Thursday, 28 August 2014

My First Year At Medical School (Part 1)

This will have been my fourth freshers I have attended and only my second as a legitimate fresher. Although after three years in East London, I feel that even that claim to the title is thin. This freshers was unlike any other I had experienced. My time at Queen Mary meant I was exposed to hundreds if not thousands of law and english students, before I even met some biomeds. This time, however, I spent two weeks of socialising and attending introductory lectures with the same people. You quickly find your group and identify who’s company you prefer. I also felt less pressure to make friends when compared with first year of biomed because I already have a core group of friends that I live with. It meant that if I didn’t feel like going out, I could just get a takeaway with my housemates. Yes, it meant I didn’t have ‘the fear’ to attend every event and become best friends with students in halls. It also make me appreciate how much effort my friends in first year of biomed who didn’t live on campus, made with me.

Ain't no party like a Toga party - Source

Stand out events for me included:
  • Freshers boat ball (just for medics & dentists) - meeting someone who had spent their student loan already and had supplied their own champagne. 
  • Toga night - a brilliant Barts tradition that doesn’t feel like an American Frat House too much. 
  • Mummies and Daddies - the chance to have some older years, take you under their wing, force feed you alcohol and encourage poor life choices.
Did I get a bit bored of the union towards the end of the two weeks? Yes. Did I have the confidence of a graduate to attend any event, regardless of not knowing anyone else going? Yes. It was a nice balance and I felt that I could identify who I was as a person, something I didn’t know at age eighteen. 

Whitechapel Library gets pretty busy around exam time - Source
How is the year organised?
The year is split up by exams:
  • Fundamentals of Medicine (FunMed) --> 
  • Exam --> 
  • CardioRespiratory (CR) /Metabolism (MET)/Locomotor (LOCO) --> 
  • Exam --> 
  • Brain & Behaviour (BB)/Human Development (HD) --> 
  • Exam --> 
  • End of year Exams
See timetable below for details.

Academic Timetable for Barts and the London - Source

With the introductory lectures coming to an end, we began the biggest module called FunMed. It stands for Fundamentals of Medicine and is designed to familiarise you with everything, so you can hit the ground running. It’s the hardest module (at the time) because you are constantly jumping from topic to topic and lecturers will always say “we’ll go into more depth later”. This module is your first experience of how you are taught AND assessed at medical school. It’s an unknown entity and you are trying to pick up the ropes. Even the graduates who have three+ years experience of gaming the system, need to learn where to find the past papers. 

That all said. When you’ve finished your first In-Course Assessment (ICA), you’ll look back at FunMed with fond memories. The lack of depth, the broad coverage and the general kindness of the system. The subject matter is basic medical sciences, with very little clinical relevance. School leavers criticised it as a repeat of A-Levels in some areas. Ultimately, you do learn that ICAs mean f*** all compared to the end-of-year exams and that you really can cram and pass (not recommended: do as I say not as I do).

There's always one student who develop a full blown caffeine dependency - Source
ICAs at Barts have three components:
  • Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs): Single Best Answer (SBA) and Extended Matching Questions (EMQs)
  • Short Answer Questions (SAQs)
  • Spotter: Computer based exam
End of Year Exams at Barts have components:
  • SBA MCQs only
  • SAQs
  • Spotter
  • OSCEs

FunMed eases you into Bart’s PBL learning style. You get one scenario a week and they are pretty easy at identify the main objectives. It gets stepped up after FunMed with two PBLs a week, that you always seem to leave to Sunday evening. 

I was easily sold the PBL method because it was something different from lectures. It’s also a chance to work in a group and have a laugh. Barts is good at making sure the PBLs match up with lectures, so there is little research needed, just learning.

You start this group of modules with some excitement. You’re sick of FunMed. You’ve just done you’re first exam and you want to move onto some real medicine, not the basic sciences of FunMed. As a biomed graduate, I enjoyed Locomotor the most because it’s pure anatomy and really complements dissection. Plus it’s taught by one of the best lecturers in the school.
OSCEs are the strangest but funnest exam you'll take - Source
Clinical Skills
Probably the worst thing done at Barts so far. Individually each clinical session at Barts hospital is great, but as you approach your OSCEs, you realise you have no idea what they are expecting. It’s a bit daunting and probably my main criticism of the course. Things range from basic life support to a full cardiovascular exam. There is little pressure on clinical knowledge, you just need to learn how to go through the movements.

