Welcome to the 10th 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 Megan Hart, a first year medical student at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry (Queen Mary University of London).
In this post I will be giving you my brutally honest opinion about what it is like to study medicine at my university. This was my firm choice of medical school when applying via UCAS and it has definitely met my expectations of first year from their brilliant open days. I couldn’t imagine studying anywhere else and the experience here has changed my life!
- An Overview of Teaching Methods
- Typical Timetable of a 1st year Medical Student at Barts
- The Non-Medical Stuff
- 3 Top Tips For Applying to Barts
An Overview of How We Are Taught
My university uses a mix of lectures, PBL, clinical skills, practicals, Medicine in Society (MedSoc), Student Selected Components and BartsPortfolio. Every part is essential to passing your first year as lectures and PBLs are examined on paper and computer based ‘spotter’ exams, while clinical skills are assessed via OSCEs, and MedSoc via reflective writing. You have to pass everything on average throughout the year in order to sit the final exams of the year.
Lectures are held in massive halls where approximately 200-300 of you will be listening to the lecturer and adding notes to the PowerPoints you already have been given. All lecture notes are uploaded to our website accessible to current students which is very convenient, but it does crash a lot! Although the lectures are not that interactive, you are able to ask questions at the end or email your lecturers. In first year you will have 6 modules: Fundamentals of Medicine, CardioRespiratory, Metabolism, Locomotor, Brain and Behaviour, and Human Development. You will have an In-Course Assessment (ICA) after FunMed, CR/MET/LOCO and BB/HD. Each ICA includes a written examination as well as a spotter. Your ICAs must be passed in order to sit your end of year exams so they are very important.
PBLs will occur twice a week for two hours each, and those are very interactive. The first session introduces you to a scenario which you will read with your group of approximately 10 peers. You will then discuss the scenario and come up with learning objectives to research in your own time. The next session starts with one hour dedicated to discussing your research with the group and completing a short test, which resembles questions you will face during the exam. The next hour is spent like session one, looking at a new scenario and so on. Your PBL tutor is only there to help guide your group in the right direction or to explain anything using their tutor notes if you don’t understand it, but most of the work is down to you! You will also be expected to write up two of your PBL researches for submission and marking by your tutor.
Your PBL group will also be your clinical skills group, where you are taught by more senior medical students, staff or guest expert speakers about important communication skills, building knowledge in diversity and also how to complete some physical examinations. These clinical skills sessions will occur roughly every fortnight. It isn’t enough to just attend these sessions, you’ll have to practise in your own time in order to pass the OSCE!
Although anatomy and physiology are taught in lectures, they are covered more in depth during your fortnightly practicals! In Anatomy Practicals you will be given a workbook to read through and answer questions while walking between information stations which also have prosection that you may look at and explore. I personally find this the best way to learn anatomy as textbook diagrams are nothing like the real thing most of the time! Physiology practicals are more hands-on, as you’ll do experiments with your PBL group on a multitude of topics from cells to arterial blood gas levels. These will be assessed both in written examinations and spotters.
You will have another group for MedSoc, where you will send the day at a GP surgery every fortnight. During these placements you will learn about the clinical aspects of the course modules, and how medical problems can arise. Each MedSoc day will have a specific focus (e.g Mental Health, Bowel Diseases, Pregnancy etc) and you will meet a variety of patients with your GP mentor and discuss with them their experiences with their conditions. There is also the opportunity to practise your clinical skills on real patients, as well as learn a little more about how GP surgeries work. You will also have a Community Tutor who will take you to a variety of community centres where you can meet local people and discuss their experiences with them. It is expected that you are to write a short reflection of your experience each day, and like a personal statement it is more about what you have learnt from this experience than what you did!
There are three Student Selected Components (SSCs) you will do during your first year. SCC1a is a poster presentation that you will research and make with a randomised SSC group; everyone has to do a poster but it’s up to your group what it’s about (within reason). SCC1b and SSC1c you will have to apply for, and they can be a range of activities from placements to dissection and even learning about Yoga or how to revise. These are first come first served, so you want to be super quick when the applications open! I thoroughly enjoyed my SCC as it was a nice break from content while also still exploring medicine in a really fun way.
Lastly, the BartsPortfolio is a system that my university uses to allow students to compile all their evidence of work into one place, and also allow for evidence of personal growth and reflection to be stored. Everyone student will have a mentor that they will meet with at least three times in their first year to discuss their Personal Development Plan which they write themselves. There are also other modules that you are required to complete (such as Basic Life Support training) in order to pass this section of the course.
