Medicine @ Birmingham | Q&A

These questions have been answered by Tom, a medical student intercalating between 3rd and 4th year at Birmingham.

Before I answer the questions, I wish to refer you all to this website, set up by Birmingham to answer many of the below questions about applications.

I want to apply but have AAB predictions. Is there a good chance of an interview?

For the best idea, please use the Birmingham offer calculator. I know people studying with me who attained exactly these grades and don’t believe that predicted grades count for interviews, once a cut off is met. On Birmingham’s website, predicted AAB is listed and so would be acceptable.

What kind of UCAT score do most students achieve to study Medicine at Birmingham?

In short, I am not aware of an average score. Birmingham uses UCAT for 30% of likelihood of selection for interview. They score deciles based on applicants to Birmingham (NOT ON OFFICIAL UCAT DECILES!). With the knowledge that Birmingham scores on UCAT, it would be wise to expect that on-average an applicant with a slightly stronger UCAT score would preferentially apply to Birmingham, if applying tactically. As such, one can expect stronger UCAT scores at Birmingham but by no means does this mean people with average UCAT scores apply and get in. For reference, I scored 767 with the knowledge this would likely put me in top decile (both official UCAT and Birmingham) so thought this would be a smart move. I know people who scored mid-600s and are aceing their studies so don’t think UCAT reflects on your ability as a medic. GCSEs are an even larger component and so if you got stellar GCSEs and an average UCAT it’d still be smart to apply.

Will social life be affected if I live at home for first year?

It depends, speaking from someone who lived in halls and also moved a long way from home I didn’t know too many people who commuted. Importantly, how far away you live and your attitude towards socialising can have an impact on evening events such as club nights and parties. If these are less your thing, it’s more than possible to visit your friends on the Vale over the weekend or meet in town. Since clinical years, I have come to appreciate that a significant minority of Birmingham medics do commute.

What are the exams like and which ones are summative? Are there lots of exams at Birmingham and how do you revise for them?

I will refer to first year exams only. At the end of both reading weeks there are formative assessments replicating a shortened version of end of year exams. The following are summative:

During each term/ semester there is one essay, each worth 10 credits, of a total 120 for the year. After Christmas, there is a multiple choice question (MCQ) paper covering semester 1 (worth 16 credits) with a short-answer question (SAQ) paper on semester 1 during summer exams (24 credits). The same respective exams for semester 2 occur in the summer exam period. During summer exams, there is also an anatomy exam – covering SAQs and a longer answer essay. Finally, in the second semester there is a group presentation and along with a brief summer exam on PAS, these are worth 10 credits.

In regard to revision it varies. For MCQ I would revise the content thoroughly and then test myself with loads of practice MCQs. Birmingham has great resources for this. For the SAQs, I would cover the content and then along with someone else we would test each other by asking questions on the content. For anatomy, I used Grey’s anatomy flashcards to review the bulk (these make sections of revision each day manageable) and tested myself with clinical scenarios – i.e the anatomy and therefore diagnostic methods/ treatment surrounding a fractured neck of femur.

How affordable is Birmingham as a city?

Compared to my home, Brighton, I find that Birmingham is far cheaper, especially for food. However, it is worth noting that Brighton is a relatively expensive city. QS Top Universities ranks Birmingham as the 6th “cheapest top student city” in the UK. A weekly shop for me costs about £30-35 from the local ALDI and I eat quite a lot, make of that what you will. Pubs are definitely cheaper than home and I would also say petrol is, making travel to and from placement a little more affordable.

How close to exams does BLS take place? Do tutors take into consideration your workload?

There are 4 cycles of BLS throughout the year with the last one finishing at least a month before exams. BLS is not especially time-consuming, it is a matter of attending the three taught sessions and a brief 10 minute examination on the fourth. BLS is pass/ fail and does not carry credits but does need to be passed. Workload isn’t really considered as most people are in the same position (healthcare students – medics, nurses, physios…) and during the course there is one-on-one help for those who need it in learning the techniques.

Can you re-apply in a new UCAS cycle after getting rejected from an interview?

From Birmingham’s website: (further information section at bottom of page)

‘We will not consider anyone whose application to Birmingham medical school has been rejected previously following interview. Otherwise, we will consider those applying for medicine for a second time (see: Taking a year off). This policy may be waived for those who offer evidence of significant and sustained activity since the last application. This may include completing an undergraduate degree or undertaking two to three years of full-time work.

We do not consider applicants who have studied medicine previously.’

How did you find first year in terms of work-life balance?

