Hey! I’m Irene Mathias, a first-year medical student at Christ Church, Oxford University. Almost exactly one year ago I sent off my UCAS form having endured the UKCAT and BMAT, and ready for the horrors which we were told interviews would be. There are a lot of blogs out there about how to prepare for the application but I thought it would be nice to have a blog about what there is on the other side – what it is that you’re working towards!
Medicine is amazing but it is also important to realise that it is a lot of work. I know this is very common knowledge but when I started my idea of the workload was quite abstract.
To put it in perspective, during freshers’ week when everyone was having fun all day every day, the medics were set 3 essays in for the next week – one in for 9am Monday of the first official week. In order to write these essays, we had to first research the topic in back-breakingly heavy textbooks, sift out which of the many details were relevant to the question, and then write an essay on it – all while also trying to enjoy the millions of freshers’ activities!
To give you a general idea of medicine at Oxford, I currently have 2 to 4 lectures or practicals from 9am to 3pm every day and then 3 to 4 tutorials a week (though this is more than many other colleges, which only have 2).
While these lectures are not technically compulsory, they essentially are as they teach what is actually on the syllabus – whereas tutorials can be about whatever interests your particular tutor. The tutorials will require an essay, worksheet, or presentation to be prepared before the tutorial.
In the actual tutorial we are taught the topic that the work was on – meaning you learn everything you should have put in the essay. The tutorials are generally an hour in groups of two or three and are the perfect chance to check you actually understand the material, because within a few questions all your misconceptions will be revealed!
The only officially compulsory course component are the practical sessions. These can be actual experiments where you get into small groups within a mix of different colleges, or histology labs where you are paired with a lab partner staining cells and looking at their structure. These are really cool, because the university microscopes are so much better than the school ones, and the detail you can see is truly amazing!
However, the huge advantage of the intensity of medicine is how close you get to the other medics. The five medics in Christ Church all walk to lectures and tutes together and have spent a depressing number of nights in the library together finishing up the essays. There really is no competition between us and we all share the frantic notes we take during the lectures.
In Oxford, there is a college family system where you get a parent in the year above doing your subject that helps you out by giving advice, notes, and hugs. Of course, given that medicine is a six-year course, this leads to amazingly multigenerational families where you can meet your great-great-great-grandparents!
There is also lots of inter-collegiate medic interactions because of having shared practicals and social events organised by the medical society. For example, next week we are having Dissection Drinks where all the medics meet each other over medicine themed snacks and drinks. The students also arrange Crew Dates where you get a meal with the colleges which have been put together for the practical sessions, so you can get to know them better.
(This may be biased since it was told to me by a medical tutor) but allegedly a first-year medic learns more new words than a first-year languages student. To be honest, after my first week of real work, I can totally believe it.
Words: Irene Mathias
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