What's it like to study... Medicine

Fred Clough has a first in medical sciences from Oxford and clinical medicine from UCL

Medicine isn’t quite like other degrees, so forget two hours of contact time per week and one essay per term. Learning begins at the atomic level – about the biophysics and chemistry in year one, and ends with the macroscopic – a real person who is sick and needs treatment, stat. A medical student's head is filled with dogma from the start - that you cannot and will not be judged by the standards of others – whether that be academic endeavor, constraints on your time, or professional behaviour. 

The first three years were spent with formaldehyde-filled anatomy lessons, cell biology and pathology labs (what happens when the body goes wrong) and lectures. As a student at Oxford I also had tutorials with the college as well as the med school teaching. This included one essay per week for each of the three or four tutors looking after us.

Whatever you have heard about Oxford and Cambridge is probably true. I became accustomed to having 'tutes' in my professor’s rooms at college, an oak-panelled boudoir complete with mauve chaise-longue. We would debate the pharmacokinetic properties of the perfect medication, or discuss the topic of an essay 'why is the heart genius'. At one end of the room was a stuffed puffer-fish, while the mantelpiece opposite was home to an enlarged model of the drosophilia fruit fly. And sometimes we would just play chess.

In my final year at Oxford, I studied for an extra degree in physiological Sciences. I was able to pursue areas of interest - in my case neuroscience - and take supplementary modules in the history of medicine and pharmacology. Most universities now offer a BSc of some sort, and for most doctors these days it is a given that you are to engage in academic research - if only to buffer you CV. However, I felt incredibly lucky that I was able to work in labs, rubbing shoulders with Nobel Prize winners who would always be more than happy to answer the most simple of questions in the corridor, or reply to an email that requested more information about their field.

Notwithstanding the perks of academia at an institution such as Oxford, there was also plenty of time to enjoy the idiosyncracies that Oxford has to offer besides your degree; grand halls and balls, quirky societies, sport at Iffley road and punting on the Cherwell.

The aim of the first three years is to gain a good foundation in the basic sciences. Doctors trained from the more academic-leaning institutions are expected to reason their way out of a difficult spot when at four in the morning, when a patient has just had a crash and no one seems to understand why! I think that most medical graduates in the UK are fairly similar in capability, but each university certainly has a very different educational ethos.

As a clinical student, your timetable dramatically changes. Ragged hair dos, stubble and trainers are no longer tolerated as you will spend every day with patients as a functioning part of the hospital’s innards. On average, four weeks is spent rotating around each of the different specialties across the three years including surgery, medicine, dermatology, gynaecology, neurology and many more.

I moved to UCL in London for clinics, and some of my most memorable experiences included delivering babies, visiting a prison psychiatric ward of (surprising amenable) convicted criminals, my medical elective in Sao Paulo doing ophthalmology and plastics and the frightfully common occurrence of being grilled by eminent but gnarled old consultants who still haunt the wards 20 years post retirement. Oh, and the exams. I have to mention the exams. And there will be many throughout your career. For four weeks you work hard, stop having fun, do the exams, and then there's another four weeks...

Now, as a doctor working in London, who is expected to do certain jobs by certain times, I appreciate that as a medical student I really was very privileged. As a student you can walk into any ward or any operating theatre and observe, learn, ask questions and speak to patients, whereas practising doctors are all rushed off of their feet. Students often have much more time to really delve deep into a patient’s condition, and often can even inform the team of a very important detail that has been overlooked. The culture within medicine is such that everyone's input is respected and the team is hugely valued. Everyone teaches each other at whatever level, and now I take an active role in tutoring A-level students to try for top medical students like Oxford.

Medicine is a very time-intensive degree and one that will increasingly be a huge financial ask for students given the rise in tuition and downward spiral in doctors' pay. However, being thrown in at the deep end of some of the most challenging scenarios I have ever been in, and being confronted with patients from all of the extremes that life has to offer continues to inspire me and reward me on a daily basis.

Fred Clough has a first in medical sciences from Oxford and a BMBCh in clinical medicine from UCL.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission: SThree: SThree are a global F...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Guru Careers: Marketing Compliance Assistant

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Compliance Assistant to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are a recent psychology graduate ...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders