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 Laraib Usman (Year 1), Laiba Khan (Year 2), Huda Mohammed (Year 2) and Emmi Khan (Year 3 – Graduate Entry) medical students at Cardiff.
Having attended Cardiff University for 1-5 years between us, we have a good grasp of the learning style used and how it feels to study Medicine at one of the UK’s largest medical schools. We have perspectives of both the undergraduate and the graduate entry medical courses, and can say that our experiences here have been positive. For some of us, Cardiff was our first choice university, and as a relatively established course, it has lived up to our expectations. There is always a lot going on in this mellow but diverse Welsh city!
- An Overview of Teaching Methods
- Typical Timetable of a 1st year Medical Student at Cardiff
- The Non-Medical Stuff
- 3 Top Tips For Applying to Cardiff
An Overview of How We Are Taught
Cardiff teaches us in an exciting way in our first 2 years, keeping us busy with different types of teaching so we don’t get bored of just lectures! Years 1 and 2 are known as ‘preclinical years’ and predominately use case-based learning (CBL) as explained below.
During your first week at Cardiff Medical School you will have a series of introductory lectures and tours around the Heath campus. You will also collect your student ID, lab coat and most excitingly – your stethoscope! *Cue lots of selfies to your family* – everyone does it!
After your first week, you begin a 12-week block of Platform for Clinical Sciences (PCS, also known as the most difficult part of the whole of med school). These 12 weeks consist of building a foundation of knowledge of key physiological and anatomical concepts before commencing Case Based Learning (CBL) in January. During PCS there are a variety of lectures, tutorials, anatomy dissection and practical lab sessions, with 9-5 days. It can feel intense and overwhelming, but PCS is useful for us to become aware of and learn the key science that underpin the rest of med school. You revisit this content at least once again throughout the rest of your time at Cardiff (all part of the ‘spiral curriculum’ here!), so don’t stress if you don’t understand every little detail the first time.
After the 3 week Christmas break, there are two formative exams: an anatomy ‘spotter’ and a Single Best Answer (SBA) paper covering the first term content. Formative means that you just need to sit them and there is no pressure to pass them in order to progress onto the next part of Year 1. The purpose of them is to highlight your progress and the aspects of the course you need to focus on more.
From January onwards, you begin CBL and leave PCS behind forever (yay!) The rest of the year is split between 6 cases, each case focusing on a different body system and lasting one fortnight. CBL sessions are 3 hours long and your group of 10 remains the same for these 6 cases. CBL is less intense, more enjoyable and more manageable. CBL is structured in a way so that during these two weeks, you will have a number of lectures, anatomy prosection sessions, three CBL discussions and two days of placement – there are all designed to aid your understanding of the case. CBL at Cardiff is guided by a facilitator and each case ends with a ‘wrap-up’ to tie up any loose ends and ensure all students have met the learning outcomes. During this second term, there are also two weeks of Student Selected Components (which are part of the scholarship domain) – these are little pre-organised clinical or lab-based projects you do on a chosen aspect of medicine.
In the summer you sit a 3-hour SBA paper on everything you’ve learnt in first year and you’ll be required to pass this in order to progress to second year.
During Year 2, you’ll continue with CBL and learn another 11 cases (17 cases in total over first and second year). CBL is still structured the same way as first year so you’ll be used to the style of learning already, but you’ll be in a different case group each term so you meet more people.
Unlike first year, you won’t have any January exams, but you will have another 2 weeks of SSCs. At the end of Year 2 you’ll have another 3-hour SBA paper on everything you’ve learnt during the last two years. In addition to this, you’ll have an ISCE (an integrated structured clinical examination, very similar to an OSCE); this tests your clinical skills, history taking and clinical examinations that you would’ve built upon during your placements over the past two years.
Year 3 onwards
These now become the ‘clinical years’, where you’re on placement in hospitals/GP for 8-week blocks and rotate through different specialities.
A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic
Here is an example of a typical week during PCS in the first term at Cardiff:
The timetable from January onwards (where there is a shift from PCS to CBL) may look something like this:
The Non-Medical Stuff
When applying to university, I mainly based my decisions on the city and the people there. Cardiff was my first choice as I loved the city and the oh so friendly Welsh population. Before uni, I’d never been away from home and was very attached to my family so didn’t know how I’d settle in. I was also very concerned about how I was going to make friends because all I’d heard about the uni experience is the constant partying, and since I don’t drink or go clubbing, I was really worried. However, when I came to Cardiff, everyone I met was so welcoming that I settled in very easily and have made some amazing friends. I would also really recommend going to several society events during Freshers’ week and being open to talk to everyone. If you’re a shy person, it’s definitely the time to fake some confidence and put yourself out there. You’ll probably find that most of your close friends are medics because you see them the most, but it is worth venturing out. In terms of societies, there’s a lot to choose from so you’ll definitely find one that you enjoy but you can also create a new one if you please! I personally play netball and I made some of my really close friends from it.
