Queen's Access Podcast Episode 10: Medicine
Below is a transcript of the episode.
Kyla: Hello and welcome to the Queen's Access Podcast. It's so lovely to have you here and I hope you find this a useful resource in learning more about life at Oxford, but more specifically about life at The Queen's College. My guests this week are all medics! They are Bethan Storey and Annie Roberts, who have both just finished their first year and Beinn Khulusi, who has just finished his third year. They'll talk us through what it's like to apply to study medicine at Oxford and then what it's like to actually study here! My apologies for any poor audio, these interviews have all been conducted over Zoom and the internet connection isn't always completely reliable. For a transcript of this episode, please visit the Queen's website. I hope you enjoy!
Kyla: Hi everyone, thank you so much for joining me, I really appreciate your help and I'm sure you'll be super interesting and really helpful to listen to. First of all, would you mind taking me your Queen's journey, so how you ended up at college? Bethan, do you want to start us off?
Bethan: So I first came to Queen's in year 12 actually, on the North West science residential and I really enjoyed that. There were loads of student helpers who were really friendly, including Beinn actually and I had mock tutorials. So that made me quite definite that I was going to apply to Oxford and I looked round lots of other colleges and they were all really lovely, but I couldn't pick, so I just went for Queen's, because I knew a bit more about it and here I am!
Kyla: Fantastic! Beinn, what about you?
Beinn: So I had actually never visited Queen's before I applied. I knew I wanted to apply for medicine somewhere and after coming to Oxford and listening to the talk at the medical school from tutors, I knew I wanted to come to Oxford, because the science basis of the course really interested me. But I didn't really know much about colleges, so I kind of wandered around the city for the whole day and visited like three or four really inefficiently. But then, when it came to doing UCAS, I looked on the internet at all of the different colleges and Queen's had a really cool logo and the name is pretty cool. So I just thought, "yeah I'll apply there!" I always say to people on open days that choosing colleges is a very arbitrary choice, because wherever people end up, they always tell you that their college is the best college. I mean, they're obviously wrong, because Queen's is the best college! But it goes to show how everyone can fit in wherever they end up with and I'm so glad glad I came to Queen's.
Kyla: Yeah I've always said that to people when they're stressing about college choices: wherever you go, trust me, by the time you've matriculated, yours is the best college in Oxford, Cambridge, every collegiate university in the world... you are absolutely on top!
Kyla: And Annie, what about you?
Annie: I knew I wanted to apply to Oxford, but I didn't actually apply to Queen's, I applied to Corpus Christi and then I was pooled after the interview stage, so I guess that's an example of how you don't always end up where you apply. But I love Queen's so much and I'm so glad that I was accepted here!
Kyla: Fantastic! So, could you each take me through what a week in your life looks like in Oxford? Obviously you all do the same course, which is a first for this podcast, but feel free to go into what an academic week is like for you, especially for Beinn, given that you're in a different year. Also, take me through your social life and societies and how you like to relax and all of that kind of thing! So Bethan, can you start us off?
Bethan: Yeah, so, in first year, you tend to have 2 or 3 lectures in the morning. It varied a little bit, like on Thursday morning, we always had DR, which I think is Demonstrating Room, which is where you do living anatomy and then pro-sections, so you'd have one lesson, followed by that. Most mornings, lectures from 9 which finish around lunchtime, then head back to college for lunch. Then, the afternoon, unless you had a tutorial (we'd normally have 2 a week), was you time to do research on your essays, or revise if you were that way inclined. You could fit that around any extracurriculars, dinner and any social activities that you do. So, we probably had about 12 lectures a week and then one or two practicals- it did vary, so sometimes we had a week when there were three and virtually no lectures. But it's pretty much contact hours in the morning and then free time in the afternoon.
Kyla: Brilliant. Did you take up any hobbies whilst you were at Oxford?
Bethan: Yeah, so I started rowing, which I'm not particularly good at, but it's good fun! I did quite a lot of climbing before coming to Oxford, so I kind of carried on. Annie and I used to go sometimes in the afternoon, up to Brookes to go climbing there. Generally, I was just kind of socialising with friends. There are quite a few medic bar crawls that someone else organised them and we went along with. But there is quite a nice mixture of socialising within college and with other medics!
Kyla: Fantastic, that sounds like you had a really good balance. How about you, Annie?
Annie: Yeah, so quite similar to what Bethan, because we're in the same year, so we'd have lectures in the morning, come back for lunch, then do essay work in the afternoons. In the evenings, I tend to do things with friends or go to all the society events that are in the evenings, like rock climbing sd Bethan mentioned. I also do tutoring with the charity Jacari, where you are matched with a pupil who is a recent arrival to the area, so they might be a refugee, and you help them. So I do that on the weekends as well!
Kyla: Perfect! Beinn, what about you?
