Case study

Medical student — Alisha

Alisha feels that her physiology degree greatly strengthened her application to medical school as it allowed her to mature both as a scientist and a person

How did you get on your course?

I graduated from King's College London with a BSc (Hons) Medical Physiology and am now studying Medicine MBChB at the University of Manchester.

I applied to study medicine at the beginning of my third year for entry the following September. This was quite challenging as the workload in my third year was much heavier than in previous years and the application process is quite stressful.

I had already taken my UKCAT exam, researched which medical schools I was going to apply to and had written up a draft of my personal statement the previous summer, so that when term started I could focus on my course as well as my application.

I also undertook several work experience placements throughout the course of my degree.

How relevant is your degree to your course?

I have always wanted to study medicine but was unsuccessful in my application when I applied during sixth form. Studying physiology instead was the best decision I could have made as I was able to use the three years to develop my scientific knowledge, research skills and communication skills, all of which are vital for a career in medicine.

What does your postgraduate course involve?

Manchester Medical School uses the 'problem-based learning' approach. A typical week begins with the 'opening' of a case study where we work in small groups to identify the key issues and learning agendas of the case, for example, the pathophysiological, psychological and socioeconomic issues.

Throughout the rest of the week we have lectures based on the case, which are supplemented by relevant dissections and communication skills workshops.

Finally, at the end of the week, we have another session in our groups to 'close' the case by reviewing everything we have learnt. This teaching style really helps me as it involves active learning and group work, as well as independent study.

How do you use your degree in your postgraduate course?

I use the knowledge I gained from my physiology degree on a daily basis as physiology is one of the core modules we learn when studying medicine.

However, my degree also helped develop many other skills important for medicine. For example, reading scientific journals allowed me to improve my analytical and critical thinking skills, which I use when analysing case studies.

What do you enjoy about your postgraduate course?

I enjoy how my course integrates everything the medical field encompasses, not just the physiology and pathology. We consider all the issues a patient may have, as well as the impact of the diagnosis and prognosis on their families and society in general.

I also enjoy the medical ethics and law part of the course, which teaches us not only to consider patients as a body to treat, but also as people.

What are the most challenging parts of your postgraduate course?

The amount of independent learning involved. Physiology at King's is taught mostly by lectures, which are supplemented by independent study. However, Manchester Medical School has fewer lectures and contact hours.

I also struggle sometimes with not knowing the amount of detail to go into, partly because during my physiology degree we went into a lot more depth, often talking about things at a molecular and cellular level. However, having this knowledge gives me added confidence for tackling the problems and has put me in a stronger position compared to my peers.

Do you also need work experience?

In the final year of medical school, students apply for Foundation Year placements. Placements are allocated based on a points system. While academic results from examinations are important, they only play a small part in determining which placement a student will get.

Throughout medical school, students also gain plenty of clinical experience and may have the opportunity to publish papers in scientific journals.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I hope to have graduated from medical school and be on my Foundation Year placement and to know which specialty I would like to go into. Medicine is such a diverse field, junior doctors have many career paths to choose from.

I'd also like to get involved with both national and international organisations, taking on projects abroad and in the UK.

Any advice for someone who wants to get onto this course?

Firstly, I would urge prospective applicants to be organised and to try and finish the bulk of the application during the summer, when the workload is less demanding.

Secondly, I would advise students and graduates to find some research placements or studentships. It is widely known that medical schools look for students who have had some experience in the hospital environment.

However, medicine is a diverse field with many possible career paths, so it may be useful to get experience in a research setting as well as in hospitals, which my physiology degree allowed me to do.

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