Medicine @ Norwich | Q&A

These questions have been answered by Carla, a newly qualified junior doctor from the University of East Anglia working at Bournemouth hospital and Marrya, a 2nd year medical student at the University of East Anglia.

Carla’s questions + answers:

Do you know any dyslexics on your course and do they feel supported with the academic support and disability support at UEA?

Yes, a few of my friends have dyslexia and I know that measures were put in place, especially during assessments, to help them feel more supported. For example: a yellow card that can be taken around stations during OSCEs to alert examiners to the fact that the candidate has dyslexia/ additional learning needs, and extra time is provided to those who need it to complete written exams. I don’t know about any more specific personal support that would be provided to those that need it, but I’m certain that the medical school would endeavor to provide it. 

Do you feel supported at UEA?

I would say so, yes! In your first year you get assigned a personal advisor, who is usually a clinician at a local hospital or a staff member at the medical school, and they stay with you throughout your 5 years studying. They are there for both personal and academic support, and the continuity of support that gives you throughout the whole of medical school is brilliant. You also always have a GP tutor and PBL tutor at any given time (which changes multiple times throughout the year) who’s role it is to support and encourage you during your studies. 

I also think that because our cohort is smaller than a lot of other medical schools (around 170 students per year group), you end up knowing almost everyone in your year and there’s a greater sense of community and peer-peer support between everyone.

Are all assessments summative or are some formative throughout year 1 to year 4?

In year 1, our first OSCE and written assessment were formative to give us a feel for what the style of assessment is like. Each OSCE and written exam after that were summative, but they counted for a greater percentage each year, so the exams you sit in year 2 whilst you’re still getting the hang of everything don’t count for as much as those you sit in 4th year. Smaller assessments such as portfolio, research methods assessments and ‘student selected studies’ are sometimes formative and sometimes summative, meaning that there isn’t a constant pressure of summative assessment throughout the entire year.

How many OSCEs does the programme currently have and when do you have them?

We tend to have an OSCE at the end of every module (around 3 spaced evenly through the academic year), as well as a longer end of year OSCE completed over 2 days. So by the time we get to finals, we’ve done around 16 OSCEs, whereas I know for some other medical schools, finals are the first time they come across that style of exam. 

Do you find it stressful being assessed so often?

I think because it’s normal for us to be assessed so often, we just adapt to the rhythm of it, and actually begin to find assessments overall less stressful as we get so used to doing them. Also, because everyone is assessed at the same time (often including those in the years above and below), there is collective understanding and support from each other, and celebration all together when an assessment is over. 

Are there opportunities to intercalate and how common is it among students?

Yes- intercalation is strongly encouraged by the medical school, so much so that if you stay in Norwich to intercalate, you get funding from the Medical School for the year. Intercalation is most commonly completed between 4th and 5th year, but some people complete it between 3rd and 4th. It’s very common for people to intercalate, but not a must- I’d probably say around half of our cohort intercalated, some staying in Norwich and others going elsewhere for a year. Some more info on intercalating in Norwich can be found here:

Is it hard to learn via PBL as you’ll be relying on someone else in your group to cover certain learning objectives well for you?

We are encouraged from the beginning that we are expected to cover all learning objectives in our own personal study time that week, but to cover your assigned learning objective in more detail so that you are the ‘expert’ on that topic during the presentations that week and be able to answer questions on it. So if you put in the time during the week, the PBL structure is an effective way to learn by encouraging you to keep on top of personal study during the week, as well as getting extra knowledge from your peers that you wouldn’t have the time to cover yourself.

What are your clinical years like?

The set up of our course is such that every year is a ‘clinical year’; within our first week at medical school we had spent a day at a GP practice and were taking histories from patients, which was really brilliant. We have around 3 modules a year each covering a different speciality/ group of specialities. Each module consists of 8 weeks of lectures (with GP placement once a week during this time), followed by 4 weeks of hospital placement in the speciality you’ve just learnt about. I think having clinical placement so integrated into the course really helps us to apply what we’re learning each week to real cases, making medical conditions and their management much easier to remember. I also think having so much early exposure to clinical placement helps to keep motivation high as it’s a constant reminder as to why we spend hours studying each week. 

Marrya’s questions + answers:

Do you they offer graduate entry/have any plans to?

Yes, my university does offer graduates / mature students entry into the course: however, it is a 5 year course unlike the 4 years that I know other universities offer. 

Is it diverse? Would you feel isolated as an ethnic minority?

