Welcome to the 12th 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 Jan, a 1st year medical student at the University of Sunderland.

I have just finished my first year studying medicine at Sunderland and I am honoured to have been part of the first cohort at this medical school. As you may know, it can be difficult to imagine what it’s like to study at a newly established medical school as lots of things about it are still in the works and some of your questions may not have been fully answered! I definitely did not regret choosing Sunderland as my firm choice as everything has exceeded my expectations so far and I would say that it has been an especially invaluable and unique experience being one of the pioneer students. There is a lot of potential for Sunderland in the future to develop into a well-known medical school and I hope to highlight some of the best things about it and provide a bit more insight here into what you can expect studying at Sunderland!

Contents

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

An Overview of How We Are Taught

At Sunderland, the first year of the course is taught in 8 separate units:

Unit 1: Orientation

Unit 2: Health and Disease

Unit 3: Immunology and infection

Unit 4: Emergencies

Unit 5: Life Course

Unit 6: Brain and Mind 

Unit 7: Pregnancy 

Unit 8: Lifestyle 

Alongside this, there will also be a scholarship unit (student-selected component) that you’ll start in the middle of the year which is to support you in completing a dissertation about a specific advancing field in medicine. As you may see in timetable in the next section, the curriculum is taught in a range of sessions which are related to the PBL case for that week. 

PBL 

This is carried out in small groups supervised by a tutor. On Monday we receive a scenario and then we discuss in our groups what learning objectives we would like to take from the case to research on. At the end of the week, we share our research with each other and pick up on any important things we may have missed out on, later in the day we also have a ‘wrap-up’ session which is where all of the cohort gather together and the tutors provide some useful information in regard to the case as well as providing an activity that helps consolidate our learning that week.

Lectures 

These are either delivered by the lecturers in the faculty or by external clinicians. Core concepts are more likely to be taught by the medical staff who are specialised in the certain aspects of medicine, e.g. immunology, physiology, etc, whereas the pathophysiology of diseases, clinical and psychosocial aspects of medicine are more likely to be covered by those of the medical field who are not regularly teaching at the university. Typically, you’ll have around 2-3 lectures a day.

Anatomy 

In our year, we are split into two groups for anatomy (around 25 people in each group) in which we are then taught in even smaller groups of around 6-8 people. Since the next intake will be 100, you might be split into four groups of 25 people but I’m not entirely sure. All groups are taught the same content, the only difference is that they’re taught at different times in a day. Before our anatomy session, we are asked to complete some pre-work such as watching some videos/reading pages of Gray’s Anatomy. Anatomy teaching lasts for 2 hours and involves going around 4 different stations. These stations may vary depending on the structures studied but typically it will involve:

  • Anatomical models – a tutor will be on the station to help guide you through the positions and the functions of each structure. 
  • Virtual Human Dissector – before the anatomy session, Debs (our fantastic anatomy professor!) will have recorded some videos providing a walkthrough of the anatomical structures using a software called VHD which can be accessed through the computers in the anatomy suite. A worksheet is also provided so that you have a chance to use the software yourself to explore where structures lie relative to each other.
  • Anatomage table – this is like a massive iPad which helps us to visualise the anatomy of a cadaver. It is an interactive system which has options to dissect the model and look at different cases which have affected the normal functioning of a structure. This is led by a tutor and it will mostly be them talking through the anatomy, but there is also a chance for you to use the Anatomage table in your own time! 
  • Radiology/Ultrasound – this station involves external radiologists talking through how to spot different anatomical structures and problems in X-ray, CT, MRI results, etc. and which technique is the most appropriate to use for each of the different systems. Sometimes, we also have volunteers who allow us to practise some ultrasound techniques on.

Clinical skills 

These sessions are held in our simulation wards with dummy patients. Everyone gets to have a go at performing the procedure and sometimes you’ll be required to work in small groups in which you decide amongst yourselves who does what in a scenario like with the vital signs session. There aren’t that many clinical skills sessions in the first year, but we’ve been told that we will be expanding our examination skill set a lot more in second year. 

Communication skills

In preparation for the GP placements that start in around January time, the GP tutors run communication skills sessions every week/fortnight to help build up the confidence of students when encountering patients. In first year, these sessions are primarily teaching you on how to take patient history and to get a bit of practice with the PCPIs who are volunteers with previous experience of interacting with medical professionals so they can give you really valuable feedback on what you need to improve on before you go out on placement. 

Experiential learning 

Experiential learning is taught in small groups of around 10-12 people and are there to help encourage discussions around the more sensitive issues that one might encounter during their career, i.e. communicating with people who have disabilities or looking at attitudes towards the mentally ill and how we as medical professionals, could help overcome that. These sessions can involve a variety of things such as, group discussions, simulation scenarios, volunteers coming in to speak to us about their experiences, etc. 

Practicals

Depending on the unit we are studying, we’ll have practicals which accompany the lecture content we’ve had for the week. For example, in units 2 and 3 which are heavily microbiology based, lab practicals are scheduled in those weeks. Practicals don’t necessarily have to be in the lab, you can also get histology and physiology practicals which involve completing some activities set by the lecturer using medical equipment to produce your own data to work from. Usually, there will be enough equipment for small groups of around 7 people in such practicals and it is most likely you’ll work in pairs for lab practicals.

Interprofessional-Learning

Throughout the first year, we have a few IPL sessions which involve all the students studying for professions in health and social care (medicine, nursing, pharmacy, health and social care and paramedicine) coming together to put into practice sharing our knowledge and teamwork skills. These sessions usually last around a few hours and may involve being in a simulation whereby as a team of mixed professions you need to work together to successfully complete the aim given to you involving a patient. 

