Preclinical Years (1-3)
No-one will pretend that studying medicine is easy - it’s a complex and demanding course, but if you enjoy science, care about people, and are sure that you really want to be a doctor then you will find it very rewarding.
Cambridge’s course is more comprehensive and scientific than most, but if you are prepared for some hard work, you will come out of your pre-clinical years with a very strong foundation on which to build your clinical experience, which should ultimately make you a better doctor. It also provides you with an excellent basis should you wish to enter into academic medicine or research at some stage in the future.
The medicine/veterinary course is 6 years long and is called the Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos (MVST). Read on for more details about the components of each year.
Year 1 (MVST IA)
First year really sets the foundations of how the human/animal body works on a molecular, cellular and system basis.
Three courses run through out the year:
Functional Architecture of the Body (FAB) - the anatomy for medics only / Veterinary Anatomy and Physiology (VAP) - the anatomy course for vets only
Homeostasis (HOM) - a physiology course for both medics and vets
Molecules in Medical Science (MIMS) - a biochemistry course for both medics and vets
In addition, two courses run for the first two terms of the course:
Foundations of Evidence Based Practice (FEBP) - a statistics course for both
Social and Ethical Context of Health and Illness (SECHI) - a sociology for medics only / Principles of Animal Management (PAM) - for vets only
Furthermore, to add clinical experience to the preclinical course, the following modules are run for medics and vets respectively:
Preparing for Patients A (PfP A) - two GP visits followed by a piece of reflective coursework, for medics only
Preparing for Veterinary Profession A (PfVP A) - "introducing you to the professional, ethical, financial, legal and social dimensions of your chosen career"
Year 2 (MVST IB)
Again 3 ‘main’ courses form the bulk of the course and run throughout the whole year, with exams comprising MCQ, practical and essay papers.
Biology of Disease (BOD) - a pathology course for both medics and vets
Mechanisms of Drug Action (MODA) - a pharmacology course for both medics and vets
Neurobiology and Human Behaviour (NHB) - Neuroscience for Medics / Neurobiology and Animal Behaviour (NAB) for Vets
Two smaller courses hold slightly less weighting in the year’s overall marks and are only run over two terms. They are assessed by a single exam held at the end of the year alongside all other exams.
Human Reproduction (HR) for Medics / Veterinary Reproductive Biology (VRB) for Vets
Head and Neck Anatomy (HNA) for Medics/ Comparative Vertebrate Biology (CVB) for Vets
Again, medics complete a Preparing for Patients strand and - in second year - veterinary students have a parallel course called Preparing for the Veterinary Profession.
Preparing for Patients B (PfP B) - two hospital visits followed by a piece of reflective coursework / Preparing for the Veterinary Profession (PfVP)
Medical students complete the third strand of their PfP course over the summer vacation before third year.
Preparing for Patients C (PfP C) - one visit to a charity/statutory organisation and one visit to shadow an allied healthcare professional.
Year 3 is called Part 2 and is the “intercalation” year, which is optional at most other universities.
In Part II students choose a course that they wish to study for the year. Most choose a scientific Part II course, which they follow alongside Natural Sciences students. Courses include: Biochemistry, Engineering, Pathology, Pharmacology, PDN (Physiology, Development and Neuroscience), Zoology and many others. Non-STEM courses can be taken, such as Theology, History and Philosophy - speak to your Directors of Studies if you have any questions regarding which subjects you can intercalate in.
These subjects are taken either as a “project” course or a “BBS” course.
In the project course, students attend lectures on various modules within the subject of choice (in which they sit exams at the end of the year) and also carry out a theory or laboratory-based project, for which they must submit a project paper.
In the BBS (Biological and Biomedical Science) course, students attend lectures on various modules within the subject of choice - called the major subject - and also pick one of several minor subjects. Minor subjects run for one term only and allow students to either choose a new module within their major course, or a single module in another course (e.g. education or history)
During Part II, medics carry out the final strand of their Preparing for Patients Course
PfP D - four visits to a pregnant mother throughout the course of their pregnancy, followed by a piece of reflective coursework.
Learning in a spiral curriculum
As adopted in many other medical schools, you will first encounter physiology, pathophysiology, their investigation, diagnosis, and management in year 4, and will revisit these topics with each passing year. Each year builds upon the next such that you will learn critical and common issues of various systems early, after which more complex and obscure diseases and techniques are presented.
In Year 4, you finally get to grips with clinical medicine and finally put all the basic science knowledge you’ve amassed over the years to practice. In Year 4, you will develop foundational skills, such as taking a clinical history, effective clinical communication, and how to work through all the information you receive from a patient history and their investigations to come to a diagnosis and suggest management.
Placements occur in and around the Cambridge area and involve GP, surgery, medicine and emergency care. There is also a “Student Selected Component” block, where you are free to pursue research of your own within Cambridge, guided by expert mentors, both clinical and pre-clinical.
There are a few pieces of coursework which is submitted throughout the year. Most assessment occurs at the end of Easter, where you take a single best answer paper and a clinical assessment (OSCE stations).
In Year 5, you continue to build on the skills in Year 4 while attending more specialised placements around Cambridgeshire. These include specialist surgery, specialist medicine, maternal & child health, neuroscience & mental health, and general practice.
Students spend the time between Year 5 and Year 6 to go on their elective, the experience of which can vary drastically. From intensive research in basic science in Cambridge, to a clerkship at a foreign hospital, to work further afield, the only limits are your imagination.
Coursework features again, focussing on professional responsibility and practical skills. At the end of the year, there are two written question papers and two OSCE sessions.
The placements in Year 6 are more of the same, except the knowledge expected of you is far greater than in Year 4/5 and your responsibility has increased. The final written exams of your entire medical school happen between January and February, and the final OSCEs happen in April. After a few weeks waiting for the results, congratulations are in order, as you officially become doctors!