Welcome to the 9th 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 Molly Parkinson, a 5th year medical student at University of Exeter.

Moving from the midlands to Exeter to study for the last 5 years has been one of the best decisions I ever made. I fell in love with Exeter as a city, and the university as soon as I came for the open day, and it was my first choice of medical school. As one of the smaller medical schools (although it’s expanded a lot since I started) you get to form a really nice community with your classmates, and I feel very prepared to start my career as a doctor. In this post I will give you an overview of life at Exeter medical school, and hopefully persuade you that it’s a great place to study!


  1. An Overview of Teaching Methods
  2. Typical Timetable of a 1st year Medical Student at Exeter
  3. The Non-Medical Stuff
  4. Pros
  5. Cons
  6. 3 Top Tips For Applying to Exeter
  7. Q&A

An Overview of How We Are Taught

Exeter offer a PBL based course, and the first two years are split into case-units that each last a fortnight. Every case unit focusses on a particular theme, such as the respiratory system, cardiovascular system etc, as well as social and psychological themes that are important to a patient’s care. Exeter are very keen on the holistic approach, so every case unit starts with a PBL session where a case is presented and you design your learning for the fortnight based on that. This keeps the patient at the core of everything we do, making things clinically relevant very early on. For example, if the case is about a man with asthma, you will study the anatomy and physiology of the respiratory system, the pathophysiology of asthma, and also potentially have a lecture on the psychological impacts of chronic health problems such as asthma. In first year the case units focus mainly on basic knowledge of each of the body systems, with a bit of pathology mixed in, whilst in second year you move on to studying key pathologies in more detail. The curriculum is also “spiral” so you will revisit key concepts several times during your 5 years of study.

After you have had your PBL session and set your learning points for the fortnight, you then attend lectures and LSRC (Life Sciences Resource Centre) sessions that are linked with the core themes, delivering the key information that you are required to know which you can then expand upon during your own private study time. You will also have clinical skills sessions, where you learn skills such as taking blood and examining every system of the body, as well as a full day of placement and a Professional Development Group (PDG) session. Placements can be in a massive variety of settings, from GP surgeries to chiropractors and funeral directors!

In terms of group sizes, PBL groups are made up of about 10 students. Lectures involve the whole year group being together at once, and you tend to have around 8 of these in a fortnight. LSRC sessions involve the year being split into thirds, and then within your third of the year you are split into thirds again to give you your group! For each LSRC session you then rotate around 3 different mini lectures, but they are a lot more interactive than the whole-year lectures, and tend to be on subjects that are harder to deliver didactically (e.g. that need models/handouts). Clinical skills sessions are also delivered in your PBL groups. 

Anatomy teaching is delivered through a mixture of prosection (body parts that have already been dissected for you) and live anatomy models, where the relevant anatomy is demonstrated to you through drawing on a volunteer. There has been discussion regarding starting cadaveric dissection, but I’m unsure if that is still happening! However dissection sessions (e.g. dissection of a heart) have now been introduced since I was in pre-clinical years.

3 times in the year you also have a period of 3 weeks to complete what we call SSUs (Student Selected Components). These are units that you get to select from a list, and can involve study of all sorts of areas from lab research to life drawing! 

Assessment in first year consists of a mixture of formative and summative assessments. Formative are for your learning, whilst summative contribute to your progression to the next year. Formative assessments include mini knowledge tests at the end of each case unit, and some practice OSCEs (clinical exams). There is also a progress test called the AMK, which consists of 125 multiple choice questions based on clinical scenarios, sat every few months from years 2-5, but in first year you sit 2 of these and they’re both formative and designed to give you a feel for what the exam is like. Summative assessments include a mid year exam and an end of year exam, both based on material you have covered, mini OSCEs and essays for the SSUs. It seems like a lot but you get very used to having small-stakes assessments pretty regularly.

A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic

In the first two years we follow a fortnightly timetable for each case unit. On the first day of the fortnight we meet with our PBL group and set the questions for case unit. We then attend other timetabled sessions as discussed above throughout the rest of the fortnight. In the second week of the fortnight we meet twice with our PBL group to discuss what we have learnt from both the sessions delivered by the medical school and our independent study. Below is an example of the timetable for the first fortnight of first year.

The Non-Medical Stuff

The medical school is on a separate campus (St Luke’s) with other courses run by the College of Medicine, such as sports science, medical sciences and medical imaging, whilst all other courses are run on the main campus (Streatham) on the other side of town. This can be a little isolating if you let it, but there will be plenty of opportunities to mix with other students through societies and sports clubs on Streatham campus. One of the great things about Exeter is that it’s quite a small city so you can walk or cycle to most places, and if you don’t fancy that there’s a really good relatively cheap bus service that goes all around the city. Personally I really enjoyed being on a small campus as it was nowhere near as overwhelming as being on a massive campus with thousands of a students! 