Cardiff is quite a quiet and relaxed city compared to some of the other big cities in England. It’s very student friendly, with a £3 student cinema ticket, affordable clubs and restaurants. As a medical student, you’ll mainly be based at the Heath Campus with most amenities in reach by foot (the city centre is a pleasant 30 minute walk away from this campus). Most people tend to hang out in Cathays (this is basically the city centre area) as clubs, the main Students’ Union and restaurants are focussed here. Cardiff Bay is also a nice day out, either a 15 minute drive or 2 short trains away. Cardiff is the most diverse Welsh city and you’re guaranteed to stumble upon people and places that suit you.
In terms of accommodation, there are around 9 different university-run accommodation sites. Liberty (which is private student accommodation but very similar in price) is the closest to the Heath Campus. I was in University Hall which had a helpful bus service, available on weekdays from 9pm-5pm. I also found it to be far from the city centre (around a 45-50 minute walk) but only a 20 minute walk from Heath. Oh, and I forgot to mention, it’s on a massive, incredibly stupid hill. I can still, to this day, feel the pain in my calves. Most people tend to be in Taly accommodation and I would definitely say that this is the most social, loud accommodation, with the most medics, and is halfway between both campuses which is ideal.
Pros of Studying at Cardiff
• Clinical exposure: Cardiff builds up your clinical exposure throughout Years 1 and 2, ready for your placement blocks from Year 3 onwards. This allows you to slowly work on professionalism, history taking, examinations and practicing skills .
• Dissection: In first year, we were taught anatomy through dissection and prosections. Dissection is where we as students “separate in order to find and preserve”, whereas prosection is where experienced anatomists preserve what we need to learn from. For me, dissection was a massive pro, aiding my learning experience since the human body is so different in textbooks compared to real life, so learning the theory and then being able to explore it in person really helped to consolidate things. It’s almost like a puzzle and you figure out things as you go along, whilst teaching each other as well.
• Spiral Curriculum: This is basically coming back to previous topics and building them up through the years. Picture a spiral (like a tornado!) where you start off with a small amount of information, and each time you come back around you build on this, until you have a lot of embedded knowledge on that topic/area. This can be really beneficial if you didn’t initially understand something, as you get to come to it again in future.
• 24 hour library: There is a dedicated library on Heath campus that is open 24h for us, perfect for late night revision sessions!
• Jobshop: The university provides opportunities for reasonably well-paid work such as helping out on open days. This is great if you are a medic as you may not be able to commit to a contracted part-time job due to your busy and unpredictable schedule, but may still want to earn some extra money. Working an open day can bag you nearly £100!
• Excellent Pastoral Support: At Cardiff there are many layers of support that you can reach out to such as your medic parents (older students), student mentor, personal tutor, Medic Support and many more. This can be extremely useful if you are finding the course challenging or experience hardships during your time at uni.
Cons of Studying at Cardiff
• PCS: as we mentioned before, this is done in the first term of first year, and is hated by almost every medical student. Often they aren’t warned about how intense it can feel before they start, but the good thing is that everyone is in the same boat, and it doesn’t last long. Just power through!
• The uni vibe: Medicine and other healthcare courses are mostly based at Heath campus, which is about a half an hour walk from Cathays campus. The Heath campus doesn’t have as much of a student vibe to it and is more ‘professional’ because it houses the main hospital and the dental hospital, used by the general public.
• Distance between campuses: In Year 1 and Year 2, you can sometimes feel dragged from one campus to another, since anatomy practicals and lab-based practicals are held in Cathays. This may mean a lecture in Heath in the morning followed by a 2 hour break to grab lunch, have a rest and stroll to Cathays for your afternoon practical. Some people don’t mind this, but it’s worth getting a good raincoat, comfortable shoes and an umbrella ready for the walk in Welsh weather!
3 Top Tips For Applying to Cardiff
1. Have a good set of GCSE results: Make sure you meet the minimum entry requirements but also look up the process of being selected for an interview here. At Cardiff, applicants receive a score based on their best nine GCSEs – so having a good set of GCSE results increases your chance of being invited.
2. Don’t just be defined by your grades and your clinical experience: Cardiff always look for potential students to have interests outside of academia, this speaks for itself and shows you have hobbies to tap into when you need to relax throughout the degree and career.
3. Discuss current affairs and ethical scenarios with friends and family: Since converting from panel interview to MMIs, there are usually a few current affairs/scenario-based stations. The best way to prepare for this is to pair reading up on it with actually practicing articulating yourself.
Overall, Cardiff are very kind and receptive at interviews. Prepare and practice in the lead up to your interviews, but relax, smile and be yourself on the day – it will go a long way!
Thank you to Laraib, Laiba, Huda and Emmi for putting together such an informative article on Cardiff! See more about them below:
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