Welcome to the 8th 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 Tom Thorne, a medical student who will be intercalating (between years 3 and 4) next year at Birmingham.
I I have been at Birmingham for three years now and am taking a year out next year to intercalate in Clinical Anatomy. Birmingham was my first choice as it’s a campus university but close to the city. It has exceeded my expectations and the fact that it’s one of the largest medical school in Europe means that I’m always meeting new people on placements or in seminars. The diversity in Birmingham has exposed me to so many new cultures, something I have found amazing.
- An Overview of Teaching Methods
- Typical Timetable of a 1st year Medical Student at Birmingham
- The Non-Medical Stuff
- 3 Top Tips For Applying to Birmingham
An Overview of How We Are Taught
Birmingham say its approach is integrated, though in comparison to other courses it may be seen as being more traditional as we have a pre-clinical 1st and 2nd year with clinical placement at a GP every fortnight and alternating fortnights replaced by professional and academic skills (PAS). There is the opportunity to improve history-taking, examinations and basic clinical skills during these GP days, though the majority of this occurs during the clinical years (3,4 and 5). Lectures occur in the Leonard Deacon Lecture Theatre and the cohort in first year is around 350-400 people, so there’s always new people to meet! You will also have an M-group of around 15 students with whom you’ll have small-group teachings. These are there to reinforce lectures, often applying the content to clinical examples with questions available beforehand. With 4 modules per term, usually one is taught each day (i.e NAS on a Friday), though in the sample timetable given we had an embryology block of MTM and so this was mixed in. During first year, the modules you will have lectures on are:
- Molecules to Man (MTM)
- Cellular Communication, Endocrinology, Pharmacology (CEP)
- Neurones and Synapses (NAS)
- People, Patients and Populations (PPP)
- Muscles, Joints and Movement (MJM)
- Digestive System (DIG)
- Introduction to Respiratory medicine (IRM)
- Doctors, Patients and Society (DPS)
Anatomy is taught through anatomy sessions in your M-group, roughly twice a week but some weeks may have no anatomy sessions and in the latter half of first year, one week has 4 sessions. These are supplemented by anatomy sheets which require answering questions and drawing diagrams before each session. Twice a term you will have prosection sessions, where you have the opportunity to see the anatomy you have been learning about on pre-dissected cadavers. There are also some whole cohort lectures to supplement this anatomy learning.
In addition to this, there are 2 essays, one based on GP experiences and another based on PAS. During first year, one brilliant thing is the BLS course, which stands for Basic Life Support. Here you will be taught basic first aid and CPR, with the opportunity to teach BLS in 2nd year and examine the course when a clinical student.
A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic
The Non-Medical Stuff
For me, Birmingham struck the perfect balance when looking at potential medical schools. The medical school remains close to campus and whilst Birmingham is located in the city, its campus (with accommodation close by) surrounded by trees gave it a more intimate feel. I can catch the train into the centre of one of Britain’s most diverse cities in only 10 minutes. Food options both in the city and near later years student accommodation are extremely diverse, with a high amount of family-run south Asian restaurants serving authentic cuisine.
First year accommodation is predominantly on the Vale Village, a 10 to 15-minute walk from med school through Edgbaston, along the canal or through the university depending on your route. It was great to live on the Vale, with accommodation all facing towards a central lake and fields, great for relaxing on in the summer or going for a jog around. There is a student pub here, with a Costcutter and a number of launderettes among other amenities. A further student village is Pritchatt’s Park, closer still to the medical school at <5mins away. This is a smaller, more quiet accommodation location with a further student bar along with some postgraduate accommodation.
Birmingham Medical School has a great MedSoc, a group run with societies relating to aspects of medicine, sport and beyond. There are a range of sports clubs as part of MedSoc along with an even larger number as part of the whole uni. Moreover, there are societies to help charities such as Friends of MSF and Cancer Research UK as well as acting groups and orchestras. The list is very long! As part of fresher’s week there is even a MedSoc event, the Hop, a great way to bond with your cohort and appreciate the costumes of the older years. MedBall is an event put on every year by the MedSoc committee, with food, drinks and live music in the ICC. Every year has a different theme, with this year being the ‘roaring twenties’ and décor resembling The Great Gatsby
Birmingham has a great night life and you are sure to find an event which suits you. The mainstream clubs are located on Broad Street, with Tuesday and Thursday being student nights. However, there are also other events at clubs in Digbeth with SoulJam being a personal favourite. Non-drinking events are also diverse and one of my favourite pre-clinical memories is of the community Iftar where people from a range of faiths came together to celebrate the breaking of fast during Ramadan.
Pros of Studying at Birmingham
• One of the many pros is that the medical school is close to campus. As such, one feels like an integrated part of the university and it’s possible to pop onto campus, meet non-medic friends and buy lunch if you need to.
• Along with the above point, another great thing about Birmingham is the campus itself. A combination of older buildings with modern architecture interspersed and loads of green spaces make it a great place to explore and relax after exams.
• A massive pro, as already mentioned, is the Vale village. In summer we even have our own festival here called ‘ValeFest’ with fireworks on bonfire night and other events put on throughout the year.
• We have our own station! From University station, right opposite the medical school, you can reach New Street in just 10 minutes. Exploring the city is a great way to spend afternoons/ evenings, especially since pre-clinical students have Wednesday afternoons off.
• MedSoc was a massive draw for me. So many events are put on by the committee such as Christmas and End of Exams parties as well as the annual MedBall.
• A massive benefit of the Birmingham course is its spiral attitude to content. For example, in first year you will cover NAS (broadly covering the peripheral nervous system) whilst in second year you will cover BAB – ‘brain and behaviour’ (reinforcing the previous module and adding the central nervous system in). This means content is continually reviewed and so knowledge is reinforced.
Cons of Studying at Birmingham
• Having an exam the first day back after Christmas break (only years 1 and 2) can be tough as it means revising a bit over Christmas. However, it means a lower exam load during the summer.
• Though the course is integrated and there is clinical exposure, it is not quite as much as other universities. As such, when entering the 3rd year, the switch to predominantly clinical studies can be difficult for some students to completely adapt to. Because of this, there is a lot of support for students when transitioning to clinical studies both at hospital placements and centralised through the medical school.
• Late finishes – For four weeks, finishing at 9:30pm isn’t ideal but will eventually lead to your certification of Basic Life Support from the European Resuscitation Council. These are skills which are essential for all people but after a long day of 9am to 6pm can feel tough.
3 Top Tips For Applying to Birmingham
1. Be engaging at the interview. Current students play an active role in the interview process and so understand the nerves you might be feeling. Ask them any questions you might have and been sure to attend the tour afterwards with an existing second year student to further explore where you may be studying in the future!
2. Attend an open day and accommodation open day. Checkout living options as you’ll be here for a whole year and it’s a great way to meet current first year students (especially medics) and understand how they chose their accommodation.
3. Use Birmingham’s offer calculator! The exact calculation for how interviews are offered may have changed but included top 7 GCSEs and UCAT decile when I applied, so if you are strong here it’s worth applying! The offer calculator however is not to be taken as certainty but allows you to understand how the scoring process works.
Thank you Tom for such an interesting and detailed insight into Birmingham! Feel free to contact him via Twitter or Instagram:
Your Turn To Ask Any Questions!
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