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Studying Medicine at Oxford

Studying Medicine at Oxford

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Before starting at Oxford University I thought I had a relatively good idea of what medicine would be like – I’d volunteered with dementia patients, completed work experience in a biomedical sciences laboratory and loved watching medical TV shows like 24 Hours in A&E. Despite this, I hadn’t fully considered the sheer diversity of the course; in the first 2 (preclinical) years of medicine at Oxford you study almost every aspect of the human body (and that of quite a few animals), from the haemodynamics of blood flowing through capillary beds to embryology, genetics and biochemistry. In third year there is a little more scope to pick the modules you are interested in – I completed a research project searching for novel cancer cures, investigated whether schizophrenia might be an autoimmune condition and studied altitude and expedition medicine as well as modules in history and philosophy.

More recently in the clinical part of the course (years 4-6) most of our time is spent with patients on wards and in operating theatres – which is by far the most rewarding part of the course, and my main motivation for studying medicine. During this time there is also the opportunity to travel abroad in 5th and 6th year and to pick some study modules in a huge range of topics – I chose to study disaster and conflict medicine, looking at child marriages in humanitarian settings, such as the syrian civil war, but many of my friends studied literature or documentary making. 

I love travelling to new places, so the chance to go abroad as much as possible was definitely important to me when picking a University. In this sense, Oxford’s 8 week terms – although they can be a bit intense – are great, since the long summer break gives you the chance to earn a bit of money and go on holiday. In second year I even travelled to Moscow where I completed a clinical fellowship in cardiac surgery with students from across Russia and the UK. 

Medical school isn’t easy – we all have times when we feel overworked or suffer from imposter syndrome. Like many medics I hate to compromise on spending time with friends, going out or playing in sports teams, which can definitely lead to burnout as you try to keep up with friends who do more flexible or relaxed degrees. It’s important to remember the basics of looking after yourself – getting enough sleep, eating well and taking breaks can seem obvious but often get pushed to the wayside when you have a lot on, especially when it’s your first time living away from home. I found it was really helpful to schedule my work so I could have weekends and evenings off where possible, although I have plenty of friends who prefer to work later if it means they can have a lie in in the morning – just figure out what works for you. I’d definitely recommend trying new things as much as possible – there’s a society for almost every hobby you could possibly think of, and it’s a great way to relax and make new friends while pushing yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone. 

There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to picking a University – distance from home, course structure and selection criteria were some of the major differences I considered, but once you have a shortlist of places you think you might like, by far the best thing to do is to visit on open days, interviews and offer-holder events in order to get a feel for the place and the people there – go with your gut. Almost every student going to University worries about the same things, but wherever you go you will make friends, will fit in and will find time to enjoy yourself, and the place never matters so much as the people you meet there. 

One big difference between medical schools is the type of course offered; broadly speaking, medicine courses fall into two categories. Traditional courses at Oxbridge are split into distinct preclinical and clinical sections, such that the first 3 years are spent building up a base of scientific understanding in labs, lectures and tutorials and the final 3 years are spent applying this knowledge to clinical settings. Integrated courses on the other hand have more clinical exposure early on, and tend to teach topics by system, rather than discipline. Since all medical schools are regulated by the GMC, whichever type of course you pick you will become a competent, confident and qualified doctor – It just depends on your learning style which type of course would suit you best. 

Choosing to study medicine is a big decision – it can sometimes feel like you are signing up to an entire profession, rather than just a University course, and in some ways you are. Being a medical student in the final years of your degree is not dissimilar to being a Junior Doctor, albeit with much less responsibility. You have to enjoy working with people, problem solving and working incredibly hard, but it is still so important to take time to relax, look after yourself and have fun. 
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