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This post is written by Gianni Tam-McMillan, a first year medical student at the University of Oxford 

Partly thanks to lockdown, I feel like my first year at Oxford has completely flown by! In this post, I’ll give a bit of insight into what life is like as a first year medic at the University of Oxford, the good bits, the not-so-good aspects, and some tips on how to make your application as competitive as possible. 

Contents

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

An Overview of How We Are Taught

The Medicine course at Oxford stretches over six years, and is divided into pre-clinical (first three years) and clinical (last three years) sections. Oxford uses a traditional format for its course: in the first three years there isn’t as much patient contact as you’ll get at other medical schools, and you are mainly taught via lectures, small group seminars/classes, and tutorials.

We do take part in a Patient-Doctor course, which involves a few meetings each term with a GP tutor at their practice, where you have the opportunity to meet and talk with some of their patients, and ask the GP tutor questions. Still, in the first three years we don’t have much patient contact compared to some other medical schools with different course formats.

Our lectures mostly focus on four broad topics: Physiology and Pharmacology; Organisation of the Body; Biochemistry and Medical Genetics; and Medical Sociology. The course is designed to give you a thorough scientific grounding, as well as a good grasp of other useful skills/concepts, such as medical statistics and biomedical research, before you move into the clinical stage of your medical studies.

We have anatomy classes in the Demonstration Room (DR), where we rotate between two different stations, where demonstrators use prosections from preserved human cadavers to teach, and a group workshop in the seminar room. We must also complete an online learning module and quiz in the week preceding each Demonstration Room session. 

A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic

Note that this timetable doesn’t include my tutorials. Usually I’d have 2-3 per week, but this varies depending on the college you go to. They tend to last for 1-2 hours, and some form of work (e.g. an essay, a table, a diagram, notes etc.) is usually required for submission before the tutorial starts. 

The Non-Medical Stuff

Oxford is packed with shops, restaurants, attractions, the Westgate shopping centre, and has good public transport links. Your experience of studying at Oxford can vary a bit between colleges, since they are spread out in different locations around the city. I prefer living centrally, although when I walk back into Christ Church or its adjacent Meadows, the atmosphere changes completely, and I no longer feel like I’m in a bustling city centre.

Accommodation is normally provided by your college. Some colleges own accommodation off-site, but it usually isn’t too far from the college itself. You do have the option to “live out” and find your own accommodation, but this isn’t common for freshers to do. One key benefit of using college accommodation is that you only pay rent for the time you actually live there, rather than paying for an entire year like many private accommodation leases require. Catering varies between colleges and between accommodation areas within the colleges too, so check the details about whichever college you’re applying to.

If you compare the nightlife to other unis, Oxford isn’t exactly going to win any awards, but that’s not to say the nightlife is dead either! There are a number of clubs and other venues in and around Oxford, which regularly run events where there is a large student turnout.

If clubbing isn’t your thing, there are also plenty of other social events going on. There are a countless number of societies you can get involved with, many of which run their own socials and events. Your college will also do its own events; just to give one example, every week at Christ Church, our welfare reps organise a Late Night Tea Break, where all students can turn up for plenty of free snacks and a chance to chat.

College-based and intercollegiate sports are also prominent, and many of the teams are open for anyone to join, even if you have no prior experience of the sport. Of course, there are also the more advanced teams (e.g. the Blues teams) which compete with other universities, or at even higher levels. 

Pros of Studying at Oxford

Tutorial system: I love Oxford’s tutorial system. Most people struggle to take in and understand everything simply from the lectures and classes alone, so having regular tutorials is especially useful for asking all your burning questions, and thoroughly going over difficult concepts. They are also a great space for detailed scientific and medical discussions – most of our tutors are experts in their field! The majority of tutors also make their tutorials pretty interactive, and they are done in small groups (usually between 2-6 students), which keeps the students engaged and interested.

• Scientific focus and research opportunities: If you’re a fan of the traditional course format, Oxford does this well. You gain a good scientific grounding before progressing onto clinical teaching in your fourth year. You also work on a research project in your third year, and so get to dive into the field of biomedical research in a way that you can’t do at many other universities.

• High course quality and ranking: Oxford’s medicine course is consistently ranked as one of the best in the world – it is cited as the “best institution for medical and health teaching and research”, for the ninth year running (Times Higher Education World University Edinburgh has many research facilities producing world class research and publications.

Cons of Studying at Oxford

8-week terms: This is one thing about Oxford I’m not massively keen on. Although the 8-week terms give you a sizeable amount of vacation time (about 5-6 weeks for Christmas and Easter holidays, and around 3 months of summer vacation), it means you have to cram an entire term’s work into less than 2 months. The Oxford workload is no joke – but it is possible to handle it well and thrive while at Oxford with some good time management skills, and support from fellow medics, older students, and your tutors.

• Moving out at the end of each term: The majority of students have to move almost everything out of their accommodation at the end of each term, which is a real hassle. This allows colleges to rent the rooms out between terms (which indirectly subsidises our rent) and also use them to host candidates for interview. Different colleges provide different storage options, but international students and students who are unable to move out (for a variety of reasons) are given priority here.

• No recorded lectures (currently): I would have found recorded lectures so useful for digesting the course content, because it’s hard to take down proper notes while simultaneously listening to what the lecturer is saying. We do get access to the lecture slides, but of course that’s not quite the same as replaying a lecture recording. Having said that, the coronavirus pandemic has forced lectures to be moved online for Trinity Term (i.e. summer term), and I hope the option to access pre-recorded lectures will still be available next year! 

3 Top Tips For Applying to Oxford

1. Take the BMAT seriously: Your BMAT scores are one of the key factors used to decide whether or not you are shortlisted for interview. There are lots of past papers available freely on the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing website, so try to make the most of them!

2. Expect to feel out of your depth during your interviews: This is exactly what the interviewers are trying to do, as they want to see your problem-solving skills in action when you’re presented with an unfamiliar task. Try to get acquainted with this, so it doesn’t freak you out when it almost inevitably happens during the interview. Don’t stress about whether you’ll be able to get to the right answer – focus on thinking out loud and explaining your thought process to the interviewers. Demonstrate your critical thinking skills and your ability to apply logic to the problem. 

Make the most of Oxford-specific resources: Take advantage of any mock interview opportunities (or arrange your own with a teacher, for instance), speak to current/former Oxford students for more tips and advice (you can chat with Christ Church students here), and get help through the many (free!) mentoring programs and outreach initiatives out there! Some are run by the university, others are independent, but Target Oxbridge, Zero Gravity, and UNIQ are just a few you could have a look at. (also, see here for some other outreach initiatives run by Oxford


Thank you Gianni for providing such a detailed and interesting insight into Oxford. Check out his blog and social media below:


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Posted by:Life of a Medic

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