Medicine @ Bristol | Q&A

These questions have been answered by Lydia Wells, a second year medical student at University of Bristol.

Is there a chance of interview with AAB predictions? Do you know of an example personally?

I know that you can get onto the course with AAB. I got AAB in my A-levels, but I applied with my grades during my gap year. However the requirements for interview are AAA predictions. Look online to see if you are eligible for a contextual offer, these grade requirements are AAC/ABB as long as the A is in chemistry.

If your school is on the list that I will link below, you may be entitled to a contextual offer. If not, speak to your head of year/college to see about changing your predictions and then work really hard to get those grades!

The other option is that they may offer you a place on the gateway course – I have included some more detail on the gateway course in a later question.

This is the link to Contextual Offers at Bristol – look at the list.

How does placement work at Bristol?

In first year you will be on placement every other Thursday afternoon in a GP surgery with 4-5 other first year students. As well as this there are 3 HCA placements throughout the year where you will be helping HCAs on a 12 hour shift, in a different department each time. Clinical skills sessions are taught every few weeks in the hospital linking to the case you are currently studying. In second year there is a Student Choice Placement where you get to choose a placement for a few weeks at the beginning of the year – where you are depends on your choice from a catalog of options. Due to COVID, this year our placement will be at the end of the year instead and we will do a research project at the beginning of the year. Then throughout the year you continue with GP/hospital placements for Thursday afternoons. In Year 3 you are placed randomly at one of the hospitals in the region from September until December, then at a different hospital for the second term, both randomly allocated, then for third term it is Student Choice again so you choose your placement.

What are the exams like at Bristol?

Due to COVID-19 our final year exam took place online this year, normally there is an end of year exam in a big hall like any other exams.

Every term you will complete a progress test, this is a 4th year exam paper that you are not expected to know or study for, but it shows over the years how much knowledge you gain as well as getting you used to the structure of the exam, the exam hall and timings. It is a great no-pressure way to see yourself improving. It also gives you the opportunity to experience the ‘Best of 5’ style of questions – a type of multiple choice where many of the answer options may fit and be almost correct but one of the options will be more appropriate/correct than the rest.

The end of year exam is also Best of 5 MCQ but it only covers the content of the year. As well as the written multiple choice exams there is an Anatomy Spot test in the dissection room. In this exam there are specimens laid out on tables and you go around the room with a clipboard with the exam sheet on it (also Best of 5). We have mocks in January and then End of Year exam in June.

What’s the accommodation like? Would you recommend city or the other type?

It depends what you’re looking for! I lived in city centre during first year and it was fantastic, everything is so close by. I could go to lectures then go home for lunch before labs. All the nightclubs are close by so never having to pay for an Uber home was a plus! Lots of music gigs are in the city centre venues. Food shops are nearby and most of the city centre halls are close to the shopping centres too.

I have friends who lived in the Stoke Bishop halls, this is like a student town outside the city centre. It has a massive community feel and lots of flat parties. It has less noise from the city but it depends who your flatmates are! The issue with living in Stoke Bishop is you have to get up early to get a bus to lectures, and they’re usually full! The issue with living in city centre is that its a less student community feel – but this depends which halls you’re in! You will make friends with your flat and building during freshers so either choice is a good one. Depending on your price range and whether you want to be in city centre or not there are lots of options. I can recommend Riverside, friends of mine also liked their halls in Wills, New Bridewell and Haitt Baker.

Is Bristol a safe city to live in?

It feels like it. Obviously being in any city there are risks, I’d suggest not walking around alone at night and that kind of thing. I feel safe in Bristol but I do tend to stick with a group when I’m out and about on nights out.

What’s the gateway year like?

The gateway programme for medicine is offered to candidates who may not achieve the grades to do the 5 year medicine course, or who didn’t do one of the required A-Levels like biology. I didn’t do a gateway year so I asked some close friends how it worked and how they found it.