A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic


This is a general timetable of a week of sessions in which all 1st year medical students are required to attend. It consists of a range of sessions as mentioned earlier in teaching styles. However, as you may have noticed a lot of the sessions are very ambiguous as there is no set weekly structure at Sunderland, each week is different from another. All the sessions ran in a week are usually all related back to the PBL case you will be given at the beginning of that week. This means that except from PBL and Anatomy, each medical discipline and lectures won’t be necessarily taught at the same time/on the same day every week, but I have tried to highlight the vague timings of how long each session is ran for. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays are usually the busiest days, with the sessions running from 9am up to 5pm but we get to finish early every Wednesday and Friday! It is important to mention, however, that this timetable may receive some notable changes for the future cohorts as currently my cohort has 50 students meanwhile the following intakes are going to be for 100 students. This means that it is likely that sessions could run differently as there will be more teaching groups (currently we are split into 2-4 groups for sessions that aren’t lectures). I have also heard that there is a possibility that PBL could last for a full week instead of Mon-Fri depending on the outcome of the discussions between some of the medical course reps and staff at Sunderland. 

In order to put into a better perspective of what a week is like at Sunderland, this is a timetable based off of my 6th week of the first semester where we were learning about diseases relating to Unit 3: Immunology and Infection.

The Non-Medical Stuff

In first year, all medical students are put into the same accommodation (Scotia Quay) so when you first move in, you’ll already be meeting some of the people you’re going to spend almost everyday with! Each flat has 5 people in and it’s a great way of getting to know the people on the medical course better, this is how most friendship groups have been formed during the first semester as you get to help each other out with getting used to living independently as well as navigating your way around campus. There is a minibus which runs from the accommodation to the university campuses every 15 minutes in the morning, but the campus is only around a 15-minute walk from the accommodation. The location of the accommodation is also very convenient as it’s a 10-minute walk from the city centre which has all the shops and restaurants you’ll need and there is even a bowling place/arcade just 5 minutes’ walk away!

There are also other chances to meet people outside of medicine. Before you officially start your course, there will be lots of activities aimed at freshers ran by the university which you can find on the SU website and there is no pressure to attend them! In October, there is a big Freshers’ Fayre which is really useful in helping you find some of your interests – I was really surprised by some of the societies the university had to offer! 

The medical course is based on City Campus which has a range of fantastic facilities. There is a social space called CitySpace which also has a café/restaurant, so you have the option to grab lunch there if you’re in a rush to get to the next lecture. CitySpace also offers gym facilities for a reasonable price and all fitness sessions such as boxfit, yoga, etc. are included in the gym membership. The Murray Library is also just located opposite to CitySpace. All university buses are also free to board as long as you show them your ID card, so it’s really convenient to get around Sunderland. We also have a metro network in Sunderland so if you fancy a shopping trip in Newcastle, it’s only a 40-minute ride away.

Pros of Studying at Sunderland

  • As a new medical school, Sunderland is very flexible in terms of making improvements to their course to better suit the needs of the students. We are frequently asked about how we feel the course is going and the medical faculty are always actively listening to any concerns we have which has led to the course being a lot more enjoyable for us. 

• Currently, the university offers a lot of scholarships and incentives for medical students to encourage widening participation. All first-year medical students get a free pass for North East public transport, free essential medical textbooks, free accommodation and a £1000 scholarship! 

As well as GP placements, we have also had a chance to visit hospitals, mental health clinics and care homes. This has been especially useful as the visits were scheduled during the weeks with the most relevant PBL cases. 

The staff in the Faculty of Medicine are extremely helpful! They are really accessible via email or even when you just see them around on campus, they’re always keen to answer any questions you have about the content. They always go above and beyond at their job to make sure you fully understand their lectures. You’ll also be assigned one of the staff to be your personal tutor so if you have any personal concerns, they’ll always be there to help. 

Cons of Studying at Sunderland

• Being a new medical school also has its disadvantage in that there’s always some degree of uncertainty. There are some things that are being refined which can lead to some sudden changes and it might not take once to get right which is why the medical staff are keen to find out what students think is going well and what isn’t.

Sunderland currently do not offer prosection in anatomy and we haven’t been able to have a look at any cadavers. I have heard that the medical school are aiming to change this for 2021 but I’m not entirely sure.

• The building for the medical school is currently part of the life sciences building which means that it is still very small. All our lectures are held in small rooms rather than lecture theatres and sometimes not all of the cohort can fit into a room comfortably, i.e. not enough chairs/desks. However, this has been addressed and it’s planned that there might be an independent building dedicated to the Faculty of Medicine in the foreseeable future. 

3 Top Tips For Applying to Sunderland

1. Be sure to show what you have learnt from your volunteering in the Roles and Responsibilities form. Do not just write about what you did (this should be very brief as you get a very short word limit) but explain how it’s influenced your decision to study medicine. It’s more effective if you have shown a consistent level of engagement in volunteering rather than short periods.  

2. If you progress to the interview stage, ensure that you read up on some of the controversial hot topics relating to medicine as you are likely to be asked about whether you agree/disagree with an ethical topic and the interviewers are looking for you to evaluate the different viewpoints on it.

3. At your interview, you will also have to perform a maths test but do not stress about it! It is not very difficult at all but do make sure you have a go at some of the sample questions they’ll email to you beforehand as I found that they were very similar to the ones that were in the actual test. Also, be careful with your units and make sure to brush up on those before your interview! 


Thank you Jan for providing such a detailed and interesting insight into Sunderland.

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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