Medicine at Cambridge is a six year course, divided into three pre-clinical years followed by three clinical years. It’s taught with lectures at the Sidgwick and Downing Sites with practical classes at the Downing Site. We may not see many patients early on but it’s more than none, so don’t listen to anyone who says it’s none! And with all the dissections and experiments, the course is still hands-on and exciting!
What about the Medicine course at Cambridge appealed to you?
I liked the fact it’s very traditional, as it’s split into separate preclinical and clinical degrees; most medical degrees are much more integrated. The first two years (Parts 1A and 1B) cover the core medical science, which I loved the sound of because the scientific side really appealed to me. It also has a compulsory intercalated year in third year (Part II) which means you can study any one topic from the Natural Sciences Tripos, such as pathology or pharmacology or even history and philosophy of science. This broadens your horizons of knowledge outside core medicine while giving you a chance to experience life as a non-medic! At most other medical schools clinical work begins very early, but I know I’d get much more out of clinical experience if I understood the science behind the pathology, which Cambridge definitely encourages.
How have you found the structure of the course?
I'm easily entertained, but I often marvel at how well the different strands slot together. In first year, for example, we dissect the heart in anatomy and learn its structure. Simultaneously, we study the cardiovascular system in physiology, relevant cell signalling in biochemistry and vascular cells in histology. So, while the course is very broad, it's nicely integrated so that it builds a larger picture of the human body. It’s this larger picture that sets Cambridge apart - they’ll teach you everything. And, according to clinical students, it’s worth knowing so much to be able to understand why certain treatments or tests work in clinical practice. Other med schools will mock our lack of early patient contact, but if you’re a good scientist when you step onto a ward, you’ll end up as brilliant a doctor as the rest of them.
What is your faculty/department like?
For first year, the practicals, histology and dissection sessions are all on Downing Site, as well as anatomy lectures, whereas the physiology and biochemistry lectures are at Sidgwick site. Hence, everything is relatively central within Cambridge (especially convenient if you’re a medic at Downing College…). We are given handouts for every lecture, either printed out or online, so there’s no need to worry about missing important points in the lecture. For Anatomy and Histology we are given manuals containing all the necessary information, which saves us time scrambling through textbooks for the most basic details (not to say textbooks aren’t needed though). The lecturers are all excellent, and often top scientists in their field, which gives us the confidence that they know what they’re talking about! There is also a separate department for the clinical course at Addenbrooke’s clinical school.
What types of work do you have to do?
Most medics have weekly supervisions in each of physiology, anatomy and biochemistry (HOM, FAB, MIMS on the course website). These involve a group of 4ish students discussing lecture material with an expert in the field. Sometimes they’ll be our lecturer, or a researcher, or a practicing doctor. Some colleges are lucky enough to have the people who wrote the textbooks! Supervisors will set essays and questions; they’ll correct our misconceptions; give us clinical cases; and, most importantly, they’ll make us feel stupid for not knowing stuff. We’ll learn the material for our essays from the lecture notes or textbooks in college or faculty libraries. If the supervisor isn’t tech-savvy, Wikipedia will do… In addition to this, we need to learn the material from our practicals, do a little bit of coursework, some presentations and write up practical reports.
Do you have career plans?
As medics, generally everyone wants to become a doctor of some kind (!), but is split between many things, such as general practice, research, surgery and even working abroad. Right at this moment, I think I would like to go into research but would definitely want to do clinical work first. The Cambridge course especially sets people up for research, if they so wish, but is absolutely up to you what you end up doing with your degree, of course. Some of my friends love their anatomy so want to become surgeons while others are considering going into general practice. There are a lot of doors open for you if you choose to do Medicine.
What about your course would you change?
More dissection and maybe more cadavers so that we can each have one... It’s such a fantastic way to build a mental map of the human body and we’re immensely privileged to be able to do it. We have groups of about 7 students per cadaver, which is a better ratio than most other medical schools. More of it can only be a good thing! In addition, more patient contact, just to chat with them. I’m not campaigning for a move to clinical education from year 1, just more of a chance to remind ourselves that we’re going to be more than just scientists. Sometimes, we get bogged down in the intensity of the course, and I honestly believe a few minutes talking with a patient every weekend or so would be a welcome relief as well as an inspiration.
Typical timetable of a 1st year Medicine student
|9am||-||Biochemistry lecture (starts at 8:45)||Anatomy lecture||Biochemistry lecture (starts at 8:45)||Anatomy lecture|
|10am||Dissection||Biochemistry practical, first half||-||-||-|
|11am||Dissection||Biochemistry practical, first half||-||-||-|
|12am||Biochemistry lecture (starts at 12:15)||Physiology lecture (starts at 12:15)||Social context of health and illness lecture (SCHI) (starts at 12:15)||Physiology lecture (starts at 12:15)||Physiology lecture (starts at 12:15)|
|2pm||-||Biochemistry practical, second half||-||-||Dissection|
|3pm||-||Biochemistry practical, second half||-||-||Dissection|
|4pm||-||-||Epidemiology lecture (starts at 16:15)||Seminar on social context of health and illness||-|
What has been going on at Medicine?
- Recent Events -
'BREAKING BOUNDARIES: Medicine In Your Living Room', a talk by Ms Jacqui Smith 13/10/16
Ms Jacqui Smith is an executive producer for BBC Science and will deliver a talk on how television brings medical related issues into the public eye.
Medsoc Ball 23/1/15
Medics from all years flocked to the Cambridge Union for a space-themed ball. Live music, lots of food, games with a classy and laid-back atmosphere!
Clinical Demonstration 3/3/15
First year medics arrived at the Clinical School for a clinical presentation given by doctors and their patients - a great opportunity to see anatomy being put into practice!
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