I think that during the first year I balanced relatively well. The workload and difficulty of content is lower than second year and Wednesday afternoons are free. I used to work during weekday evenings for on average 2 hours (mainly writing up lectures) and for a few hours on the weekend. Saying this, I had more than enough time to go on nights out about twice a week in first semester, then between once and twice a week in second semester. I had the time to go into town on Saturday mornings and the pub to watch football without feeling stressed about work. Each term during first and second year also has a reading week, a chance to catch up on work and for most, to go home. Uni appreciate that not everyone strikes their work-life balance instantly and so the workload does not start by dropping you in the deep end.

What is the self-directed learning?

This usually consists of topics that need researching and questions answered, like a small-group teaching (SGT), but without the supervision. Most often, there will be relevant lecture content beforehand or a bridging lecture to bring together the answers of the whole cohort after the self-directed learning.

Timetabled self-directed learning is not common. Many pieces are completed in groups with bridging lectures dealing with such activities a week or so after the work itself.

Do you go over clinical cases corresponding with what you are learning that week?

During preclinical years, often cases are introduced and discussed during SGTs so I found little need to look for further cases. Now I am a clinical student, I find applying lecture content to patients I have seen in real-life to be more beneficial. During clinical years, there are many lectures devoted to discussing cases – for example when analysing liver function tests (LFTs) and considering differential diagnoses.

How often can you go home if you live nearby?

My home is about a 3 hour drive away and I enjoyed being away from home so didn’t go back much during term-time. I know many students who lived closer, especially those who drive, who would go back every fortnight or most weekends.

What are GP and hospital placements like?

GP – One day a fortnight is spent here. Discussions and patients normally revolve around themes, for example ‘gastro’ during which causes and investigations of abdominal pain would be discussed. Then, you would have the opportunity to learn about abdominal examination before meeting and taking the histories of patients with GI related conditions.

Hospital – Each day really varies, which makes it great. You may have a theme for the week depending on the hospital and often have lunchtime or early morning lectures. During the day, there will be consultant-led teaching as well as peer-teaching from the older clinical years (usually 5th years). There will also be free time during the day for you to work on your clinical skills (taking blood etc.) and to meet patients in order to conduct histories and examine. Hospital also offers you the chance to find out what you’re interested in, go and explore! I would often go to theatres early as surgery is what I’m most interested in. As long as you show interest in a field, most doctors would be more than happy to introduce you, just be confident in making the first step of introducing yourself!

How did you cope with the high amount of lectures?

At most medical schools there are a large number of lectures during the pre-clinical years. During lectures, I would annotate slides with brief notes / explanations/ points made not on the slides. I would then go away and write up the lecture on paper. I know some people prefer typing up lectures but I believe writing meant I retained the knowledge more and from what I hear, there is a growing body of evidence behind this. 

The best way in which I coped is prioritisation. Which lectures have the most content? Which will take the longest to write up? When i say write up it is not just an exercise in copy and paste, it is condensing the slides, making them manageable

How much of the course is PBL based and how did you find this?

A low amount of the course is PBL, though every other Thursday in first year you will have Professional and Academic Skills (PAS), designed to improve your ability to answer and present. These will often be around a case where relevant biopsychosocial aspects are reviewed but this is the limit of PBL on the course.

Why is medicine at Birmingham better than other universities?

The social life at Birmingham, a combination of MedSoc and the Vale village is something I massively enjoyed in my first year and have continued to enjoy throughout my education.

Birmingham offers such a diversity amongst the population and so one encounters a wide array of medical conditions that other medical schools may not come to appreciate.

Moreover, Birmingham offers a huge hub of research opportunities. Though this may not come into the forefront of choices right now, having this range of opportunities to explore your career path is fantastic.

Is Birmingham’s diversity similar to London?

Birmingham is a very diverse city, in terms of ethnicity, religion and age. With London being the most ethnically diverse region in the UK, the West Midlands (which includes Birmingham) ranks 2nd in terms of lowest proportion of White British. For further information, please see this link.

I’ve heard that anatomy at Birmingham isn’t as good as other universities – is this true?

No, Birmingham gets a very bad name for its anatomy teaching. Many people believe this is because Birmingham offers prosection as opposed to dissection. Prosection offers well dissected specimens, with easy to appreciate anatomy. One main advantage is that pre-clinical students often won’t be able to dissect to the level as the anatomists who dissect the specimen. It also saves a large amount of time for the student.

For those who wish to carry out dissection and gain an even deeper dive into anatomy, Birmingham offers the BSc Clinical Anatomy intercalation. This is the course I will be undertaking next year and is just one of a range of intercalation options, which also includes BMedSci Womens’ Health, BSc Human Neuroscience and BMedSci History of Medicine.

Thank you Tom, for answering all these questions, you can get in touch with him via Twitter:

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Posted by:Life of a Medic

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