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This post is written by Sneha John, a now 3rd year medical student at Peninsula Medical School (Plymouth).
Going into my third year, I’ve genuinely enjoyed my course so much. I think a lot of people have their worries about coming to Plymouth because its so far down south and away from all the big cities. It’s a relatively small medical school, but definitely getting bigger every year, and I want to give you guys an insight into the course, and all things Plymouth!
- An Overview of Teaching Methods
- Typical Timetable of a 1st year Medical Student at Plymouth
- The Non-Medical Stuff
- 3 Top Tips For Applying to Plymouth
An Overview of How We Are Taught
In pre-clinical years, Plymouth uses EBL which stands for evidence based learning (or formerly known as PBL- problem-based learning), and this consists of small groups- around 8 people per group with an assigned facilitator which helps and guides you through. You’ll meet 3 times every 2 weeks to work through a clinical case. For example, you’ll meet on a Monday and are given a clinical vignette, you’ll work through the case to activate what you might already know about the symptoms presented, any differentials, all the different aspects of the patient, such as psychosocial etc, and then you’ll come up with a set of questions that you will have to go away and research about. Then you’ll meet up one week later and discuss your findings. There will be usually a part 2 to the case, but often much smaller which you’ll work through again and make questions then meet up 2 days later to discuss.
During these two weeks you will have plenaries (lectures) to supplement your learning – and often related to the case, as well as anatomy that also fits in well. So if your case is about a patient that came in with abdominal pain, abdominal anatomy will be taught, and gastrointestinal physiology will be the focus.
Plymouth teaches through what’s known as a spiral – based curriculum. This essentially means most of the knowledge taught is often revisited throughout your time at medical school. The difference between 1st and 2nd year is that 1st year is focused on normal physiology with slight mentions of some pathologies, whereas 2nd year is much more clinical and you’ll be taught a lot of pathophysiology and conditions. It uses the human life cycle as a basis- so you’ll start off by learning about conception, and work your way upto old age. Alongside plenaries you’ll have LSRC sessions- which is where you’re often taught anatomy, some physiology, microbiology, medical imaging, histology etc. These sessions are meant to be interactive, especially when learning anatomy. Plymouth does not have dissections, but instead we learn through models, the anatomage table – which is a digital mode of learning anatomy- where you can dissect through a human body virtually. You’ll also have surface anatomy models- which are real people who you can feel for anatomical structures and landmarks on.
Once a week you’ll also have a clinical skills session, which is where you’ll learn all your practical and communication skills. In first year you’ll be taught a range of different examinations and skills, such as CVS, GI, respiratory, venipuncture (blood taking), IM injections, BLS with AED and more. This is taught via small groups of around 6, with either a nurse or a doctor as your clinical instructor. You’ll learn to do examinations on each other, take histories and halfway through the year you’ll start taking histories from simulated patients- which are essentially actors.
Placements wise, in first year you’ll have a placement every 2 weeks. But these aren’t always hospital or GP-based. Placements include GPs, hospital wards, clinics, local alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers, Coroner’s office (this is quite an interesting one because you get to test for signs of life on a dead body) and more. Not everyone gets the same variation of placements, however you do get the same amount. In 2nd year you’ll only have GP placements- and you’ll often be allocated to one practice where you’ll be able to start taking histories and examinations on patients. (Of course with the supervision of a GP)
Complementary to these placements you have small group sessions called JIGSAW where you get to reflect on these placements and discuss any Issues that may have arose. There’s also topics that the facilitator teaches- often through interactive means. Some examples are: ‘good healthcare professional’, inequalities in health, creative communication and the use of arts in healthcare and more. In 2nd year you’ll be expected to lead a JIGSAW session too with 1-2 of your peers.
SSU – 2 week blocks SSU are also known as SSC- which are student selected components. There’s 3 modules within SSU- biomedical sciences, healthcare ethics and medical humanities. You’ll be assigned which module you’ll be doing but then you’ll have a choice of which topic you want to do from a catalogue. Then later on when your SSU weeks arrive, you’ll find out which topic you’re doing- you’re usually in groups of 3-4 for these. SSU weeks mean you’re off timetable for the two weeks and only have to go to the sessions prepped by your facilitator- and these are often once a week for 2 hours. For example, in year 2, my topic was familial hypercholesteraemia and my facilitator was an endocrine consultant at my local hospital. I had one session sitting in with him in clinics, and then one session once a week to talk about the condition and look through patient notes etc. You’re assessed on a 2000 word essay that you’ll have to write throughout these two weeks. Throughout your pre-clinical years you’ll do two of these and then in year 2 you’ll do the remaining one and another Doctors as Educators (DaE) module in year 2. DaE is essentially where you’re in groups of 8-9 and you’ll work together to create an educational resource, and then write 1500 word essay on a related matter- this a longitudinal module and it’s altogether 3 weeks long. For example, you’ll have a week off-timetable in November, February and March to work on this and meet up with your group and the resource and essay would be due in April.
