Cardiff Medical School

Medefine – Cardiff Medical School
Timothy Woo, David Li

Being an international student studying medicine in the UK represents a challenge that is more than simply tackling the difficult and large expanse of material covered at medical school; rather, it encompasses a diverse range of other challenges ranging from settling into a brand new environment and adapting to an unfamiliar culture (as is the case for those who have moved directly from their home country), meeting and making new friends of differing backgrounds, and most crucially, in most incidences having to support themselves and their wellbeing whilst being stationed thousands of miles away from their homes and families. Although I do not classify as an international student, I do nonetheless harbour past experience of having to relocate from Hong Kong to the UK at a young age for secondary school, and this has allowed me to put into perspective the experiences of those internationals studying at Cardiff Medical School right now.

Studying at Cardiff is a very stimulating experience, where students learn through small groups investigating a series of clinical cases, and in each one, integrating physiological, anatomical, psycho-social, and pharmacological teachings all together. As such, students learn through collective discussions and supporting lectures and workshops. Having spoken to international students, some do feel that at times it may be comparatively difficult to be as engaged and pipe up in group discussions as they might have wanted to, and this may in part be due to their personality, but also perhaps to a certain degree their cultural etiquette, especially given that the majority hail from East Asia countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong, where it is not uncommon for students to study in a less interactive manner in comparison to their UK-based peers. In addition, it is there is a tendency for international students to aggregate in a block in lecture halls, although many international students nevertheless have successfully made many local companions in the process. Indeed, this author has observed that in fact many locally-based ethnic students (known colloquially as BBC’s – British-born Chinese) have made an excellent effort in bridging the gap between local and international students, making them feel even more at home, and aiding in their settling in. The majority have reflected very positively on their experiences of first year medical school at Cardiff, and indeed I myself have been involved often in their numerous memorable social gatherings outside of class. Moreover, academically, many internationals are coping and performing exceptionally well. There is a very strong sense of unity and cohesion within the international cohort, and they are highly supportive of each other, in particular sharing information and learning resources through social media, of which we have set up Facebook and WhatsApp platforms to do so.

My colleague, however, hails from China, and is considered an international student, despite the fact that he had studied secondary school in the UK previously. At Cardiff, he has very much been involved in a vast amount of activities from being on the committee of the surgical society, to presenting posters at conferences, and to competing for the healthcare basketball team, and is a very prominent member of the year group. Thus, he is an excellent example of the variety of activities that international students here at Cardiff get up to beyond the classroom, and is a fair reflection of the admirable efforts of international students to make the most of the opportunities available to them. Meanwhile, other examples include one student becoming a committee member of the emergency medicine society, another being involved heavily with a global leadership programme known as AISEC, and most prominently, a group of international students (in collaboration with international dental and psychology students at Cardiff) forming from scratch a music band – “Stage Up” – that has performed to patients at our hospital. It has received overwhelmingly positive feedback in the process, and has been recognised for its work by the Dean of the Medical School.

Overall, Cardiff is a fantastic city to study and live in; it is very student friendly, with a wide range of activities available from nights out to outings at the Brecon Beacons. Cardiff Medical School offers a very safe and stimulating learning environment, adopting a case-based teaching system that centres around a spiral curriculum. There is excellent early exposure to clinical and communication practices; in addition, beyond lectures are a host of academic-related societies that one may be involved with, for instance paediatrics, emergency medicine, and surgical societies. The authors believe that through being together with the international students and working with the medical school, as well as with Medefine, we can effectively bring about positive changes to further enhance not only the academic, but also the living experience of these students in Cardiff, and indeed in the UK.

Birmingham Medical School

Medefine – Birmingham Medical School
by Omowumi Folaranmi

Birmingham Medical School hosts one of the largest cohorts of medical students, and hence a very diverse group, with the opportunity to meet people from varying backgrounds and cultures making the university experience all the more interesting.

Birmingham has an unfair reputation of being quite unconventional; but this is what makes it unique. It is an exciting combination of modern commerciality, but with the oasis-like calm and tradition of the campus at Selly Oak. It’s not too quiet, but also not as quite as hectic or expensive as other large cities.

The medical course is particularly engaging, with a strong focus on academics. I especially like the systems based course structure which integrates the biochemistry, anatomy, histology, pharmacology, pathology and other aspects of each system into modules. This allows the student to better appreciate each system and their peculiar functionalities. The course is supplemented by clinical cases at GP surgeries which provide very useful clinical background to the biological science theory. As provide are opportunities to develop clinical skills and observe GP consultations, as well as carry out interviews. All this helps students gain a perspective of illness and its effects from the patients’ experience and perspectives. The cases also provide useful clinical context that matches the biological sciences studied concurrently.

As far as I am fascinated with the sciences, I am also concerned about helping other people. As such, I benefit from how dynamic the medical profession is. There is freedom to explore several other things that interest me such as teaching, research – even besides the immensely rewarding aspect of being able to better people’s lives. I am particularly interested in public healthcare. I believe that making medicine and medical education more accessible is essential because it incites a multiplier effect wherein the collective health of entire communities is improved. I feel that it is vital to propagate medical knowledge, so that everyone can benefit from it.

