Medicine @ Oxford | Q&A

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These questions have been answered by Suna (1st year) and Antoni (1st year at Corpus Christi College) at Oxford.

Antoni’s questions + answers:

Do you know anything about what the graduate entry medicine course is like?

We have had relatively little contact with the graduate medics, so I’m afraid I can’t offer any advice on this. The only contact I have had is with a graduate entry medic who tutored my college for biochemistry briefly (only because he had a PhD in biochemistry though!). Here’s ore information about the graduate entry course.

Do you ever feel intimidated being surrounded by other high performing students?

At times. I think that everyone has moments where they feel out of their depth, whether it is during a tutorial when everyone seems to know the answer except you or when you perform poorly on an essay. It is also easy to get dragged into looking at your friends and thinking “wow, they really have it together!” 

However, in my experience, the atmosphere is not as competitive as I had expected. All the medics in my year are very keen to help each other and the students are not pitted against each other often, with the exception of collections and formatives (exams at the start of each term assessing your performance from last term). There is definitely a sort of camaraderie amongst students and your college will support you if you feel overwhelmed, as well as a college JCR to support you if you are struggling.

Do you have any PBL like at other universities?

Not really. The Oxford course is very much a traditional style course, with the majority of our teaching coming from lectures. I have not experienced much PBL in first year, except on a couple of occasions in seminars and tutorials. The heavy focus on lectures is perhaps not as engaging at times, but it definitely provides a comprehensive and time-efficient way of getting through a large amount of content quickly.

Are the tutoring sessions useful?

Yes. Every tutorial is different, depending on the topic, tutor and who is in the tutorial with you, but as a whole, tutorials are a unique and unforgettable part of the course. Sometimes, a tutorial might act as a revision session for the recent lectures and anatomy sessions, with a chance to clarify any questions with the tutor. At other times you may find yourself discussing a concept from first principles in order to solve a complex question posed at the start of the tutorial. Or, best of all, you may be lucky enough to find yourself with Play-Doh in your hands, making a model of an embryo. There will certainly be tutorials where you walk out grinning at what you just learned – it is very cool!

Are you given research opportunities (e.g. publishing papers) during the academic year?

The university does not explicitly offer any research opportunities, as far as I am aware, except for third year, which is sort of the compulsory intercalated year of research. Some students do get published that year, depending on which project they manage to find themselves on and how they contribute, Aside from that, Oxford has a massive research output, so there are opportunities to contribute to research and hopefully get published, but these are outside of the main course. On a less formal level, you can also get articles published in various student gazettes.

What’s the student support like?

There is a wide range of support available for students, provided by both students, college and faculty. Students and tutors understand the workload that you have (everyone is in the same boat!) and are therefore great for providing an informal level of support when you have an exceptionally heavy week. At Corpus, for both academic and non-academic problems, there are college student welfare reps and designated tutors, the role of which is outlined at the start of the year. You can also seek support from the university counselling service. I am fortunate enough to have not had to access these services yet, but I am confident that when I do there is a large range of places to go for help.

Do you have any tips for the BMAT?

  • Revise your GCSE science content, including subjects that are not compulsory for medicine (i.e. physics and maths)
  • Practise your mental maths. The BMAT is not as time-pressured as the UCAT, but timing is still important if you want to finish.
  • I found Medify to be an excellent resource for the BMAT. It is good for tracking your average scores over time.
  • For Oxford, don’t worry too much about the essay paper. It is only weighted at 20% and a large part of that is grammar. People always stress about this, but Oxford weights sections 1 and 2 much more heavily, so percentage gains in these sections tend to pay off more.
  • Practise prioritising questions efficiently, leaving time-consuming questions until the end.

What scores do students who are offered a place to study Medicine typically achieve in sections 1 and 2 of the BMAT?

This link has all of the admission statistics relating to GCSE scores and BMAT scores. It states that the average adjusted percentage score for students receiving an interview last year was 61.8% and for students receiving an offer it rose to 63.4%. You can read about how this adjusted score is calculated and, although it won’t tell you the average scores in each of the sections, you can probably have a good guess at what is a strong score. As an example, a score of 6,6,3B would give you (5 x 5) + (5 x 5) + (4/3) x (3 x 2 + 4) = 63.3%, which is pretty much the average of an offer-holder. 

Remember though that interviewers do not see your BMAT score while interviewing, so interview performance is (arguably) more important than BMAT score.

Is there a competitive atmosphere?

I can only really speak for Corpus (#BestCollege), but I have not found the atmosphere to be as competitive as I expected. Ultimately, medical students tend to be pretty driven people and there is always going to be competition, but I have not experienced any overt comparisons between students, aside from the graphs that are published after formatives (mock exams each term). Students are very open in sharing notes and giving support to each other. We tend to understand that we all just want to be doctors. Everyone wants to do their best, but whether you feel a need to perform better than anyone else tends to be a personal tendency. That said, it is hard to see your mates get a better score on an essay and not feel motivated to do better, but such competition does not necessarily have to be a negative experience.

(At the end of the day, we all know we’re better than Cambridge, so it’s all good.)

Is it fair to classify the Oxford course as one being more suited for academic/research orientated Career vs a clinical/patient centric one?