SSUs are usually quite laid back times of the year as you’re off timetable and gives you a bit of time to catch up on any work you’ve fallen back on. It also gives you a fair amount of time to write your essay, and most people decide to go home between their allocated sessions. Although it is very much dependent on your topic. There’s some that require you to be in hospital everyday of the week- although these are actually really interesting topics such as neurosurgery, cardiothoracic surgery etc – and these mean you get to scrub in on surgeries almost every day and also have a go at stitching and other practical skills.
A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic
Plymouth does 2 week timetables, so there are slight variations from the two weeks and one week is a little more busier than the other, but here’s the busier week.
Abbreviations and terms:
- PLENARY– lecture
- LSRC – Life Sciences and Resources Centre: You have 3 LSRC sessions every 2 weeks, and each session is 2 hours, split into 40 minute session
- Interactive Session: Interactive sessions are where you are taught about public health and psychosocial matters. Often you’ll have speakers come in, and talk about their experiences
- EBL- evidence based learning
- CSRC- clinical skills and resources centre – You have clinical skills once a week
- Community placements: You have one community placement every 2 weeks
- JIGSAW: JIGSAW takes place once every 2 weeks
In total you have around 7- 8 lectures every 2 weeks
The Non-Medical Stuff
The campus is actually quite small compared to the bigger cities, and hence the city itself is not as busy as others. But that doesn’t mean there’s not much to do here! Within the MedSoc (Medical society), there’s an array of things you can do such as yoga, rugby, football, choirs, etc. These are within the medical society so all the members would be medical students/sometimes dental. One of my favourite things that I’ve been involved with is the Medsoc Show. This is where students put together a show and perform around February time! It’s written by students (and you can get involved in the show-writing part) and then there are auditions to play the roles. There’s students from every year involved and its great for those who want to a break from the medicine side of life and get involved in performing arts. Other notable things that Medsoc does is the ‘Medsoc’s got talent’ show where you have the opportunity to showcase any talents you have. They also put on lots of themed socials such as nights out, and often they’re a lot of fun if you get involved. Within the university there’s all these societies but with members from all courses. There’s obviously much more societies offered from the university itself and you’ll always find something you want to do!
All the accommodation provided by the university is on campus- so very easy to get to lectures, however the private accommodation is not too far either (max 10-15 minutes walk). And the accommodation is actually quite good compared to other cities. Some private accommodations offer en-suites starting from £90/week, although they can go up-to £170. You can get studios and shared as well for similar pricing.
Things to do
Being so close to the sea means there’s loads of beaches to travel to. You can get there if one of you have a car or there’s busses that go there too! There’s an aquarium, as well the hoe- which is a hotspot in the summer! Dartmoor is a national park that is nearby and often visited! It has amazing scenery and its easy to make a day trip out of it! There’s also ferrys you can travel on for places like Mt Edgecumbe or even Cornwall! There’s also just some really cafes around- like the board game café!
Obviously being a ocean city, the fish and chips is amazing! (I recommend Harbourside). There’s lots of take aways of all cuisines (Thai, Chinese, Indian etc) very central, and hence very accessible. In the summer lots of small businesses come to the Barbican, as well as new businesses and chains opening up all the time. There’s also very nice dessert places where you can get bubble waffles etc.
Pros of Studying at Plymouth
• No single stake exam – In all 5 years you have 4 progress tests, and you pass based on your aggregate. So you can fail some as long as your aggregate is a satisfactory(pass). And in year 1, you can fail all four of those as long as you pass the End of Year 1 exam- which is an exam that only tests year 1 knowledge at the end of the year- but if you passed all your progress tests then you’ll still pass the year if you fail the end of year 1 exam. After year 1, you only have the progress tests that occur 4 times a year- and no single stake exam at the end of the year.
• SDL HEAVY – SDL stands for Self-directed learning and I’ve put this in the pro and the con because this honestly depends on you. I like learning content myself and having the time to do so- so I appreciate the amount of free time we get off timetable to learn things ourselves and go over it in our own time.
