The Medicine course at Oxford provides a well-rounded intellectual training with particular emphasis on the basic science research that underpins medicine. Oxford has retained a distinct three-year pre-clinical stage that includes studying towards a BA Honours degree in Medical Sciences, followed by a three-year clinical stage. The course is considered to be the best in the world, according to the Times Higher Education’s league table for 2014-15, a position it has held since 2011-12.
In the first three years of the course, students gain a comprehensive grounding in medical science. This ‘pre-clinical’ stage is divided into two parts. The first lasts for five terms, and provides the 1st BM qualification which permits access to the later clinical years. The second, the ‘Final Honour School’ year, leads to a BA degree, and is a key and exciting difference to the programme offered by many other medical schools. The third year will provide students with an understanding of and enthusiasm for science and scientific method, and aims to develop interpretive and critical skills, and encourages in-depth study in one of five advanced options. As part of this year, every student undertakes an experimental research project, working within one of the numerous research laboratories across the University, or even beyond Oxford.
In the clinical stage (Years 4-6), the focus of the core curriculum is preparation for Foundation Training. This is complemented by a wide range of modules that allow development of knowledge/interest in specialist areas, and offer additional research and presentation opportunities.
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What are the best things about your Medical School?
- The tutorial system is absolutely fantastic and provides a great opportunity to explore the course material in depth. I have an average of three tutorials per week, each with one or two other students, during which we’ll discuss a specific topic in detail (we normally have to write an essay for each tutorial), exchanging ideas with each other and our tutors. There is also an increase of focus on the experimental basis of the material as the pre-clinical course progresses, which is particularly interesting, culminating in a period of research at the end of 2nd year, and an in-depth study of a particular aspect of medical science in 3rd year. On a practical level, such frequent deadlines and interaction with tutors makes it more difficult to fall behind, and also easier for tutors to identify any issues and support you if you are falling behind.
- There is a strong practical emphasis in all aspects of the course during the first two years, with a significant amount of time spent in the dissection room and laboratories. The course is very well structured so that practical classes illustrate aspects of the course that you have covered in lectures earlier that day/week, really helping consolidate your knowledge and giving you the ability to apply it.
- The collegiate system is a brilliant part of studying Medicine at Oxford. In each college there are normally between 4 and 6 medical students, together with perhaps just over one hundred other undergraduates studying various subjects (depending on the college) in each year. This creates a diverse and friendly community in which to study, live and socialise, allowing you to really get to know other people.
What are the hardest things about your course?
- There is a very large amount of work to get through each term. The contact hours in lectures, practicals and tutorials are significant in themselves, often taking up the morning and early afternoon. It is then necessary to read for and write essays during the evenings and on weekends. With good organization it is, however, possible to do things other than work- I play university level rugby, for example.
- Writing essays is an integral part of the course both throughout the year and in examinations at the end of each year. Personally, I read for, and write, three 1500-2000 word essays each week, though this will vary by college. Getting used to the style and quality of essays required, whilst keeping up with the pace of the course, can be difficult. Essays are normally quite integrative and will revolve around answering a specific question in addition to talking about relevant diseases, drugs, and the experimental foundation of the ideas presented. Whilst it is time consuming, I feel this integrative approach lends itself to a deep understanding of topics instead of just rote learning facts.
- Terms are very short (8 weeks) and particularly intense, meaning that if you fall quite far behind then it is difficult to get back on track. However, the short terms result in very long holidays, in which there is plenty of time to consolidate notes and learn essays for the collections (mock exams) at the start of each term. The long holidays also allow you to make the most of opportunities to travel and do work outside of the confines of the course, of which there are many available.
What’s the social side of your Medical School like?
The social side of Oxford Medicine is multifaceted, and as with anywhere, you can choose to be incredibly sociable, or not do much at all! Social life generally revolves around the college you’re at, and each term there will be multiple bops (parties), quizzes in the bar, karaoke, college plays, and events put on by numerous clubs and societies. This is in addition to daily interactions with people from sharing kitchens or eating together in a communal hall.
MedSoc also organises numerous events such as an annual ball, ‘dissection drinks’ and pub crawls in scrubs. Many people are also involved in university societies and sport, the latter of which tends to be particularly sociable. They generally have a curry each week with a sports team of the opposite gender (‘crewdateâ€™), followed by a night out. Overall, Oxford provides ample opportunity to socialise and is really enjoyable, particularly at the end of term after exams are over!
What tips would you give to someone applying to your Medical School?
- Don’t get your heart set on just Oxford (or any other medical school) – the applications process is incredibly competitive and there is simply not enough space for all capable applicants. Your main focus should be on attaining the A-level (or equivalent) grades required. If you manage to attain, or even surpass, the grades required, but don’t receive a single offer for Medicine, then youâ€™ll be in a very strong position to reapply and receive offers in the next application cycle. Youâ€™ll also have less to worry about in your gap year, allowing it to be more productive/fun!
- Showcase your interests and achievements in your personal statement, and explore how they demonstrate your suitability for medicine and academic potential. Realise, though, that there is not a magical combination of sport/music/art/volunteering/work experience that will guarantee you an offer, so try not to overthink things! Should you get an interview, tutors are particularly keen to assess your academic potential and it helps to have a thorough knowledge of A-level science. Highlighting further scientific curiosity in your personal statement by discussing a book, an EPQ, Nuffield Research Placements etc. in your personal statement may also provide a point of interest to discuss in interviews.
- Before you apply, ensure that you have a realistic chance of being shortlisted for interview; it’s extremely important you don’t unnecessarily waste one of your four UCAS choices. Take a look at the statistics, currently here, to judge this for yourself, but shortlisting will require you to have exceptional GCSE grades and a strong BMAT. Thorough preparation for the BMAT can really help you get used to the question style and speed; there are a number of books available that are useful. Courses are also available and, whilst they may be useful, they’re not going to provide you with a secret formula to pass (as there isn’t one!), and they’re usually expensive. Iâ€™d also recommend you really think about the mix of admissions tests required by medical schools and play to your strengths. If you get a good UCAT score before you apply then make the most of it; conversely, applying to 2 or more BMAT schools could be quite risky, as at the time of your application you have no idea what score youâ€™ll get.