There are a really good range of sports clubs and societies. Over my time at Exeter I have taken part in squash, archery and rifle shooting , and also joined the student volunteering group, which run projects such as dog walking for vulnerable members of the community. MedSoc have a big presence for all St Luke’s students and will help you settle well and get to know other students during freshers week, putting on a big range of events from film nights to large fancy-dress socials. There are also lots of academic societies such as GP society and Surgical society that you can get involved with to boost your CV. 

In terms of accommodation, most of the medics live at Rowancroft which is a 6 minute walk from St Luke’s campus. However you also have the option to live on Streatham campus if you want to be close to the “hub” of student life, and there is a free shuttle bus that runs between the two campuses. There are also some blocks of halls in the centre of town which are quite popular as they’re close to everything!

I really love Exeter as a city as there is enough going on but it’s small enough that you find your way around quite quickly. It’s only a short train ride to get to places like Exmouth to spend a day on the beach, or a short drive to Sidmouth donkey sanctuary! Devon has so much to offer in terms of places to explore, whether you like hiking on Dartmoor or visiting the zoo in Paignton! If you like a very wild nightlife then Exeter may not be for you, as the nights out here tend to start at about 10, and the clubs are closed by 3. However I see this as a positive as you can still go to Cheesy Tuesdays and make it to your 9am LSRC session on the Wednesday morning without being entirely sleep deprived! Exeter is also a very safe city, which is an important consideration for those moving away from home for the first time. All the amenities you could need are within a walking distance to the high-street, which has all the regular shops and chain restaurants, as well as cosy cafes. You will never be at a loss for things to do.

Pros of Studying at Exeter

• Opportunity to intercalate but not compulsory – I chose to do a masters in Bioarchaeology for my intercalation, and it was really great to be given the opportunity to study something different that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise. I also liked the fact that intercalating wasn’t mandatory so I didn’t feel forced into doing it for the sake of it. The range of courses on offer to intercalators is improving every year, and there is the opportunity to do so at another university if the course isn’t taught at Exeter.

• Small group teaching – I felt that I gained a lot more from the majority of my sessions being in small groups as I was more comfortable to ask questions. You also get to form really good friendship groups with your PBL and PDG groups, which is lovely when you first start and don’t know anybody!

Placements from the start – I found it really great to get some clinical exposure early on in the course, as it helps to remind you why you’re learning all that anatomy and physiology in pre-clinical years

Dedicated communication skills sessions – I underestimated the value of these until I started clinical years, but Exeter are really good at teaching you how to communicate effectively with patients and you notice this when patients on the ward give such positive feedback about Exeter students!

Cons of Studying at Exeter

Location of teaching on a separate campus to most other courses – some students find this a negative aspect as they would like to be more involved with life on Streatham campus and it travelling between campuses for sports/society meetings can be quite time consuming (about a 40 minute walk) if you choose to live near St Luke’s

Anatomy teaching – although I believe this has improved quite a bit since I was in pre-clinical years, a lot of students feel that we don’t get enough anatomy teaching. Then again, I personally feel that trying to learn the anatomy of the whole body in depth would actually be very difficult without any context, and no-one would retain all that information. Anatomy is something you can look up in a book when you need to revisit it, but aspects such clinical skills and placement are key elements that should have more time dedicated to them in the course.

Travel – studying in Devon means that you will often be expected to travel a fair distance for clinical placements (especially for GP). They do try and make this fair by placing those without cars in areas that are travelable by public transport, but it can still be quite far away. In addition you will be expected to spend some of your years of study in either Truro, so will not be able to spend the whole 5 years in Exeter. This can be seen as disruptive, but unfortunately is just something that comes with a medical career, and if embraced can be a really good opportunity to explore a beautiful part of the country!

3 Top Tips For Applying to Exeter

1. Try to get good predicted grades, as these play a large part in selection for interview. You are unlikely to be interviewed without predicted grades of A*A*A or above. 

2. Try to perform well in the UCAT, as this is also used for ranking candidates when selecting for interview

3. If you progress to interview, practice answering ethical questions as part of the MMI will most likely focus on this! ABCDE ethical principles of Medicine – autonomy, beneficence, confidentiality, consent, do no harm and equality.

Thank you Molly for providing such a detailed insight into Exeter! You can follow her on Twitter:

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

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