• MedSoc teaches – The medical society in our university is huge and they run what’s known as medsoc teaches either once or twice a week for every year group. These are essentially student led lectures that are connected to what you’re learning on course at the time- and older years teach you topics which either the university doesn’t cover to a broad extent, or just difficult concepts in general. These are super useful because you can ask questions, and because its students that are teaching, it’s easier to understand and follow along. There’s separate teaches for all the year groups so you have continual support throughout your time.
• Lots of support – this can be in terms of pastoral support- where there are a range of staff (whom you’ll be familiar with), and you can pick who you want to talk to- literally about anything and theyre so supportive and will check up on you! You also have medsoc families- which is where you’ll be allocated two students from the year above who will act as your ‘parents’ and you’ll have ‘siblings’ from your year. These parents will hold family meals, can hold teaches if you ask them for help and are essentially just there to help you settle in! They’re really useful because you get to know your older years and have familiar faces across all years! Mine reached out to me before I even started so it was really nice! You also have the chance to ‘marry’ someone in your year and then you’ll be allocated kids from the next cohort of freshers. There’s family events too and they’re fun if you get involved! You also have an academic tutor (AT), who you have to meet 2-3 times a year, and this is a 1-1 meeting where you’ll discuss your progress after each progress test, as well as how you’re finding the course, any issues etc. You can also arrange a meeting with them as many times as you like if you had any concerns or needed someone to talk to.
• Early placements – You can have placements in first year from literally the first week! And then you’ll have them once every 2 weeks- so you get to meet doctors, GPs, local communities really early on and have that exposure to talking to patients, seeing conditions etc.
• Good for those who don’t like lectures / traditional style – You only have around 7-8 lectures every 2 weeks, and the other sessions are either small group work, or interactive. The lectures are also only 1 hour max- you might have 2 lectures back to back but that’s the maximum – and if there’s more there’s breaks in between the lectures. So it’s quite nicely spaced out.
• Easy timetable – Like I’ve mentioned before, the timetable is quite laid back, but it’s obviously for you to do your own work, but you have control over how much you want to do.
Cons of Studying at Plymouth
• Anatomy – Because the university doesn’t use cadavers or pro-sections, anatomy can be a little difficult sometimes. The resources are always available its just you have to take the initiative to use them and study in your own time. – such as using the anatomage table- it’s available for your use but its not always integrated into the teaching sessions so you have to go in your own time and use it if you want to.
• SDL – Obviously having the amount of free time that you do, it’s quite important that you can self-motivate yourself into studying. Having a routine or even the right group of friends can help you keep up with it- e.g. having study sessions at the library together, but because the university emphasises on self-directed learning you have to make sure you get the work done even if there’s no deadlines or someone telling you to. It can sometimes be hard to know how in depth you have to know something but you do eventually figure it out as you study more and more.
• AMK 5% threshold – AMK stands for applied medical knowledge, and these are the progress tests. Every year in the medical school sit the exact same progress test, however the pass mark for each year is relative to how the year does, and the bottom 5% fail. Obviously this can be seen as a con because you could do really well but if it’s one of the bottom 5% of marks then you do essentially fail that exam. However, just to point out, it is possible for everyone to pass the year- because it’s based on your aggregate score at the end of the year. Also the percentage does decrease throughout the years. So in year 1, the bottom 5% fail, in year 2, the bottom 4% and so on, and in year 5, you only have to pass any 2 of the 4 tests and that’ll be enough to pass year 5.
3 Top Tips For Applying to Plymouth
Disclaimer: I applied to Plymouth when they did traditional style interviews, this has since changed to MMI, but these are my generic tips when applying.
1. Not the ideal university if you’re planning to go into research or academia – there is a chance to intercalate between 4th and 5th year but it’s probably not the ideal university if you want more opportunities to take part in research etc. There are opportunities to present posters at conferences held by societies but it is very much self-directed.
2. Research the university – Plymouth doesn’t look at the number of A*s or 9’s etc, their grade criteria is very true to what’s on their website- in the fact that they’ll look at your application as long as you meet their minimum grade criteria – which is a 5/C in the 5 main subjects. Plymouth is quite transparent with the type of candidate theyre looking for, so have a look on their website on the characteristics they’re looking for (they have a list).
3. Ethics – Get familiar with the four pillars of ethics and using them in your answers. Instead of explicitly mentioning them when answering ethical questions, instead integrate it. They’re looking for genuine empathy and authenticity- not recitations of the prep research you have done.
Thank you Sneha for providing such a detailed and interesting insight into Plymouth. Check out her social channels below:
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