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21st April 2021
Senior Tutor Ben Allison explains the three different types of Medicine course and how you can help your students to choose the one that will suit them best.

There are many factors a student must consider when choosing a Medical School. This includes, but is not limited to, the location of the university, intercalated degrees on offer, their entrance exam scores amongst others.

It’s important that your students choose a teaching style that will suit each student, ensuring they will excel at university.

Traditional Courses

Traditional courses are the most classical form of learning, with very few universities now following this pedagogy. It involves a heavy lecture-based didactic style of learning and tends to be the method of choice for Oxford and Cambridge.

The focus of the first two to three years of university will be on the biomedical sciences with little clinical content and most certainly no clinical placements or patient contact. This will be supplemented by tutorials directly with a tutor to assess learning. Students are expected to be disciplined in their learning and be able to work independently. They need to remain motivated throughout the year to ensure they engage with the content beyond passively absorbing lectures.

Your students need to reflect hard on the fact they will have little clinical contact for such an extended period compared to their peers at other Medical Schools. They need to think about whether they would be happy in that environment. If I were a teacher advising sixth form students, I would only recommend this to the most disciplined of learners who are very independent and have a particular affinity not only for Medicine but also the basic sciences.

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Integrated Courses

Integrated courses now dominate the undergraduate Medical world. Most universities take a system-based approach where they will isolate a particular organ system (e.g. the cardiovascular system) and focus on both the biomedical and the clinical elements.

Typically, the students will explore the underlying physiology of how the system works, followed by the pathology and that will then be put into clinical context all within a shortened period of time. This is usually coupled with early clinical exposure through placements in both primary and secondary care.

A variation of this you may find is the spiral curriculum, where students will be taught a basic overview of a system earlier in the course then they will be repeated, spiralling around and revisit it as they progress through the course.

Integrated courses tend to be favoured by students who want to see their knowledge put into practical terms such as on a ward or in a GP practice. There will still be lectures presented in didactic form but usually alongside small group teaching sessions, which are more about solving a case and having a discussion. It provides a balance between the independent study of lectures and team-based learning through small group teaching.

Problem-Based Learning

A newer approach that has appeared over the last decade is Problem Based Learning (PBL). This involves presenting a small group of students with a clinical problem and with the supervision of a facilitator, they must determine the learning objectives, assign these to particular group members and come back together to teach each other.

For example, the objectives of a pneumonia case may split down into:

  • Determine the anatomy and physiology of the healthy lung
  • Determine the pathology behind pneumonia and infecting organisms
  • Research how clinical pneumonia may present and what are the risk factors
  • Determine what investigations are required and what they may show.
  • Determine the correct evidence-based Medicine for different types of pneumonia.

This will normally be supplemented with some didactic lectures to ensure core content is covered.

It’s a great method for students to learn, as they require an excellent understanding of the topic to then be able to teach it to their peers. However, peer teaching in itself can be quite anxiety-provoking and stressful. Students will need to be self-motivated learners who not only thrive independently but also within a small group setting and are happy to leave some of the responsibility of their learning to their peers.

As a teacher, you can encourage your students to reflect on the type of learning style they learn most efficiently from. This will, of course, be a challenging question for many early sixth form students as they may have never considered this, and many students do not learn how they learn until they come to university.

I recommend that you run some sessions mirroring the outlined styles above. In particular, PBL would be of benefit to students as most will have never encountered this style prior to considering Medical School. That’s why we include it as part of our Virtual Summer School or MedSoc programmes.

You could up the odds by using PBL to teach some of their A-level content, so they have a vested interest in engaging in the exercise. Ultimately, this is one factor in the whole process and students are very adaptable so they should certainly consider many of the factors when choosing a Medical School and put weight into the factors that matter most to them.

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