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Five Years & Counting at Birmingham Medical School

Manushri Jain

· Life as a

30th September 2013

First year, first day of Med school, we swiped through the closed gates and entered the building we would call our second home (literally, some people slept at the library during exam time and we had shower facilities in the building, although I don’t recommend this myself. Not quite what universities mean by ‘getting really involved in the university life’…). As an eighteen-year-old on my first day at Med school with all my emotions heightened; excitement, fear, curiosity, everything seemed a bit dramatic. A bit like the opening scene of Grey's Anatomy, but I assure you this plot-line has a lot less drama!

Year 1

Our year started off with a series of introductions which lasted a week. Worried you're going to get homesick? I was too, but I didn’t need to be because I got given a ‘medic family’, more formally known as a PM group. It consisted of people from each year and your personal mentors, who are there if and when you need them (contrary to what some people may think, medical students are not actually robots and may need help from time to time).


As Close to School as it Got

Next, we met our M-groups which consisted of sixteen people. For some, these were the first med-students they had spoken to since starting. For others, peers in the group would become their best friends in the coming years. From an educational point of view, all of our small group teaching (SGT) would be carried out in these M-groups. SGT was the closest Medical school got to high school in terms of how the content was delivered. In these sessions, we revised and extended on the material we learnt in lectures with the guidance of a professional in the field. Birmingham primarily utilises the traditional method of teaching (i.e. lecture based) but the University does incorporate problem-based learning and SGT is one of the ways it does this. SGTs involved preparation beforehand - this could include reading around the topic or searching the literature for relevant publications. Ultimately, it encouraged us to become independent learners, which is an important skill to have as a medical student and future doctor.

The final part of introduction week included preliminary lectures, I took my sniffly nose and continuous sneezes acquired from fresher’s week (yes, the dreaded Fresher flu) and sat among the 380 students in the Leonard Deacon lecture theatre (which after day 1 was referred to as LDLT) to begin our first lecture…

A Strange Way to Build up an Appetite

The next two years consisted of lectures five days a week, often 9 am to 6 pm. Each day was a different module with anatomy interspersed throughout the modules. Our modules ranged from general medicine and surgery to law and ethics. The lecture content was supported by SGT and anatomy sessions when appropriate. Anatomy was taught through SGT as well as prosection sessions. I still remember my first prosection session. We wore our white coat and gloves and upon entering the room we found specimens of varying sizes systematically spread around the room. Some had small flags to point to structures and we moved around each table trying to identify the nerves, vessels and organs. Unlike the beautifully illustrated anatomy books, the veins on the specimens were neither blue nor were the arteries red. Instead, everything was varying shades of pale and yellow.


Maybe it was just me, but the aerosol spray they used on the specimens to keep them persevered always made me hungry! So I would come out of a two-hour session having seen various parts of the human body, craving food. But on a more serious note, I found that I was understanding how to learn and remember all the information I had accumulated, which at first seemed daunting. I look back at each year now and think to myself, ‘Oh that wasn’t that bad’, whereas if you ask my family and friends they will tell you otherwise (importance of a collateral history)! 

Fast forward two years – the start of clinical years

It was Time to Actually Use the Engraved Stethoscope I bought Two Years Ago

Having completed the pre-clinical stage, we moved into the clinical stage (years 3 to 5). In the coming years, we would apply the theoretical knowledge to practical settings and build on our clinical examination, procedural (blood taking, cannulation etc.) and communication skills. We had a few weeks of lectures throughout the year which delivered content relating to diagnosis and management of diseases within the specialities.

‘Hello, I’m a third-year medical student would it be alright to have a quick chat?' 

– My most used phrase of the year at the hospital while talking to patients.


Our teaching was predominantly based at the hospitals we were placed at throughout the week. A typical day consisted of attending ward rounds with our team at the base ward, teaching sessions with the clinical teaching fellows who would discuss theoretical knowledge, patient cases or teach examinations, and on some days, we would have bedside teaching with doctors on the ward. I found third-year exciting as I was able to talk to patients daily, learn practical procedures and the theory I had learnt was more memorable and understandable when I was able to apply it to a patient I had seen.

A detour – Intercalation

A Steep Climb

At Birmingham doing an intercalated degree is optional. Students can choose to do it after year 2, 3 or 4 and some might choose not to do it altogether. I chose to take a year out to explore the research aspect of medicine. The year consisted of six chosen modules and a lab project which built up to a dissertation. For me, my intercalation year was the steepest learning curve I had been through since starting medicine! My supervisor's advice to ‘chill out' and ‘do not expect everything to go to plan’ was harder to take on board than I thought it would be, and when my experiment didn't work it seemed like the sky was falling (not exaggerating). But like most people in my situation, I eventually learnt to relax and adapted to the uncertainty (not entirely sure my supervisor would agree but still) that comes hand in hand with research.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Despite being a challenging year, I gained and built on numerous skills needed in analysing papers and conducting lab experiments. Typically, a day would consist of a few lectures, five to six hours of experiments in the labs and finally writing up the progress of the day. I was fortunate to have a supportive lab group and observing the work with the other groups in the department, I learnt the importance of collaboration in research, which is something I was not able to fully appreciate before. The experience throughout the year, as well as the inspirational people I met, encouraged me to want to pursue research in the future.

Back to Medicine – Year 4


Four Years Down the Line & it Finally Starts to Make Sense!

Having finished my intercalation year, I re-joined medicine in year 4. In this year, we covered most of the specialities. We were introduced to many new medical and surgical specialities such as dermatology, ophthalmology and orthopaedics. Each speciality placement was 2 to 3 weeks long and compared to third year we attended more clinics where we could learn about the management of the diseases. All our lectures that year were online and all our contact hours were spent in hospitals. A typical day would consist of attending the ward rounds and morning or afternoon clinics, observing surgeries if they were scheduled and listening to the online lectures. Having covered most specialities by the end of fourth year, I was able to make links and find similarities between specialities as well as in the diagnosis and management of the diseases.

Present Day

That brings us to today, about the start my fifth year in a few weeks! I hope that I have given you a brief insight into what being at medical school entails. It is hard work with peaks and troughs but you will work hard and play hard. Who knows, maybe I will run into one of you at Birmingham in the future?

There is More

Curious to know about what a day in a life as a doctor entails? Read our blogs on a life as a GP, and AE doctor or an ophthalmologist. If you're unsure of what medical schools to apply to and which ones would suit you better, the MSAG offers consultation to help you make those decisions. For more information contact us at

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