FIRST YEAR GUIDE
Welcome to your first year at BSMS! It’s completely normal to be a mixture of excitement and nerves at this point, so try not to worry! Staff, fellow freshers, and your medic parents are all here to help and make sure you have a fantastic year! Below you will find a guide to the year, giving you basic information about lots of aspects of Year 1. This guide attempts to cover everything so is quite long, but you will get more detailed information about all this stuff from the medical school itself, so this is just an introduction – don’t get bogged down in the detail!
The Phase 1 (year 1 and 2) curriculum is broken down into 4 modules per year. Your clinical practice module (101) is taught on the University of Brighton campus, and runs throughout the year. The other modules (102, 103, 104) run from the medical school building on the University of Sussex campus, and are more science-focussed, running on a one-a-term basis. The first of these is called Foundations of Health and Disease, and will be broken further into several themes.
University is different to school/college in the sense that most of your teaching is done through lectures. The nice thing about BSMS is that because we have such small year groups, everyone has all their lectures together! Lecturers should upload their PowerPoint slides to StudentCentral, so you can use these to help you learn. The audio from lectures is also recorded using software called Camtasia, however this software can be temperamental, so don’t become over-reliant on it – these recordings are also uploaded to student central. Different people use the lectures in different ways – some people find it useful to print out the slides and annotate in pen, others like bringing in a laptop and typing notes, and some like to make notes from scratch. Use the first few weeks as a chance to experiment with different styles of learning, if you don’t already know what suits you!
Some teaching is also done through module tutorials. These are smaller group seminars (8-12 people) that are led by one of your lecturers or another member of staff, focussing on aspect of one theme in particular. These tend to be more revision than teaching new material, so it’s useful to look over what’s been happening in that theme’s lectures before the session so that you have some idea of what’s going on! Anatomy tutorials are an exception, as these tend to cover newer material as well as revising the old. You will also receive some anatomy teaching through dissection, which is fantastic way to learn, and we are very lucky at BSMS to have the opportunity! You will get plenty more information about dissection at the beginning of term 1.
One question that everybody wants the answer to is ‘how much work do I have to do?’ The unfortunate answer is that it’s different for everybody, but it will be a considerable amount over the term. Don’t be put off by this – you’re at medical school, you’re here to study, but the subject matter tends to be more interesting than school work so it will be easier to motivate yourself to work! It is possible to cram all the information into your brain in the last two weeks of term and pass the exam. However, these would likely be two difficult and stressful weeks, and so putting in consistent work throughout the term is definitely advisable! What is more, it’s important to remember that you’re not just learning for exams any more – one day there will be patients out there who will rely on you knowing your stuff, so it might be a good idea to commit some of it to long-term memory!
On a Tuesday, your life will be slightly different to every other day of the week! This is because Tuesday is your clinical day. These are all taught on the University of Brighton campus – quite a walk if you live in Lewes Court, make sure you’re up early enough! These days have more or less the same formula throughout the term. You will have a lecture first (this may be broken up into several smaller talks), followed by a short break. Then you will break off into smaller seminar groups, led by your clinical facilitator (who will be the same for the whole year) to discuss the subject of the lecture and sometimes put some of it into practice. In the afternoon you will have a primary care placement (GP), a secondary care placement (hospital or an out-of-hospital clinic), a practical teaching session on campus, or the afternoon off.
You will be pleased to hear that this module is different in the sense that the material from the lectures itself is not directly assessed! This does not mean that you shouldn’t go to the lectures, however, as the material covered will be discussed and used in the seminars. Furthermore, you will soon find that the only way to improve your clinical skills (history-taking, physical examination etc) is practice, and the lectures will point you in the right direction, here.
Another common question is ‘what books should I buy?’ The short answer is that there is no requirement to buy any. All the books that you will need will be in any/all of the Sussex, Brighton, or BSUH (Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals) libraries. Also, the vast majority of the material that you will need for the exams will be in the material that you are given/taught in the sessions, so whilst you may be encouraged to read around the subject (which is never a bad thing!), it is not essential to passing the exams.
On the other hand, lecturers will recommend books (some may even try to flog books that they have authored!) that could be helpful, should you choose to use them. This can be especially helpful if you’re struggling to understand a topic from the lecture slides/notes (this is completely normal!), and are looking for some clarification. Most people will find using an anatomy textbook every now and then useful during the first year, and most people last year chose to buy Gray’s Anatomy for Students (purchasable from the shop in the University of Sussex library). This book (and lots of others that you may use) is available online through subscriptions that the university buys for you – you’ll get more information about accessing these in induction week.
In addition to topics that you might struggle with, you may also be asked to use books as research for assignments you are set (again, more on assessment and assignments later!). Definitely don’t go out and buy these – you will probably use them for a maximum of a few weeks and then not again for a while, if ever. The bottom line is that you should never buy a book without knowing that you will get good use out of it over time. University level textbooks are very expensive, and unless you’re REALLY keen on cell biology, in most cases not worth buying.
In addition to books, there are other materials out there that can be very useful when studying. For the clinical practice module, BSMS has produced videos on history taking and various clinical examinations that you will learn, and although some of these are old, they are useful for learning the material. There are hundreds more of these kinds of videos on YouTube that aren’t produced by BSMS which can also be helpful, but beware – these may contain information that you don’t need to know, or not cover things that you do need to know. Always make sure you’re learning the right stuff!
For the science-based modules, some lecturers produce videos on some topics, which are very useful. There is also a plethora of resources on the internet to help clarify any cloudiness in your understanding, as well as satisfying your academic hunger! As above, however, be careful what you’re learning.
