It is great to be putting a lot of effort into getting into medical school. This is necessary if you are to get there at all. Have you stopped to consider what happens once you get in?
You will already know that medicine in the UK is generally a five or six year degree, dropping to 4 years in some places for graduate entry students with relevant academic knowledge. Broadly speaking, there are two sorts of medical course. These are known as “traditional” and “integrated”. When I was applying to medical school in the early 1990s, the vast majority of medical school courses were traditional. This meant two years of lectures, laboratory-based experiments and very occasional exposure to a real patient when they came to share their experience in a lecture theatre in front of 200 students.
After these two years, with a wide knowledge of biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, genetics and so on, we progressed to the hospital wards. The next three years were spent learning about different areas of medicine, rather than the basic sciences of biochemistry and so on. The three years covered topics such as cardiology, gynaecology, psychiatry, geriatrics, paediatrics and all the other subjects. These were a mixture of a few days of lectures at the start of every placement followed by several weeks of practical clinical experience on the wards, shadowing and being taught by senior doctors and their trainees.
This traditional course can still be found across the UK but is gradually being replaced by more modern integrated courses.
Nottingham medical school was a leader in this area – one of the first to move from traditional to integrated and many others have followed. An integrated course involves having regular contact with patients from the very first few weeks of medical school. This is often achieved by placing medical students in General Practice surgeries where they can observe the GPs and patients and learn from them.
There are advantages to both systems and, if you are going to do well at medical school, you will do well with either an integrated or a traditional course.
Some people feel it is vital to have an integrated course because students have experience with patients from the word go and might develop better communication skills as a result. Other people see integrated courses as a waste of time because students are sitting with doctors treating patients with a wide range of conditions before they have ever learnt about that particular problem.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both and this may be something to bear in mind when you are asked the question “Why do you want to come to this medical school?” at your interview.
The only other major structural difference between different courses is the option to spend an extra year, generally between the second and third year of medical school, doing a further degree. You will already come out of medical school with 2 degrees, Bachelor of Medicine (MB or BM) and bachelor of surgery (BS or ChB) but a proportion of the highest performing students (sometimes up to 40% of the students) do have the opportunity to spend an extra year at university and get a further degree. This is generally a bachelor of science degree (BSc) equivalent to a three-year undergraduate science degree outside medicine.
These “intercalated degrees” do offer a real bonus for your CV, as you can choose which subject you want to study. If you have an interest in general practice or psychiatry, a BSc in Psychology can help you to stand out from the crowd. If you are intent on becoming a physician, then a biochemistry degree can be a real asset.
Graduate entry students often have a relevant first degree, such as anatomy, physiology or something similar. They will already have covered some of the undergraduate syllabus, they are often eligible for a shorter, four-year degree, which is very welcome after already being a student for so long.
It is easy to get hung up on the fine detail of specific medical courses when you are sitting in front of a pile of prospectuses. Just remember the many, many other factors which should influence your choice of medical school, such as distance from your family home to the University, which city the University is in, how expensive it is to live there and whether you want to work in the same region afterwards.