Swansea GEM: 1st year!


Shwmae again! This blog marks the end of my first year at medical school in Swansea. It’s funny, I spent the best part of 6 years (nearly a third of my life!) pursuing an admission to medical school, and now I’m here it’s going so fast I rarely get a chance to appreciate it. So I’m going to take this time to stop and smell the roses (so to speak), and give you an honest account of my experience from this year. My hope, for anyone who is applying to Swansea and reading this now, is to give you my reality of studying GEM at Swansea, and in some way guide your decision as to whether Swansea (or indeed GEM) is right for you.

In a blog I made earlier this year I wrote about the reasons that people choose to study GEM at Swansea. Having studied my undergrad here as well I am most definitely biased to this point, but if you’d like a second opinion just ask any of the current GEM students at Swansea. It’s a wonderful setting to start your lifelong career as a doctor, and a very special place to spend, what now seems like a quick, 4 years of your life.

Ask any of the third and fourth year students and they’ll say that the first year of the GEM course is by far the most relaxed. First year is supposed to be a kind of induction to the world of Medicine, giving you the foundation of knowledge that you’ll need when the “real work” begins in second year. But do not assume that the work is easy in first year, my first few months were extremely challenging. The issue is not necessarily that of complexity, but that of sheer quantity. ‘Medicine’ encompasses a multitude of various complex topics including physiology, pharmacology, psychology and anatomy (to name a few). Trying to pick up the immense library of medical jargon that doctors use to communicate with each other and then apply this to your studies is a constant uphill struggle. A bit like trying to learn Swedish while simultaneously putting together some IKEA furniture using the Swedish instructions, just cross your fingers, stay calm, and hope that by the end you’ll have something resembling the picture on the box!

The source of comfort that I can offer you is that your hard work in the early months will eventually pay off. The course at Swansea is set up as a “Spiral curriculum”, meaning that you revisit topics throughout the year by applying them to different clinical cases. It reinforces your learning and you’ll be surprised just how much sticks in your mind the second, third and fourth time you visit these complex themes of medicine. In next to no time you’ll be dazzling your family and friends with your newfound knowledge of the medical world, and by Xmas time none of them will want to watch Casualty with you ever again! (I never said medical students are popular).

In addition to the curriculum, the teaching this year at Swansea has been superb. Despite many of our lecturers being practising physicians (even coming to teach while on call), their enthusiasm for their subjects led to some truly fantastic teaching sessions this year. It’s not just thelectures that are good, our practical teaching in Clinical Skills has been brilliant, the teachers are very attentive and patient (luckily for me) which helps to build your confidence in all of the practical skills that you’ll require for placements and OSCE exams. Despite anatomy being the bug bare of most of the first year students, our anatomy teaching sessions every Monday are one of the highlights of our week. Learning from enthusiastic academics, doctors and (at times) 2nd year students gives you well-rounded and digestible teaching,

This year has given me plenty of opportunity to shadow senior doctors in the field during placements. I’ve had the opportunity to visit GPs, Surgeons, Psychiatrists and Hospital physicians, gaining experience from the realities of working life in the NHS as well as conversing with senior doctors who have already been through the journey I am about to take. I believe the placements (both LOCS sessions throughout the year and clinical apprenticeships) are what makes Swansea unique, you learn to apply the themes from your teaching to real patients, further reinforcing your knowledge and understanding. This is particularly useful if you’re the type that learns better t


hrough action than through burying your head in dense medical textbooks, this apprenticeship model of medicine is becoming popular and is by far my favourite thing about learning here in Swansea.

Looking back on the year I believe it has lived up to my expectations of medical school thus far. There have been plenty of times where I’ve struggled and where it’s felt as though there are not enough hours in the day to succeed, but it’s important to remember that studying Medicine is a marathon effort. In difficult times, it helps to surround yourself with good people who can remind you that it’s all going to be worth it in the end, and in Swansea you’ll get that support right from day one. Forgive yourself for not knowing everything, after all most of us are looking at spending the next 20-40+ years working as doctors, how boring it would be if we understood all of the intricate details of Medicine by the end of year one.

I hope that this has helped to give you an idea of what to expect in your first year of GEM here at Swansea. If you are looking to apply to Swansea then please feel free to get in touch either by commenting through the blog or email me (741617@swansea.ac.uk), I’ll try to answer any questions as best as I can for you.

Thank you for reading, diolch a hwyl fawr!


Alex Ruddy

Hi I'm Alex, I'm a current 2nd year GEM (graduate entry medicine) student at Swansea University. I graduated from Swansea in BSc Medical Biochemistry in 2015, and after a year out working in the ABMU I decided to come back to study GEM. Hopefully this blog will help anyone looking to apply to GEM here, please get in touch if you have any questions you feel I can answer!

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