So, let’s talk about a typical week for a medical student!
If you’re reading this then there is a pretty good chance that you’re considering, or that you are currently, applying for a place in medicine. I want to wish you the best of luck to start off with! I remember how tough it was, and I’ve written a couple of blogs on this page already to give you a helping hand (if you need it of course).
One thing which wasn’t particularly clear to me when I was applying for GEM was what a typical day is like for a medical student. I was asked variations of this question in a few of my interviews and it helps to be well informed, not just for interviews but also to have a better idea of what you’re getting yourself in for.
Part of the beauty of the GEM course in Swansea is that each week is different. The curriculum is designed around case-based learning, which means that each week we cover completely different conditions, treatments, anatomy, physiology and all the rest. This means that our weekly schedules can vary greatly, however I hope that I can give you a fairly realistic idea of what our days and weeks are generally like in Swansea GEM.
Disclaimer: This blog will only cover the first year of the course, this year mostly consists of lectures with occasional placements (LOCS and CBL – see below). The second year is fairly similar with a little more work involved. Third and fourth year are both primarily hospital-based, there is more information about these on the Swansea GEM page if you want it.
So, here is a rundown of a typical week from year 1, I thought I may get in trouble for posting a real copy of my timetable but I’ll cover some of the specific teaching sessions we get each week as well as the general layout of the week.
Each Monday we have anatomy teaching, this involves a 2-3 hour teaching session broken up into multiple lectures delivered in a round-robin style. We get broken up into 4-5 groups and go around each station covering specific learning objectives from the week’s anatomy. We get given these objectives so we know exactly what we need to learn for our anatomy exams, but the sessions are always useful for getting extra information from dedicated anatomists and consultants. Dr Sam Webster is one of our more frequent teachers and coordinates much of the teaching, if you would like to get an idea of the style of teaching he has videos on Youtube which cover a lot of the topics that he teaches us.
In addition to anatomy, Monday’s will have the case presentation for the week. This is usually conducted by the week lead, and goes over some of the general background of the conditions being explored as well as covering a specific patient case. For example in ‘Syncope week’ we covered the case of an elderly lady who had had a syncopal episode (fainted) and had presented to our consultant. We then spent the week exploring the cardiovascular system in greater depth so that we could apply this to the case, and by the end of the week we were able to explain why she had fainted and what our management would be.
You’ll also generally get a few more lecture on the Monday, which can make it one of the more time-intensive days of the week. We usually go from 9am to 3-4pm on the busier days (there’s time for coffee breaks don’t worry).
There is one day of each week where we are usually not allotted any lectures or contact time. You can use this day to attend LOCS placements, catch up on work from the week, study … in essence whatever box you would like to tick at the time (Note: The LOCS placements are 3-4 hour mini-placements which you can book in various specialties, settings and times). Once every 3-4 weeks this day will be occupied by our Community-based learning (CBL) placement. For this you are assigned to a GP surgery at the start of the year, and you attend the surgery to learn from real patients in the primary care setting. Whether you’re destined for GP-land or not, these days are very useful in getting relevant knowledge and practice, as well as real patient experience which, as i’m sure I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, is something that Swansea values extremely highly.
Our wednesday teaching is generally fairly short. The university encourages lectures to finish before 2pm every Wednesday to allow the uni sports teams to attend BUCS matches. This is great news if you’re into sport and you want a chance to actively represent your university in one of the many sports societies here. It’s even greater news if you’re not into sport because you have the afternoon off to do whatever you want with your life! (Studying … sigh)
Lectures will generally be from 9am to around 1-2pm on these days.
Our clinical skills teaching falls under a 4 hour ICM (integrated clinical method) session once a week on Thursday. The year is divided into 2 groups of 30ish students who attend in the morning (9am-1pm) or afternoon (1pm-5pm), this alternates each week (so there is the chance for an fortnightly lie in). The ICM sessions are generally well-favoured, and would normally be the highlight of my week. They cover clinical examinations, skills, histories, prescribing and all the other skills you will need when you are working as a doctor. We usually get teaching from the week lead (a consultant in the specialty of the week), but there’s input from multiple disciplines such as nurses, physiotherapists, GPs, pharmacists etc. It’s usually a good opportunity to apply what you’ve learnt from the week into practice, and in a safe environment where mistakes are common and welcome.
We tend to have 2 hour lectures each Friday morning on Medicine, Health and Society (MHS for short). These cover some of the more general aspects of medicine, including resource allocation, ethics, public health, international health etc. We get taught by a variety of health professionals which allows us to see a different side to some of the problems facing doctors in the NHS. These lectures aren’t mandatory, but they are useful for anyone who is interested in becoming a more well-rounded health professional.
We can also have Basic Science lectures on Fridays. These are non-mandatory sessions which cover some of the background science needed for medicine, aimed at those in the cohort without an undergraduate science degree (or who, like me, forgot everything from their undergraduate science degree). They cover topics like physiology, pharmacology, microbiology and genetics. I found these very useful in first year and gave me a good basis of knowledge to work with. Since my previous degree didn’t cover a lot of physiology or pharmacology it showed me I could improve my knowledge more specifically, and since this is a condensed course it’s useful to know where to focus your effort in order to get the most from your time.
The rest of the day includes normal lectures, one of which is called the ‘Expert forum’. This lecture gives the week lead a chance to round up the week, test our knowledge, and in some cases we get a chance to hear from real patients who kindly give us their time to hear their stories in person. Being able to bring everything we learn from a week together in this way is usually very satisfying. You’ll be surprised how much knowledge you can accumulate on a subject in just 5 days, and it shows that studying medicine is a lot like eating an elephant, it’s easier if you take it on one bite at a time.
What I haven’t spoken about here is the your non-contact time. It’s pretty rare for us to have a 9-5 day of lectures, and this leaves you with quite a bit of spare time to do whatever you fancy doing. Being on a condensed 4-year course means that a lot of this time will be spent in self-directed learning (SDL for short … if you haven’t already noticed, medics’ really love three-letter acronyms – TLAs). You’ll also have coursework to complete, as well as CV-building by going to conferences, organising society events, taking extra-curricular courses etc. Etc. Etc.
After all of that, you have whatever time you can string together for whatever you like. There are plenty of medicine-related societies to join, or if you want to escape the medicine bubble the uni has a whole range of clubs that you can look into. But hey, this is your free time, you’ve earned it well, and you can spend it however you like (and believe me, sleeping is a more than appropriate way to spend it – no judgement here).
I hope that covers everything that you wanted to know about the schedule of a Swansea GEM student, and most of all I hope that you see that really it isn’t so bad! There is a lot to learn, and it feels like not a lot of time to learn it in, but if you have the right attitude to work, and your time-organisation skills aren’t atrocious, then handling the challenge of med school is easily within your powers.
Thanks for reading,