Beinn: Listening to what those guys are saying, I remember the first two years of the course, as obviously I did exactly the same as those guys. So I've just finished my third year, which for medicine is a bit different. It's called the Final Honours School year, or FHS. It's a cool addition to the course, because it's like the intercalated year, as they call it at other unis, but every medic does it here. So you have a lot more freedom to do academic things that interest you. Over the last year, I maybe had three or four lectures per week, which was quite nice, because you've got lots of time in between these lectures to read around them and get really deep into the subject matter. You book your own tutorials, which is a really nice addition to the course, so if there's a tutor at a different college that you really want to have an hour's one-on-one or two-on-one about a certain topic with, you can. There's a really good opportunity to get involved in, because you can direct yourself to the things you're interested in. I also spent a lot of time working in a lab environment. So, I spent a term working 9 to 5 in a cancer research lab as part of the intercalated degree, which which was really cool and a really, really good experience. I am one of the clumsiest people you'll ever meet so I wasn't necessarily particularly good at it, but it was a really amazing opportunity to be able to see how cancer research gets done and to even do some myself and produce a unique piece of original research. So yeah, just a lot more freedom in the third year, as compared to the first two years of the course.
Kyla: That sounds so interesting and like it's such a good opportunity to really get an in-depth look into what you specifically are interested in. That's a really unique thing, I've not heard of anything like that before.
Beinn: Yeah, it's pretty cool!
Kyla: So, we talked a little bit about the course itself, but we should probably address actually getting in! So Annie, do you mind taking us through how the interview process works for medics?
Annie: Yeah, so, for medicine, you're interviewed at two colleges and generally the college you apply to will interview you on the first day and they'll put you up and give you dinner and put on something in the evening, like a quiz. Then on the second day, you have an interview at your other college, the one didn't apply to, but you're given randomly I think most colleges will have one more clinical interview, so I was asked a question about a patient, which was an ethical question, then I was asked something about NHS structures. Then your other interview is going to be more based around science, so lots of diagrams with graphs and extrapolating your A-Level biology and chemistry knowledge to try apply it in new scenarios. This can be a bit daunting, because you'll hear the question and you've got no idea how it relates to anything else you know, but you just have to explain your logic and what you think might be happening for them to get a sense of your process. Although, I would say that not all the colleges do a split, some may mix up the clinical and scientific content throughout the interview, so I would be aware of that.
Kyla: Okay, fantastic, thank you so much! So for each of you, could you tell me what your experience of sitting the BMAT was like and what advice you'd give to somebody who was preparing to take that exam? Beinn, can you start us off?
Beinn: So, easy advice to give: just practice, practice, practice and practice under time pressure. There's a lot of free resources on the internet, so free practice quizzes and stuff like that and I would definitely get involved with that. Absolutely the hardest aspect of the BMAT is the time pressure, as I remember it, I think especially the science section. If you didn't do GCSE physics, definitely brush up on how to solve the different types of physics problems under time pressure. Also, don't forget about the essay! The essay section is probably often forgotten about by candidates preparing, but it's just as important as the other two sections. So, I would advise maybe reading around the news a bit, having a look at what the hot debates and topics are in medicine and science,at the time of taking your exam. You don't practice writing the essay lots of times, because writing a page of A4 on a topic is quite time consuming, but I would definitely do one once or twice before the actual exam. Just make sure you get a feel for, a) the type of content that you want to include and the style of your writing and b) how much writing you can fit onto one side of A4, because that's definitely something that can catch you out.
Kyla: Brilliant, thank you Beinn, that's really good advice, I feel. Annie, what about you?
Annie: Yeah so, as Beinn said, I'd say it's very important to practice, because just getting used to the exam format and the kind of questions they may ask is a big part of it- I think maybe start practising early. The other thing I'd say for the essay, see if any of your teachers would be happy to have a look at it, because my biology teacher looked at one or two of the practice essays I'd done to give some feedback on and that was really helpful. Also, my final tip is that it's a really hard exam, so when you start, don't be disappointed by half marks or worse. I did so badly at the beginning, but just remember that everyone else is finding a super difficult!
Kyla: Great, thank you. Bethan, what about you?
Bethan: I think the same thing about just practising with as many questions as you can get with your hands on is the most important thing. If you are struggling to find enough questions, the critical thinking section of the BMAT is almost exactly the same as the Thinking Skills Assessment questions, so you can kind of borrow some questions and practice some of those questions as wel,l because that opens up a whole other bank. The other thing is, for the science section, there's a specification available that you can go to. It's kind of in a textbook format, so you can go right through that. There's a few odd things that it says are GCSE knowledge, like the kidney, which I hadn't done at GCSE and we hadn't done yet A-Level, so by going through your spec, you can pick up on those areas and then make sure you know enough about them for it.
Kyla: Great! As somebody who sat the TSA, I can tell you that there are a stupid number of practice papers available for that and that was what a lot of my early year 13 was spent doing! So there's definitely a lot of TSA resources, if you do run out of BMAT resources. Okay, Beinn, so once you've actually made it to Oxford, what would you say the course is like and how is it structured?