Medefine is one such platform aiming to achieve this goal, and it has served as an inspiration for me and doubtless several other students. Getting into medical school is notoriously difficult. This is especially (and quite unnecessarily) so for international students unfamiliar with the process and with foreign systems. Without the right guidance, many miss out on the great opportunity of studying medicine. This is why I am so privileged to be a part of Medefine, one, among other programs, that works to mitigate this alienation – work I think is essential and laudable.

There is a lot of support available for international students to help with settling into university life and living in the UK. There is also an event during Welcome week at the beginning of the first semester where you have the opportunity to meet other international students, both new and returning who usually have great advice and stories to share.

Getting into medical school (especially after the purgatory that the applications process can be) is scary as well as exciting. The transition from pre-undergraduate learning to a university environment can be overwhelming, but there’s always lot of help available – all that is needed is asking.

Nottingham Medical School

Medefine – Nottingham Medical School
Fady Anis – Third year medical student

Originally from Egypt, having lived the majority of my life in Dubai, I found moving to the UK and settling into university a very smooth process which was partly due to the assistance provided to me during international week. Initially wanting to go to a city-based university, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I suited the campus life like that in the University of Nottingham. Some quick facts about Nottingham’s medical course that makes it stand out from other similar courses in the UK:

  1. You get two degrees in 5 years (BMedSci and BMBS) – the additional degree can add an extra 3 points to the FPAS application (foundation doctor application).
  2. University of Nottingham is one of few universities that offers dissection when teaching anatomy (believe me, it makes life a lot easier!)
  3. There are many early opportunities to expose students to research and get a publication (which is an additional point on the FPAS application).
As all other universities, Nottingham has a specific quota of international students – approx. 13 students from a Thai medical school as part of a three-year program and another 12 students (Total of 25 international students). As an international student at Nottingham, I feel that you get the best of both worlds, not only do you have the support of the other international students and the International students center which organizes trips on a monthly basis, but also you also have a plethora of student union led societies and sports teams to keep you always busy. The medical course at Nottingham is a little more condensed because of the second BMedSci degree which sometimes can be overwhelming however due to the many student- led societies such as MedSoc Teaching and SCRUBS you can rest assured that there will always be someone to talk through things if you are struggling. Overall once you are on the course, as an international student you are treated the same as any other student. As a medical student you have to have the discipline to know when its time to study and when its time to have fun – nobody will force you to do either. Finally, university is a different type of learning environment, the success achieved in your course is dependent to how hard you work and the passion you have for the subject and so some personal advice is to throw yourself at all opportunities that come your way – they will always act as a step forward to enhance your CV and will often lead to bigger and better prospects.

Imperial College London

Imperial College London – A student perspective
Wassem Hasan

Whether it was the thrill of suturing, the excitement of intubating, the fascination of analysing articles, or the humility felt listening to Dr Michael Rawling speak of his professional challenges – the experiences gained through attending various conferences left a mark on me. Each one provided a chance to learn a new skill. Each one brought a reality closer: I was going to be a doctor.

Studying medicine was not a decision I had made early on. I had an interest in science and how things worked that grew into a desire to understand the body. Wanting to help people directly using my knowledge, I was slowly drawn to medicine.

Initially, I was unsure which university to go to; living overseas meant that I missed open days and lacked any geographical ties. Wanting my course to thoroughly cover the underlying mechanics of the body lead me to narrow down my choices based on teaching ratios, ranking, reputation and research output. Imperial College London stood out in 3 ways:

  1. Course content with a strong biochemical focus.
  2. Among the few medical schools that had full body dissections.
  3. An integrated BSc year.
These were also the components that made the university unique. Two elements that distinguished the medical course at Imperial College London were the people and the approach to medicine. Through lectures, labs and abundant opportunities to get involved in real research, I felt encouraged by the university to aspire to contribute as a clinician locally and as a scientist globally. The relevance of sociology and psychology in healthcare was highlighted through coursework that required drawing parallels between my regular visits to a patient and the theories I learnt in lectures. The wide spectrum of material also meant that lecturers included doctors, surgeons, NGO workers, psychologists and patients themselves! Amazingly, most of them readily answered any questions after their presentations and in emails weeks after they had been held.

Moving to a new country to start university was at times difficult. As a student from abroad, Imperial College London’s international student support office can provide you with assistance. Attending their international student orienteering weekend provided information that was tailored to me and allowed me get comfortable with the city. London is expensive and very busy but you are spoilt for choice due to the city’s size, with public transportation able to get you almost anywhere.

International students are embraced at the university and I found that when I was not treated like everyone else, it was because people were celebrating my culture. With over 340 societies it was easy to find others who shared my interests and whenever I longed to meet people of similar background, I went to the German society events.

Imperial College London challenged me to grow as an academic and a person, with the city enabling me to explore new places and cultures. I await the forthcoming years with restlessness, eager to further immerse myself in both this wonderful capital and its university.

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