Hmmm, I think the course tends to encourage more people into academic and research careers than other medical schools, but the majority of students still end up going down the traditional clinical route. The weekly essays you write throughout the course are partly intended to prepare you for writing academic papers, but the medical school provides a great grounding for a clinical route too.

Any tips for succeeding at interview?

One thing that people tend to forget is that the people who interview you are your potential future tutors. It is important to show them that you have a passion for science and learning, because no tutor is going to want to tutor someone who looks bored in every tute. Also, being genuine and friendly might help for the same reason. Cracking a small joke while panicking can help to lighten the mood and put you in a more calm mindset. In terms of answering questions, as genuine as the advice is, think out loud! Practice speaking to a mirror and answering difficult 6 mark A-Level questions to get comfortable. Finally, try not to make it your be-all and end-all; the more relaxed you are, the more you’ll enjoy it and the better you’ll do.

Suna’s questions + answers:

How would you suggest preparing for an interview in December?

I would advise you to know your personal statement inside out – if you have read any books, watched any talks, or used medical terminology, make sure you would be able to discuss these and answer potential questions on the topics from them. I would also say it is a good idea to have a good understanding of the A-Level content you have covered up till then as they may start a question on that basis and go from there. However, it is important to remember that the interviewers are seeing what you do know and then purposefully broaching topics that may be new and unfamiliar to you to see how you cope with new information and your thought processes in working out a problem, so don’t worry if they ask you questions you are unsure about! 

Do you ever feel intimidated by the intensity of the tutorials and preparation for it?

I have to admit before my first tutorial I was so nervous, and I remember spending so much time on my first essay trying to make sure it was perfect, but as soon as I was in the tutorial, it was so much more relaxed than I was expecting! It is a bit intense having to write 2 or 3 essays per week, and sometimes having a new tutor can be intimidating just because you’re unsure what it will be like but all my tutors have been so nice, and so easy to talk to and ask questions. Eventually, the work does just feel normal and you get used to the fast-paced life that is Oxford!

What kind of work experience is required?

Oxford doesn’t actually look for any specific work experience – they just want their candidates to have ‘a realistic understanding of what a medical career will involve’ – taken from their website. It is much more important to reflect upon any work experience that you have undertaken, for example, explaining what skills you gained/observed and what you learnt from the experience. If you can’t get any work experience (which they will be more understanding of this year anyway), anything that shows you have done your research into medicine as a career will be useful. See here.

Are there many international students at Oxford?

According to the Oxford website, international students make up around 43% of Oxford students. 64% of all graduate students are from outside the UK, as are 20% of undergraduates. See here.

Do you know anything about scholarships and procedures for foreign students?

I’m actually a UK student, but I asked a friend about her application process – she said it was quite similar to a home student application going through UCAS with only a few differences. Firstly, make sure the university accepts your grades, and usually, med schools will ask for you to be interviewed in person, however, this may change this year due to covid-19. For BMAT and interview prep, she mentioned it would be helpful to know a little bit about life in the UK e.g. how the NHS works, how the tax system works, how to buy a train ticket etc. I have attached the link as more specific information is available.

There are quite a few different scholarships that are available that have different criteria, this website has more details on each one.

How many years to study medicine at Oxford? Does it include a foundation year?

Medicine at Oxford as an undergraduate is a 6-year course as it includes an intercalated year as your 3rd year, so you end up with a BA degree in Medical Sciences after the first 3 pre-clinical years, and a BM BCh after the clinical 3 years. It does not include a foundation year.

How often are the GP sessions in first year?

We had 2 GP sessions per term last year. In the first term, these were just introduction sessions where we discussed important qualities for doctors and went through some hypothetical clinical scenarios. In our second term, the sessions took place at the GP surgery where we got the opportunity to talk to patients with conditions that corresponded to our teaching at the time, for example we were learning about metabolism and had a meeting with a diabetic patient. This would have been the same in our third term if we had been at Oxford. 

Do you feel that you will miss out on clinical experiences compared to others in other universities?

Because we only have a couple of GP sessions a term in the pre-clincal years, I do feel like we miss out on clinical experiences a little bit at the start compared to other unis. However, I did know this going in and I preferred to have a more scientific basis of knowledge before I wanted to see patients so this suited me. We do get all the practice we need when we get to the clinical years (4th year onwards)!

Why did you choose Oxford over Cambridge?

I visited both the open days and just liked the vibe of Oxford more! When I visited them both, their medicine programs seemed to be pretty similar, as well as the college system so it really was just more of a feeling of the places and where I thought I would enjoy living more. I also did think I had a better chance of getting into Oxford as they interview less of their applicants and you get interviewed at two colleges as a medicine student, which appealed to me because I didn’t think interviews were my strong point!

What can we do to stand out during the application process?

I think what most Oxford tutors are looking for are people that are passionate about studying medicine, and know what it actually entails. So, any way you can show your enthusiasm will probably make your personal statement and your interview stand out, whether it’s through reading books, watching talks or experience, make sure it’s about something you are actually interested in!

How many essays per week is the standard during the pre-clinical years?

We got around 2-3 pieces of work each week in first year – this was usually in the form of essays but it could also include short answer questions, annotated diagrams, multiple choice questions, or tables.

Thank you to Suna and Antoni for answering all these questions!

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Posted by:Life of a Medic

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