Beinn: So, the reason you might choose to apply to Oxford, rather than another medical school, is because of the relatively unique way that the course is structured. So, while other universities are moving towards this more problematic type of teaching for medical students (so you go to the clinics, you see a patient, you have a group discussion about all of the different aspects of the different diseases that you are encountering), Oxford has a very traditional style of teaching. The first three years are dedicated in the majority to medical sciences, the science that underpins disease, before you go on to years 4,5 and 6, which are actually based in the hospital and focus more on clinical skills and how the knowledge you gained in the first few years applies to being in the clinic. So, yeah, I think, from my experience at Queen's, the tutors are very understanding of the fact that you are moving into university life for the first time. Most people are moving into living independently for the first time, so the tutors know that and they have so much experience at breaking people into that new phase of their life. So, the teaching is planned out to cover all the topics that you need to cover in a pretty manageable way. Obviously, there is a bit of hard work involved, but also there's lots of fun to be had! Well, I've only done three years, but all three years have been really good fun so far! The tutors have a really good understanding that you also need to live your life outside of work, which I think is a bit of a misconception about studying at Oxford, that you might spend your whole time working and that couldn't be further from the truth!
Kyla: Thank you! Bethan, how would you describe the work-style at Oxford, so what are your tutorials like?
Bethan: So, it kind of all fits in with the structure of medicine at Oxford being pre-clinical first and then clinical. So, in the first couple of years, the work is almost entirely through essays. You normally get one essay per tutorial, so a couple of weeks before the tutorial, the tutor will send you a title, which is normally asking you to describe or explain some kind of medical concept, which normally ties in with what you're doing in lectures at the time. So, you write your essay on that- the core of it is pure science, but in order to get top marks, you have to be putting in clinical examples of where it's relevant and some trials and clinical studies, that kind of thing. So then you turn up to your tutorial, having handed your essay in and I've found they've generally started by asking you as students (you tend to go in pairs, so you can work together) to explain whatever concept it is that you've written your essay about. Then, if there are any areas where you've slightly misunderstood something, or you haven't gone into quite enough detail, the tutor would direct you towards those and you'd expand upon them and talk about them in a bit more depth. So if you've got six medics and you're having tutorials in pairs, although they're all on the same topic, they do go down different routes, so that they're all unique to you. The tutors also sometimes bring a journal article, or they might ask you to draw some diagrams to help with the discussion. I've always found them quite relaxed and they're definitely one of the bit of the course that I really, really enjoy, just being able to have quite an informal chat about whatever it is that you've been reading about. I always find that the things I've written essays on, I understand so much better than anything I've just had a lecture on, and yeah, I'd highly recommend.
Kyla: Fantastic! Thank you guys so much, I feel like that gave a really good description of the ins and outs of the course. I know that Bethan and Beinn are also ambassadors on The Access Platform, which can be found under the 'Meet our Students' tab on the Queen's website. So even after this fantastic relay of information, if you still have any questions, I'm sure they'd be happy for you to contact them through that platform. So, as a closing question, I'd just like to ask you, what is your favourite thing about college and why? Annie, would you be able to start us off?
Annie: So I think my favourite thing would be college lunches, because it's about one o'clock, we've had three lectures and my brain's utterly exhausted! So then, it's so nice just to be able to sit down and see all your friends from all different subjects, because everyone goes for lunch together, to the chat about your day and how it's going. Also the food's very yummy- I love potatoes and I once saw five types of potato on offer, so it's just the best experience! And it's not too expensive either, so it's a winner.
Kyla: Brilliant, carb-loading at lunch, I love that! Bethan, how about you?
Bethan: Well, I was going to say college lunch as well, but I think it's joint second with JCRT. So, once you've digested your college lunch, it gets to about 4pm, you're in the library, and that's when JCRT is. You can go into the JCR and there are loads of snacks for sale, also very cheap, and it's the perfect excuse to get out of the library, have a chat with friends and eat some more. There's a bit of a theme there! But yeah, I would say JCRT and college food in general.
Kyla: Fantastic! Beinn, what about you? So my top two favourite things have now been taken! So I'm going to go with number three being the best seller. We have an absolutely cracking college bar- I've visited a few college bars and I can say categorically ours is the best! It's a great place to hang out, whether you drink alcohol or not. It's a great place to be friends: it's got darts, a quiz machine and a jukebox, which is usually a point of contention when someone is playing Sweet Caroline on repeat. We also have our BOPs down there. So, a BOP is a fancy dress party, there's usually a theme, which is a really bad pun and everyone makes really bad DIY fancy dress and all of the music is really bad and done by a student DJ. It's just really cheesy and really good fun for everyone- it's a great time for everyone in college to sort of come together!
Kyla: Fantastic! Thank you all so much, that was super interesting and I'm sure everybody who listened found that really helpful. You've all been great, I really appreciate your support and I'll speak to you all soon!
K: Thank you so much to Beinn, Bethan and Annie for that great conversation and a massive thank you to all of you who listened. There are loads more access resources on the Queen's college website at www.queens.ox.ac.uk/access-outreach and you can find out more about the college in general through its website, Twitter and Instagram, including on the access Twitter, @QueensOutreach. That's all from me, have a lovely week and hopefully I'll see you again soon!