‘It’s a great step from A Levels and into university life. Gateway offers the chance for you to settle into life at the university, as well as the opportunity to build upon your pre-existing knowledge which enables you to progress into your respective course. During my gateway year, there were Gateway to Medics/Dentists/Vets all in lectures, seminars, tutorials and labs all together, as we all learn the same content. For us it was a relatively small year group with around 40 students and we all covered 4 areas: Foundations in Bioscience I & II, Foundations in Chemistry and Personal Professional Development. The first two areas allowed us to expand our basic science knowledge and had a more medicine/dental/veterinary (examples from each vocation were included in lectures to make it fair and interesting for all) approach than what any of us had done at at A Level. Personally I found this useful when starting Year 1 Medicine as the same topics appeared again (but in more detail) so a lot of it was like a refresher. Finally, the Personal Professional Development area involved refreshing our maths knowledge (from basic fractions/decimals to working out drug dosages). PPD also offered us an afternoon of placement for 12 weeks at the BRI, GP practice or South Bristol Community Hospital and every week it changed. For example I was able to sit in some Endoscopy procedures and ophthalmic (eye) surgeries whilst others had the chance to be present in a 6 hour Colorectal surgery – perfect if you haven’t had much work experience! After each session we had to write a reflection on what we had seen/been a part of which was incredibly helpful as this is a skill you will need as a doctor to be able to reflect on good and not so good areas of your work. Overall, gateway for me was a great stepping stone between A Levels and Year 1 Medicine, especially if you are missing specific A Levels like Biology and allowed many of us to have opportunities that we may not have otherwise had.’

How are you assessed? Are essays used?

In first year we are assessed on our Student Choice project ie essays, eBiolabs (online pre-lab and post-lab work), attendance and exams. We did one essay this year, on a topic of your choosing and how it affects human health and wellbeing. This was a good way to get used to writing an academic essay/literature review. The end of year test has a pass mark that will determine your entry into Year 2. Attendance is also considered; your engagement with tutorials, lecture attendance and completion of the other components of the course such as lab work, creative group projects and Basic Life Support qualification.

Do you know any dyslexics on your course and do they feel supported studying medicine at Bristol?

I do know dyslexics on my course, some haven’t required any support but feel they know who to ask and they know support would be there if needed. I also know a few people who have asked for help, they said if you apply to disability services they are super helpful and supportive. You get one on one meetings and a laptop/dictaphone etc if needed. I should also mention that everyone is allowed extra time for exams. Most exam papers we do are 2 hours, but everyone is entitled to 3 hours. There is no judgement on the time taken in the exam, you just leave when you’re finished.

How do you find the environment at Bristol on the course – is it overly competitive or a toxic culture?

Entering the course you absolutely feel like you’re in the same boat as everyone else, whilst also feeling like you’re way out of your depth. Imposter syndrome is completely normal, and I think everyone feels it at some point. I would not describe the cohort as toxic at all. You are in a few different tutorial groups so you end up meeting quite a few people on the course straight away. The medic nights out are so great for meeting more medics too. I do not feel that we are given the opportunity to be competitive, not right now anyway. Eventually rankings will be introduced like most medical schools but for the first couple of years it is not something that many people worry about. You are bound to find some individuals on the course who are competitive but I didn’t notice anything like that this year.

How supportive are the faculty and are there people that can help?

The head of year faculty for the medicine course are amazing. I felt I could go to them for anything. They make it very clear that our mental health is important. Wellbeing is important to Bristol, they remind us often of where to go if we need help. The Year Leads also do drop-in sessions to ask any questions you might have about the work or deadlines or placements etc, they’re very responsive to emails too. Everyone also has a mentor as well, a doctor who works in a local hospital who will check in with you throughout the year and sign off your work.

How much of a step up is the course from a level?

It is not that big of a leap, in all honesty I was expecting it to be harder. The content is far more detailed but it is not hard to understand. There is a greater workload, but that is to be expected at university. It helps if you have done biology and chemistry at A-level because some content repeats itself just in more detail. Studying is also more independant – you need to keep track of revision and deadlines but you get used to the layout of the course pretty quickly.

What are the SSCs like?

The ‘Student Selected components’ or ‘Student Choice Projects’ are great. Some are in the form of an essay or project, some are the placements that you get to choose yourself over the first few years. We do a creative project alongside teaching as well as a way of reflecting on our clinical experience.


Thank you Lydia for answering these questions! If you have any other questions you can message her on Instagram:


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Posted by:Life of a Medic

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