A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic
This is a screenshot of my fortnightly timetable from December (the university does give us access to a google calendar but I prefer to have everything written in one place) . I have left in my personal reminders, so that you can see how to fit in a personal life around the work! As you can see also, all teaching ends at 1pm on a Wednesday, so that people may take part in society activities that afternoon or just chill out! Although when you first start out, your timetable will definitely not be this full! My first week was a lot more chilled, with lots of introductory lectures just explaining how things work
The Non-Medical Stuff
Being at university in London, you are never far from busy city life. The medical school is located in Whitechapel, while most other courses take place on the Mile End campus which is only a short bus ride or 20 minute walk away. This year, the accommodation for medical and dental students and allied courses students was in Whitechapel, Stepney Green and Barbican. But no matter where you are located, a diverse range of restaurants, clubs, activities and sports centres are just a few tube or bus stops away!
The way that societies work at my university are a little different. Barts and The London are linked with Queen Mary University of London and so we have joint and separate societies. ‘QMBL’ means that the society is open to all students, while BL societies are only for medical, dental or allied course students. However, QM only societies don’t exist? So really if you’re a student at Barts you can join any society you like! There’s a range of societies such as sports, arts, languages, academics etc. I personally joined BL Boat Club (rowing), BL Drama and Queen Mary Angels (cheerleading) and I enjoyed every minute of each! Sports teams gather every Wednesday evening for drinking games at either student union (‘Session’ at Drapers for QMBL and ‘Tables’ at The Griff Inn for BL) which is a lot of fun! But every society also hosts many non-alcoholic socials too!
Pros of Studying at Barts
• Opportunity to do an Intercalated BSc or PhD – After your 2nd year of your medical, dental or veterinary degree you can apply to do one of the 9 one-year iBSc courses, or after your 3rd year you can apply to do one of the 16 MSc courses (or equivalent undergraduate award in UK/EU countries). This is only if you have passed all your previous years at the university and spaces are usually competitive, but it is an incredible opportunity to explore more about a subject you’re passionate about e.g. iBSc in Global Public health, MSc in Neuroscience and Translational Medicine.
• ‘Barts Family’ system and strong community. Prior to the start of your first year, you can apply online to receive ‘Barts Parents’ for when you arrive. These will be two more senior Barts students who are there to help you settle in, make friends and introduce you to the local treats and university societies. I also think the fact the School of Medicine and Dentistry and allied courses are very separate from QMUL means the community feeling is so much stronger.
• Central London at your fingertips – Whitechapel campus is extremely close to central London meaning that whatever your interests, you are bound to find something to do/see somewhat nearby! There are so many monuments, museums, parks, pubs and clubs; I can assure you will not manage to do them all before you finish your year, maybe even your degree!
• Student Support is really proactive – Speaking from personal experience, Barts were very supportive when I was experiencing trouble academically and with my health. I was assigned a senior member of staff to meet with me and formulate a plan on how best to approach the year going forward. The Advice and Counselling services at QM (which are open to Barts) were excellent too.
• League table positions – 1st in London for Medicine. 2nd in England for Medicine. 6th in the UK for Medicine. 6th in the UK for Student Satisfaction.
Cons of Studying at Barts
• Somewhat divide between BL and QMUL students – In my experience, being surrounded by mostly BL students is lovely in that everyone understands the pressures you are facing but when you do encounter QM students via Draper’s (the student union club) and within mixed societies, they treat you somewhat differently. However, I do need to mention that some students find this divide somewhat fun in a competitive sense, since we do have a Merger competition where QM and BL sport societies go toe to toe in order to win the Cup for their part of the university.
• Expensive to live in London – Of course, this is an obvious downfall about attending any medical school in London. Everything from accommodation, travel and food costs more when you are here. However, if you’re lucky enough to receive one, the maintenance loans for students studying in London are greater than elsewhere and the cost of living in East London is significantly lower than the central locations of other London universities.
3 Top Tips For Applying to Barts
1. Work on achieving a high UCAT score since this makes up 50% of the initial ruling out process of applicants! It’s not the end of the world if it isn’t crazy high, I only got 2500 overall! But I am definitely one of the lucky few that scraped in! If you are in the bottom three bands when the overall scores come out, you will not be considered. So definitely work on your UCAT skills.
2. Have experience* and/or extracurriculars that make you different! Although that sounds generic, Barts have high grade entry requirements so they know their applicants are academically intelligent, so in your personal statement make sure to show the university why you are different from other applicants and why they should want you specifically, not just any other A*AA student. Your personal statement makes up the other 50% of the early application process!
3. Prepare for your panel interview including article research! Prior to your interview you will be sent an article to read and I highly advise you don’t just skim over this. My interview personally was around 80% discussing the article and the themes around it i.e. ethics, hospital management etc. Make sure you are confident with the article’s themes, and do your own research surrounding it so you can back up your points!
*Obviously with the current COVID-19 situation a lot of aspiring medical students have struggled to gain work experience so do not worry! Experience can also just be from just general life! Universities should understand why people have a lack of work experience in the coming intakes! However, you could definitely take this opportunity to get involved with projects online or do research!
On Instagram @officialblsa, @officialqmul and @qmsu are the 3 main pages for the university if people you want to look at those.
Thank you Megan for providing such a detailed insight into Barts! Follow her below:
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