Graduate Entry Medicine: Year 1 vs Year 2
As I’m about to enter the final block of my second year at Warwick Medical School, I thought it would be good to compare my first and second years of study. Not only do the two years differ quite significantly in terms of content and teaching style, the pandemic had a huge impact on my first year and has made the difference between the two academic years even greater. I hope this will be interesting and insightful to any current first years at Warwick, or to any prospective medical students who have applied or are thinking of applying to GEM here at Warwick.
Pretty much the entirety of first year was in the thick of the pandemic so Monday to Thursday were spent doing online lectures and case-based learning (CBL) from home or from the library. I then spent half a day every Friday at the medical school for face-to-face teaching on anatomy and clinical skills. My working week followed the same structure every week for the whole academic year, which was neatly arranged into 5x 5-week blocks, each separated by a ‘consolidation week’ which was a welcome break from the intensive teaching. In these weeks I was able to visit friends, go back home and work at the nursing home where I worked as a bank healthcare assistant. The academic year ended in June with 2 written exams and 2 practical exams (OSCEs) followed by a long summer break.
Second year began with a 12-week block between September and Christmas which didn’t differ too much from first year (mostly asynchronous lectures) apart from 1 day a week spent on hospital placement and more face-to-face teaching at the medical school, including face-to-face CBL for the first time. After Christmas, everything changed. We are now almost exclusively hospital-based except one day of teaching at the medical school every other Friday. Aside from timetabled sessions for clinical skills and workshops, the majority of our hospital teaching is arranged ourselves with our nominated consultants. Outside of this, we can spend our time on the wards in any manner that suits our learning needs – this could be examining patients, attending ward rounds or practising clinical skills. We also don’t get a summer break this year like we did in first year so we will be on placement right up until our exams in September.
The workload you are faced with during your first year of medicine at Warwick can feel overwhelming at first. As it is an accelerated graduate-entry course, it is inevitable that the workload is greater as we are learning 5 years’ worth of content in just 4 years. I was very stressed in the first few weeks, almost convincing myself I would never be able to remember all of this content. There is also a lot of new terminology that you need to learn which makes the workload even more daunting. But as the weeks progressed, I settled into a routine and the workload felt progressively less overwhelming. The terminology eventually became second-nature so there was even less to think about. I tried to make the most of my consolidation weeks by carefully balancing having time off to relax and recuperate but also catching up where necessary.
Second year has been a lot less stressful as a lot of the content builds on concepts you learned in first year. While the workload isn’t exactly small, I feel it is somewhat lighter than first year. As this year has involved a lot of self-directed learning, we can create our own timetables so we aren’t restricted to timelines set by the university as much and as a result I can work when it suits me and take time off as and when I want/need it. Because of this flexibility, I feel my overall productivity has improved and as a result the workload feels more manageable.
Content & teaching style
In first year, the content was delivered largely via lectures plus 1 face-to-face day at the medical school and covered the foundations of science and medicine such as anatomy, cell and tissue biomedicine, pharmacology and medical ethics. This content was covered across 5x 5-week blocks, each covering a different system of the body – gastrointestinal, cardiovascular & respiratory, neurology, musculoskeletal and reproduction & child health.
The first teaching block of second year, between September and Christmas, was also lecture-based teaching building on the concepts covered in first year. After Christmas, our learning has been centred on a list of 30 “presentations” which are ways a patient can present to the health service for example “chest pain”, “shortness of breath” etc. We then learn about these presentations through a combination of hospital-based teaching, workshops and online learning following national healthcare guidelines. This includes how to take a history from a patient presenting in this way and exploring their symptoms, conducting an examination, ordering investigations (e.g. blood tests) and suggesting initial management options for their condition.
So yes, it’s fair to say the two academic years differ in many ways. However, I wouldn’t say one year was better than the other so just enjoy whichever year you’re in right now!