As an arab girl, I believe it is diverse. If I had to put a number on it; I’d say around 40% of my year is not white. My flat was extremely mixed with only 2 people that were of the same ethnicity. This was similar for many of my friends’ flats too. Norwich as an area is predominantly white, however university is completely a different story: particularly as a large proportion of the students come from London (which, of course, is the epitome of diversity) and other diverse areas like Luton and Birmingham. Although there are few other arabs, there are quite a large number of asians (from chinese, japanese, korean, bengali, pakistani, turkish: you name it), who share similar cultures to us, therefore I have never personally felt isolated as what could be considered as an ethnic minority, nor have I known anyone who has felt feelings of seclusion as a result of their ethnicity. It is also worth mentioning that for most ethnicities, there is a society for it!

Are UEA hoping to improve their pastoral care and support to their students?

No improvements have been made known to us, but from my personal experience, the support available is at a good standard as it is. The support available at UEA caters to a wide array of issues that may arise for university students: whether this be to do with housing, finance, health (both physical and mental), your future career, and more medicine specific issues such as help with assessments. I will talk a little bit about my various experiences with the support available at UEA.

Firstly, from the very start of the year you are assigned with both a personal advisor and med ‘parents’. Your personal advisor is someone who overlooks your academic progress, and acts as a source of support when you incur any issues with the course. Personally, I did not feel the need to contact my personal advisor much, however, it was reassuring to know that they were there in the case I needed their help. The med ‘parent’ scheme is organised by Medsoc, and what this involves is the assignment of 2-3 older medical students to 2-3 first years. All individuals have been paired based on a questionnaire that gathers details such as what you like to do in your free time, your interests etc. Your med ‘parents’ are the ones to approach when looking for specific course based advice that only another student would know about, such as help with the OSCE (as this is something that no first year has faced before) or even any other issues to do with university life. They are extremely useful as they have recently gone through what you have. My med Mums in particular shared all their first year notes with us, passed on student-made OSCE mark schemes, continuously quizzed us with weekly multiple-choice questions (MCQs), met each of our questions with really good advice and all in all were invaluable! For any muslim medics out there, UEA’s Islamic society is also launching a new scheme this year similar to the med ‘parent’ one catering to all courses. You will be matched with other older muslim medics and they will act as a similar source of support as a med ‘parent’ with the additional islamified university advice! Please note, you are free to join both schemes!

Another moment where I required support centred around my PBL assignments. On completing my first assignment, I realised that I really struggled with referencing, which, as you will come to learn, is an essential skill to have as a university student. At the start of the year, all sorts of information about where to get support is thrown at you, including support for any aspects of your learning, managed by the Learning Enhancement Team. I remember quickly locating their number, booking an appointment, and being introduced to all kinds of useful guidance for referencing. I have never struggled with referencing since, and it was such a quick and easy fix.

Furthermore, the medical school recognises the difficulties that come with doing an OSCE for the first time, as this style of exam is beyond anything you will have experienced before. To support us with this, consultation skill sessions with actors are scheduled into our timetables, we meet patients both in GP and hospital settings, and additional ‘consultation’ clinics are provided throughout the year where you receive one on one support. I applied for a Zoom appointment during the pandemic, and I can say that I found the meeting extremely helpful. I was asked what I struggled with from the very beginning, and the meeting set out to target and address this issue rather than just receiving some general advice. Of course, your first OSCE is formative, which again, allows any individuals that are struggling to receive the support they need before the summative OSCE rolls around at the end of the year. 

Additionally, the medical school continuously asks for your feedback on every aspect of your learning and I feel like this very much shapes the direction of the support they provide. 

Workshops, addressing things like stress and time management, are also something that UEA provides. I was referred to an online stress workshop at one point, and although I felt like I was wrongly referred to this as this was not the support that I personally needed, the facilitators had prepared an extremely informative and coordinated workshop that I could see benefitted the other students who attended.

Finally, the GP service. Unfortunately, I did need to access the on campus GP on a few occasions and I want to be honest so that future students aren’t forced to go through what I did. It is almost impossible to get an appointment on the day, or within the week. Nearly every appointment I managed to get, I had to wait nearly a month for. This is certainly problematic and although I did receive the health support that I needed in the end, I would recommend transferring to a GP that is off-campus.

What is the ratio like between undergraduates and graduates studying medicine each year?

There are a very small number of graduates, roughly 1 graduate for every 15 undergraduates (for those who like numbers). 

Can you talk a bit about accommodation and where you would recommend staying?

Accommodation at UEA really revolves around what you are looking for in your first year.