As you will soon learn, it is very important that you have interests outside of medicine. If you allow medicine to consume your whole life while you are at medical school, you will find it very difficult to succeed and enjoy yourself. Luckily for you, there are plenty of options, so there is definitely something out there for you to get away to!
Going out clubbing works for some people, and can be a good way to relieve stress, though make sure to think about what you’ve got to do the next day (dissection is not a pleasant experience if you are hung over). BSMS sports and societies, as well as those offered by the universities of Brighton and Sussex respectively, are another fantastic way to take your mind off work. They are a great way to get to know other people both in your own year group as well as throughout the medical school. Societies need committees, and many will look for representatives from first year – this is a great opportunity, get involved if you find something you’re interested in! Similarly, getting involved with MedSoc is highly recommended.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you do, only that you do something other than medicine while you’re here!
Another thing that you will learn is that in addition to being great fun, medical school can be quite difficult! Whether this is stressing you out, or something outside your studies is bothering you, or even a combination of both, support is always at hand at BSMS! The medical has a dedicated Student Support department who are dedicated to making sure you aren’t held back by any issues you may have. You will meet them in induction week and during the course of the year, and are lovely people! They want to help, so make use of them if you need it! Likewise, medical is a great place to make new friends. Medics have a different experience of university than most undergraduates, but this brings us closer together. Talk to your colleagues if you’re struggling – nobody finds it easy all the time and somebody is sure to be having similar difficulties to you. It is always best to address difficulties early before they spiral out of control!
Ok, here comes the big one. Feel free to stop reading now! Unfortunately we do have to be assessed on what we learn at medical school, but once you understand it all it will become manageable! Each module is assessed slightly differently.
Clinical practice module
The clinical practice module is assessed differently from the science-based modules. Each term you will be set two 1000 word tasks that will contribute towards your portfolio, which is something that you will work on throughout your time at medical school. These tasks are based on critical reflection on clinical practice, which is a fancy way of saying ‘thinking about how medical encounters happen, analysing why they happen that way, and what we can learn from them’. You will be given lots of support with writing these throughout the year, so don’t worry about them too much! You will also be asked to complete a family study, which is closely related to your GP placement.
You will make several visits to a family with a young baby and learn about how the baby develops and how this affects the family. This will culminate in a 3000 word essay which is due just after you return from the Easter break. Again, you’ll get plenty of help with this.
Finally, this module will be assessed with a Formative Clinical Skills Assessment. Here you will be asked to demonstrate some of the clinical skills (history taking, clinical examination, and resuscitation) you have learnt on volunteer patients in front of an examiner in an exam setting. This happens in late May, so don’t fret about it now!
Assessment for these modules is different. At the end of each term you will have a knowledge test (KT), which consists of a combination of multiple choice and short answer questions assessing all of the material covered in each module. Notice that these happen at the end of term – this means no revision in the holidays! You will get about a week and a half towards the end of term when lectures will stop and you will get more time during the day to revise. This is the main component of assessment of each module, contributes most towards your module grade, and thus requires the most work!
Each term your anatomy knowledge will be assessed through what’s called a ‘viva’. People get quite worked up about these, but nearly always walk out wondering what all the fuss was about. The assessment is done in the dissection room, and involves being asked questions in your dissection group by one of the anatomy staff. Vivas are formative, which means that they do not count towards your overall module grade. Whilst this is the case, they are very useful as a way of finding out how your anatomy knowledge is in relation to the level it needs to be at for the KT. Moreover, anatomy revision for the viva is also anatomy revision for the KT, so in addition to impressing your friends, a good viva performance will do you no harm when it comes to the bigger exam.
Each term you will also have one main assignment to complete. For module 102 this will be called a module essay, and for 103 and 104 it will be called a student-selected component (SSC). You get to choose which of these you do via a ballot – you rank the options in order of preference, and whilst it is rarely possible for everyone to get their first choice, you won’t end up working on something you have no interest in! Whilst the module essay will always be an essay, the SSC can be assessed via a presentation, an essay, a poster, or a written test.
Modules 103 and 104 also feature module tutorial tests (MTTs). These are regular mini-tests consisting of 12 multiple choice questions from some of the material covered in the prior weeks. These do count towards the final grade of the module, and so you should make sure to prepare for them! In fact, most people find these very useful, as being forced to learn some of the stuff that will be in the exam at intervals throughout the term makes it much easier to revise for the KT!
In term 1 there is one final component of assessment called Academic Skills. This assessment is based on requirements of the GMC (general medical council), who have a role in determining what future doctors learn at medical school. They include a short essay, a presentation, a numeracy test, and an IT test. You have to pass these to pass the module, but do NOT stress about them! They are designed to get you working towards the level of writing/presenting/multiplying and dividing/computer-using of a practising doctor. The academic skills assessment is all supported by your academic tutor, with whom you will meet with every week of term 1. As long as you put in a proportionate amount of work into these assessments, you will pass and do fine!
Looking through all of that it looks like there is quite a lot of assessment, which is probably true. However, it is definitely manageable! Every year 6,000 people like you get to the end of medical school and are pronounced practising doctors – you can make it! You won a place at one of the most competitive medical schools, you definitely have the potential to succeed! Potential and talent can only get you so far, however, and you will have to put some effort in to get there. Having said this, ask any second year student if they enjoyed their first year, and every one of them will say yes. It is possible, encouraged, and fundamentally important to your success that you enjoy yourself, and we promise that with the right balance of work and play, you will have a fantastic first year at medical school!
Contributed by Dom Lowcock