This was probably the hardest part of the year for me. I wasn’t very well during Brain and Behaviour so I missed a lot of lectures and struggled with the content. That said, B&B played so a small part of the end of years that it didn’t impinge on my results at all. I throughly enjoyed Human Development as a module and there is a lecturer who is one of my personal favourites, purely for her dark sense of humour. If you’re female though, you’ll be put off have babies for about a fortnight after the module finishes.
"Do I smell? - Source
This is the chance for you to introduce some flexibility into the curriculum. You can choose either from a list of pre-approved modules, or you can plan your own. This is the chance for dissection, something I’ve been waiting for since I started at Queen Mary. I highly recommend dissection because it makes your anatomy knowledge so much stronger. It also brings home the fact that you are a medical student, this is a privilege very few get. The exam at the end is also harder than any other spotter I’ve sat in first year to test that knowledge. My other module choice was about medical education and how to develop yourself while at medical school. The options are varied with the chance to do community work, clinical shadowing or study the history of medicine. One course even lets you nap to help you learn relaxation techniques. 

Wasn't even my child but I got very excited - Source

Medicine in Society (MedSoc)
This is the chance to visit a GP surgery once a fortnight and play doctor idiot medical student. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy visiting patients and I got to listen to a baby’s heart beat which was just… so f**king cool. But there is something called reflective writing. You have to write 200 words of BS every fortnight on how you’ve changed as a person. How has that patient’s interaction affected you? What personal epiphany did you discover? Everyone knows its rubbish, yet you have to do it, because reflection is part of being a doctor. I just wish you could be more realistic and not have to pretend that a 10 minute meeting with a patient means you will forever have a insight into back pain. 

My surgery was in an affluent part of London so the patients were nice and I got to lunch at Waitrose once a fortnight so I can’t complain. Overall I enjoyed the experience and it really makes you feel like a medical student when you put on smart clothes and your ID badge. 

Private Study and Exams
You get two/three weeks dedicated to private study, but you should have definitely started revising before then, if you don’t want a caffeine-fueled crisis. I’ve made a real aim to go paperless this year and have been using Evernote to support my learning. I don’t like to waste time when studying, so I will often make notes directly on the PDF versions of the lecture notes. I am able to highlight, annotate and even delete slides at will. I then review these at a later date and use them as revision notes. The first and second years of medical school draw so closely from the lectures that textbooks are only useful for PBLs and clarification. Barts also uses a system called QReview which allows for the recording of lectures. Great if you need to double check something or missed a lecture. 

Medical school can be lonely when you have to study. I find group work to be a waste of time except for specific aspects like OSCEs and PBLs. Friends will always provide a certain level of distraction so being motivated to study can be tiring. The idea of a study group has always sounded attractive, but ultimately the idea of trying to organise other people every week till the end of the year does not enthral me. 

The exams themselves were actually very nice. The 80:20 system really seemed to be prevalent in the design of the exams and I was very happy with my results. I did significantly better than my first year of biomed (AKA I didn’t oversleep for any of my exams).

Part 2
This post has focused heavily on the academic side of university. While tiring, I definitely enjoyed my first year at university as a medical student and had a lot of fun. Part 2 will discuss the extracurricular side of medical school.


  1. what is the 80:20 system?

    I am starting at Barts in 2 weeks so this post was very insightful. Thank you!

    1. 80:20 is based on something called the Pareto Principle. In terms of education, it means that 20% of your efforts (studying) while lead to 80% of your results (exams). This means that while lecturers will say everything can be tested, in reality this means that 20% of the course (core subjects) will becoming 80% of the exam.

      The reverse can also apply with 80% of the course (specific details and stuff) will only account for 20% of the exam (high marks).

      For full explaination, see here:

    2. Thank You!

      That was a very interesting read, and I will definitely be keeping that in mind. Up until now, I have generally been revising everything equally, but this makes much more sense. And especially with a course like Medicine (where the course material is just so vast) it would be very useful.

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  3. Happy New year.

    Medical student

  4. Request to inform the blog to blog name

  5. Thanks for such a detailed description. Starting med school in sept, not in Barts though.

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi Sky.

      First of all, congratulations on joining the best medical school in the world!

      Don't worry about the ICAs. Every student gets assigned a Mum and a Dad through the Student Union. Your parent will be able to provide you to links to these or memory sticks.

      Barts are very strict on copyright of their exams so I will not provide any links on my blog to this material.