones in the body. (I freaked out at the pace of learning and yes, you do get used to it!) Our PBL also involves non-medical science objectives that cover Population Health, Health Culture and Society and Professional Practice Values and Ethics. 

How much guidance do you get with PBL to make sure you’re learning the right things?

A lot of guidance! It feels very strange at first but please know you will not be alone in adjusting to this new way of learning. We have a virtual platform called moodle on which lots of resources are available including a section under each PBL called ‘recommended reading’. Under this there is a list of books and articles and relevant chapters which the medical school recommends for us (all available for free either online or from the library). In first and second year especially there are lectures to enhance our learning and provide a guide for the level of depth we should be aiming for. When you discuss PBL in the feedback sessions your tutors will also be able to point out whether the group has missed anything. 

Do you know any dyslexics on the course and how are they coping with PBL?

I do but I don’t know how they personally cope! I know there is an abundance of extra support available and that extra time in exams is available for those who may need it. Lancaster as a whole is very supportive and those I do know with dyslexia have passed each year and succeeded through medical school. 

On the website it mentions an MMI station where you have to make some notes and discuss a PBL scenario. What sorts of things would they expect here?

Truthfully, I only remember this station vaguely (it was nearly 5 years ago!) and I’m not sure what they expect! I would recommend writing down anything that you think may be important and remember to approach the situation, whatever it is, with a holistic mindset. For example if the scenario is about a certain condition, remember patient’s are more than their condition and lots of other aspects of life impact upon health. For the discussion it is unlikely you will be left on your own to carry the conversation, the interviewers tend to prompt you and ask questions. Also remember it could be a discussion, but it could also be a debate as well. At almost all of my interviews (five different med schools) there was a station in which I had to stand my ground and justify my opinions. That’s why it’s important to not just do what you think they expect of you – if you’re trying to fit into a template it is very difficult to articulate any genuine opinion!

In general for interviews it’s really handy to know the NHS values, basic ethical principles and to read Outcomes for Graduates by the GMC. The GMC also has a really helpful site that takes you through ethical dilemmas and highlights the important guidelines.

Outcomes for Graduates:—professional-values-and-behaviours#professional-and-ethical-responsibilities

GMC guidance brought to life:

Is there a lot of networking across the year groups?

Yes, one of the best things about Lancaster is the tight-knit community. When you first arrive you are assigned to a ‘medic family’ and you meet your medic parent (second year) and grandparent (fourth year). This is such a lovely and reassuring initiative and many are good friends with their medic families! Everyone is very friendly and more than willing to help – upper years helped me tremendously in years 1 and 2 by sending me resources and generally providing invaluable wisdom and life advice. In turn I have helped those in the years below now that I’m a fourth year. Generally so many of us are more than willing to help students from all years because we want everyone to feel supported. Our fresher’s and winter balls, medic socials and societies include all years too so there are lots of opportunities to meet everyone!

Is all accommodation on campus?

The majority of students live in halls on campus during first year. The university also owns accommodation called Chancellors Wharf, which is located in the city (10 min bus journey from campus) and some do live there for their first year, but I would say this is a minority. In general most move out of campus in second year to live in student housing in Lancaster city centre, mainly because it is more convenient for when you begin hospital placements. Currently in fourth and fifth year we are offered accommodation at some of our placements for when we have long blocks there.

Do you think there have been disadvantages of going to a small medical school?

Like everything, there’s always an up and a downside. There’s only around 50 of us in my year but I know that the current cohort is more than double this – so my version of small will be different to yours! Saying this Lancaster is still relatively small and is still keeping that tight-knit feel that I know and love. The downside is the limited amount of medics to get to know and the slight inability to be anonymous. Of course, not being anonymous is also a good thing, but at the same time there are moments in life that you may want to blend into the background (e.g relationship/friendship/ health problems) and it’s quite difficult to do that when your year is small and the majority live together (medic houses are common). In other words, sometimes it can feel like everyone knows your business! Saying that, I chose Lancaster because of its size, it feels like a supportive family and the friendships that you do make are that much stronger for it. I love that I know everyone in my year and because it is difficult to be anonymous, there is always a friendly face around and the staff tend to know you by name. I do think this is really unique and the personalised experience you get from being in a small medical school for me outweighs the potential disadvantages. 

What research opportunities do you have?

There are plenty of research opportunities! Within the curriculum there are several pieces of coursework including SSM (special study modules) and a quality improvement project. There are also research opportunities available outside of the curriculum. I know many students, including myself, who have involved themselves with research at the hospitals. I took part in a STARSurg project (Student Audit and Research in Surgery) in my third year. I also know students who have involved themselves in research by simply approaching clinicians and asking – there is normally a research project or audit going on and clinicians are more than happy to get us involved! Students in my year alone have been published and attended international conferences with the research they have involved themselves with. Finally, there is the option to intercalate between your fourth and fifth year, which is the perfect time to hone in on research skills if you would like to! 

