Which factors should you consider when selecting a medical school? Our writer Katie Hodgkinson details her top tips on how to make your university choices, from patient contact to Problem-Based Learning (PBL).
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One of the biggest things that differs between medical schools is the amount of patient contact you get in the first few years before you’re almost exclusively on the wards.
Traditionally, the first few years of university are spent in lectures, dissection classes and small group tutorials before you get patient exposure in the last two or three years, but some universities have started introducing patient contact even earlier (integrated courses).
So, does it matter? Yes and no. If you’re the sort of person who learns by experience rather than reading about conditions in a textbook, you may be more suited to early contact. If you reckon your people skills are already pretty hot and you can learn well by reading, then perhaps it’s not as important.
Some students find it much easier to remember conditions based on a person they have seen with it, whereas some are more adept at rote learning, so it’s up to you to figure out which is best for you. At the end of the day you’ll get clinical contact in bulk towards the end of your degree, but you might want it earlier for both better learning and keeping you motivated.
A more traditional course with less patient contact early on may give the less confident a chance to develop their skills in a low pressure environment before going out onto the wards.
Only a few medical schools now offer full body dissection, as opposed to prosection where you are given the organ you’d be dissecting, pre-dissected for you. In prosection classes, the structures are expertly taken apart by an anatomist in front of you, so you’ll see all the structures preserved and explained by someone who knows what they’re doing.
With dissection, you have more of an opportunity to see for yourself, handle the organs and structures and do the cutting yourself, but this also runs the risk of you not seeing everything you need to. It really depends whether you need a more hands-on approach or not to learn anatomy. If you’re particularly good at learning through experience, dissection may be more your style.
If the medical school you choose puts emphasis on Problem-Based Learning, you can expect to have to work through cases and problems, learning by research and questioning what is presented in front of you. This is a very active approach, requiring a lot of motivation and group work.
If you prefer to work solo, or learn from established facts laid out in front of you, lectures may be more suitable. It’s inevitable all medical schools will have some elements of Problem-Based Learning, but if the emphasis is more rooted in rote-learning lecture slides, it may be more suited towards those that prefer a more passive form of studying.
Now, being close to home may not seem that exciting. Normally moving away is seen as something crucial for development, helping you get used to living alone and looking after yourself – but in medical school, this may be slightly different. When you’re exposed to many realities other students aren’t (heavy workloads, the potential for patients to pass away, long hours), you may wish to have a source of comfort much closer.
With medicine being one of the longest undergraduate courses, you have plenty of time to move out at any point, so if you want to do your growing up early and move into halls with the other freshers, then great, but having home nearby for later years may be something you need to consider.
Living at home will be cheaper and if you can commute to the hospital in later years, the opportunities to come home to your family may be more appealing. Living nearby to your family doesn’t mean you can’t move out and you won’t grow up, but it may provide a much needed source of comfort. It all depends on how close you are with your family (and whether they’re a comfort or a hindrance in times of stress!) – and whether you feel the need to grow up by moving away.
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Words: Katie Hodgkinson
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