If you are looking for a party scene, and spending as little money as possible on your rent, then the Ziggurats are for you. They are the landmark of UEA, as in, they are pretty famous for their eccentricity in appearance. They are so funky, that they were literally the reason I decided to apply to UEA over another university that taught medicine in a similar style, thinking that there would be teaching there. I did not even end up living there! If you haven’t seen them already, I would recommend googling them now. They are at the centre of campus, with one side facing the beautiful views of the lake, amplified by the large windows of the building. The only downside to the Ziggs is that the toilets are shared.

If you want that private toilet, and do not want to spend significant amounts on rent, then the Village is for you. This is where I lived, and although the toilet is miniscule I would not have liked to live anywhere else. Storage space is ample and you are almost always guaranteed a free washing machine in the nearest launderette. The kitchen is probably one of the best from all the available accommodations, with a double oven and grill and nice counter tops that outshine all the steel countertops at the other accommodations. Fridge and freezer space was never an issue for us, when I know it has been for a lot of other students at other accommodations. The biggest disadvantage to the Village is the location. It is just off campus, and for first year medics, this can be a nightmare. The majority of your lectures are in the Bob Champion Research and Education (BCRE) building, which is all the way by the hospital and is a good 25 minute walk for a 5’2 girl like me. However, as of now, a lot of our lectures are to be online, so don’t rule it out! Furthermore, cycling is a huge thing at UEA, and living here would not be as much of an issue with a good bike (there are multiple bike rails dotted around the Village). The Village is closer to Tesco express and Aldi, and can be a quieter alternative if you are not much of a partier. 

If you do not mind spending a bit more money for a nicer room and toilet, then the Village plus would also be a shout! Only note that it is slightly further than the Village. 

The furthest accommodation option is Pablo Fanque and may not seem so good for medical students who need to be on campus nearly everyday. And I can imagine it may be difficult to get to campus on days where you have placement, and need to be there as early as 7am. It is located in the town centre, therefore you need to catch a bus to get to campus. It is more on the pricier side, however, the en suite rooms are very spacious and modern. From my point of view, it is not so suitable for medical students based on its location however, it is worth having a look at just in case.

All the other accommodation options are on campus. En Suite Campus, En Suite Campus plus, Hickling and Barton (listed from cheapest to most expensive) are furthest from the medical school and the BCRE. There are minor differences between the flats, although Hickling and Barton are considered to be the best of the best. I have never personally visited, however, it has been deemed time and time again as a place that may be considered as not worth the money. Although, I would not want this to deter you from going for it, as there is always the option of transferring to a different accommodation a few weeks into the academic year. There is one building that, location-wise, for medicine, is perfect. It is called ‘Constable Terrace’ and it is the only En Suite Campus building that lies just opposite the medical building and is a lovely short and sweet 10-15 minute walk to the BCRE. Unfortunately, it comes down to sheer luck whether you get put there, however a large number of medics do get put there probably as UEA recognises that this is a really great location for us. UEA does try to put you with at least one other medic, as we usually come back to university after the holidays a week earlier than the other courses, and so they have done this in order to guarantee that you are not alone. 

All of the accommodation options mentioned so far can have quite a large number of rooms in one flat, and this is beyond your control. However, you can apply to twin rooms, either in the Ziggs or as a part of the En Suite Campus buildings. In the Ziggs, you share a room and a toilet. In the En Suite Campus building, you share a toilet and a kitchen. In terms of the En Suite Campus building, this is nice if you are a Muslim student (or just a student with this preference) looking to live with another student of the same sex. UEA does not offer same sex accomodation options (although I believe the Islamic society is working on it). However, the risk lies in the fact that it is a shot in the dark as to whether you will get along with whoever you share the flat with. Furthermore, the kitchen is probably the smallest kitchen I have seen in my entire life: you can only make half a step in each direction and may I reiterate that I am 5’2? 

To conclude, I cannot really recommend a specific accommodation, however I hope I have shed a bit of light on each option and how it may or may not be suited to you as a medical student.

Do you think the move to the first year blocks being alongside each other will be beneficial or challenging given the first block has been foundations?

I think this will be beneficial because one block (Fundamental sciences) is considered by many to be much less interesting than the other (Musculoskeletal system). In interweaving the two, it makes the course much more interesting and decreases your chance of questioning why you ever applied to medicine in the first place when it feels like you are not really studying it in the first Fundamental sciences block.

What does the portfolio report involve?

For your first year, the portfolio report is formative and is very much guided (for those who dislike writing long paragraphs). It is split up into 2 sections: one addressing your overall progress and the other reflecting on specific clinical cases you have faced in primary and secondary care.

Thank you Carla and Marrya for answering these questions!

Find out more about Marrya on Instagram:

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Posted by:Life of a Medic

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