Do you think learning anatomy through 3D models is sufficient?

Personally, yes. I can see the worry, but models, the virtual anatomy table (Anatomage) and other virtual resources are more than sufficient to learn anatomy. When I was in year 1 we had one or two anatomy teaching sessions per PBL as well as lectures, which were extremely helpful. I also attended post-mortems which helped to put the anatomy we had learnt into context. On top of this we have several surgical placements and in my experience surgeons have been keen to get us involved and scrubbed in, providing another way for us to consolidate the anatomy we have learnt. If by year four you are still keen to study anatomy at a deeper level there are several anatomy degrees both at bachelors and masters levels in which you could intercalate in! Before medical school I didn’t know much about what was best, but I was acutely aware of the ‘prestige’ attached to dissection and the culture that dissection is the ‘real’ way to learn anatomy. At the time I couldn’t really grasp what it truly meant to learn by dissection, my first post-mortem reminded me that it’s a lot more than just a method of learning anatomy! Really think about what it means and whether you would like to dissect, because the alternative methods are perfectly good too! 

Do students tend to go outside the campus regularly or are there enough shops and within?

I think this really varies depending on who you are and what you’re like! There are several shops and food outlets which kept me going in my first year (especially Greggs, Spar and Subway), but I found popping to the shops off campus was a nice way to break out of the ‘bubble’. If I spent too long on campus I’d start to feel a little cut off from the outside world! Hopefully it is still running but I remember several free buses were available on a Wednesday afternoon that ran from campus to Sainsbury’s and back. Alternatively you can always order a food shop, which is easier and also allows for a ‘flat shop’ so it’s just one big order to the flat. Of course socials and nights out often take place outside of campus too and there are free ‘Sugar buses’ on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays that take you from campus to the student union nightclub (The Sugar House, aka Sugar) and back again at the end of the night. So in conclusion, you don’t have to leave campus, but it’s nice to explore the city and escape the little bubble of campus from time to time! 

Can you summarise the different colleges and how you choose one? Is the collegial system just for first year?

You are part of your college for your entire time at university, but I must say I haven’t felt very part of my college (Furness) since moving off campus. In first year the college becomes a really big part of your identity as it is also where you live. I chose Furness simply because of the type of accommodation I wanted (en-suite) and it was the closest to where all the lectures were going to be. Now our new medical school has been built I think the closest colleges are now Bowland and County. (P.S the new school is looking amazing, I am so jealous of anyone starting next year who gets to learn in that environment for the next 5 years wow). 

You may hear of college ‘reputations’ like Grizedale has a party reputation, Fylde sporty, these aren’t particularly true and just stem from the theme of their college bar. It’s important to remember no matter what college you are in, you can use any other college bars and social spaces, so at the end of the day it doesn’t matter too much! Honestly, it is just really fun to become very patriotic about your college and engage in the ‘rivalry’ between colleges. The main factor is the type of accommodation you want so make sure to look at that. You can read more about the colleges here –

How far will you be expected to travel for placements in first year?

I can only speak from my own experience as it might have changed since I was in year one. I travelled to Kendal, Sedbergh and Grange-Over Sands, all of which are approximately a 30 minute drive away. I was placed in a group with someone who had declared themselves a driver so there was no issue in getting there and back and drivers are reimbursed for travel costs. I would be surprised if this was exactly the same now, especially as the cohort is a lot larger. I thoroughly enjoyed those sessions though and I remember it being a very refreshing change to explore outside of Lancaster!

How are clinical placements organised in clinical years? Do you have a specific hospital you’re at or do you rotate?

Clinical placements start from year two onward. The simple answer is yes, you rotate between sites! As you can imagine organising lots of students to fit into busy working hospitals is quite complicated and little things change each year. Hopefully I can explain this a little more without being confusing! 

The sites that we use are Royal Lancaster Infirmary, Furness General Hospital, Westmorland General Hospital, Blackpool Victoria Hospital,Royal Blackburn Hospital and sometimes Royal Preston Hospital too. 

The year is split into groups and the groups start on different placements, so you might start on paediatrics but your friend may be starting on psychiatry. 

Everyone in your year will complete a paediatrics placement at some point, but where you do this will not be the same for everyone and you can be placed at either the RLI, FGH, BVH or RBH for this placement. 

It is more common than not to move to a different site when you move to a new rotation, so for example everyone will also need to do a psychiatry placement which may be in Lancaster, FGH or WGH. You may find that by chance you are timetabled to do your next rotation in the same place you did your last, but it is also very possible that you would move to another site. 

So essentially, yes you rotate and you get a big timetable at the beginning of the year explaining where you will be and what you will be doing!

Thank you Katie for answering these questions! You can follow her on social media and check out her own blog:

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Posted by:Life of a Medic

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