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Oxford Mum
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By MD - Oxford Mum's son
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ecolier
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:congrats:
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Best read with my chapter of how my son got into Oxford medicine

https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/sho....php?t=6019726
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I once met a medical student who had helped out at an open day for a prestigious rival university. To my surprise, he said he was asked by his superiors to dissuade as many people as possible from applying to their medical school. They do this because it is in everyone’s best interest.

The medical schools do not want a high drop-out rate, whilst the students want to end up at the university which is best suited to them. A lot of people hear the Oxbridge name and like the idea of going there, but are not interested in the additional learning that comes with all those pretty quads.

Any medical school requires drive and hard work, but Oxbridge is even worse. Those with conviction and a genuine interest in the knowledge which comes out of those long hours of work will not be dissuaded by such comments, and thrive in Oxbridge medical school. Choosing Oxbridge medicine is not an easy choice, but for me at least it was simply a matter of thinking “why not?”

If I had failed, I would have been more than happy with any of my insurance options. There was a lot to gain and very little to lose.

I have always preferred the structure: three years preclinical, to allow you to feel like every other student before being thrown into the workplace. Additionally, I spent much of 6th form obsessively reading papers and so thought focus on primary literature and engaging with research would be up my street.

Of course, I also had a soft spot for the grandeur, lifestyle and name attached to Oxford.

Now here I can confirm that I made the right choice. I enjoy the course layout which feels more like biomedicine for the first three years due to limited patient contact. As much as I regret not yet being on wards, I do feel that when I do finally make it, I will have a solid base of understanding on which to operate.

Additionally, being located in the centre of Oxford and not at the far-out hospitals has allowed me to fully engage in university life, in a way that I do not think would otherwise be possible. It feels as though the pressure that comes with the serious vocational endeavour of becoming a doctor has been pushed back into 4th year, when we finally hit the hospitals.
I also really did not much like the idea of teaching by problem-based learning, which has taken many medical courses by storm. In this approach you learn by being given a case and working through to a diagnosis. Whilst ostensibly this sounds fun, the lack of organisation, jumping from one system to the other, did not appeal to me. I like the sequential way Oxford builds the course – it’s probably just my mind works better that way.

Preparation and Application

Perhaps more than for any other subject, the route one takes to get into any medical school is highly prescribed. You must score x in y number of GCSEs, get yourself a comfortable score in the BMAT/UCAT and then fill a personal statement with exiting tales of how you have wanted to become a doctor since before you could talk. Of course, sewing all these things together is rarely straightforward.

I suppose my path started at around 12, when I switched from the idea of being a vet to a doctor. Soon after deciding this, I joined St John Ambulance. I feel that St John gave me a huge advantage, in simulating for me many aspects of life as a clinician. Not only do you get high-quality hands-on
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experience in treating and talking to sometimes very ill patients, but also have to learn to deal with the endless forms, odd hours, bureaucracy that healthcare entails. We also recently got new uniforms, that make us look and feel like real paramedics.

A few years later, I also worked at a care home. This was the darkest preparation for medical school, but certainly worthwhile. I found aspects of this quite depressing, but I also had a lot of rewarding experiences. You make some very strange but meaningful connections in a care home. I also had my first experiences dealing with Broca’s aphasia, terminal lung cancer and rarer forms of dementia. It is by no means essential to work in a care home, but it does teach you about the less glamorous aspects of medicine, and turns away those that thought being a doctor was like House.

Another useful, but again not necessary preparation for interview is to attend the Cambridge Science Festival at Addenbrooke’s hospital.

https://www.sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk/

Here I got the chance to hear presentations from medical researchers, and talk to a number of Cambridge students about what sort of medical school might be right for me.

The main way of engaging with academic medicine before applying remains by reading books and occasionally papers. Of the books I read the one I would most recommend not only to prospective medical students but to everyone would be the late Paul Kalanithi’s book ‘When Breath Becomes Air’.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Breath...gateway&sr=8-1

Additionally the works of Atul Gawande

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Atul+Ga...f=nb_sb_noss_2

Steve Jones

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Language-Ge...ateway&sr=8-15

Sherwin Nuland

https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-We-Die-...s%2C132&sr=8-2

and Henry Marsh

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Do-No-Harm-...s%2C136&sr=8-1

were interesting reads. If you want something more light-hearted, try ‘Do No Harm’ (although be warned, the ending is sad).

Reading papers or more academic books is more difficult. It can be hard to know where to start and very slow to read once you have found what you are looking for. It is certainly not necessary to get into Oxbridge, but if there is something you are interested in then do try to get to grips with maybe a dozen across areas you are interested in.
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Despite not having any useable direct connections to get work experience in a hospital, I worked various angles and eventually managed to get two sets of clinical experience. For the first I observed the work of an endocrinology department. A friend and I were passed around various junior doctors and so got to see many different approaches people take to the doctor-patient relationship. Of course, this worked wonders for the personal statement. My second set was within the ENT department of a more local hospital. Whilst the doctors here were generally more negative about the career, I did have rather an amusing time. I remember clearly one of the doctors telling me how sometimes he felt like a god, and arguing against another that thought evolution could not account for the human ear. Admittedly, I also enjoy being mistaken quite a few times for being a doctor – that was until they asked for clinical advice and I receded back into my rightful place.

Perhaps the reason I get so much out of Oxford, and probably the reason I got in, stems back to my 6th form EPQ. I was very lucky when my supervisor, a man of incredible intelligence to whom I owe a great debt, accepted my project as it steadily grew from the suggested word limit of 5 000 words to around 40 000. This gave me the scope to explore consciousness in great detail. This phenomenon became a great obsession of mine, forcing me to understand the vernacular of neuroscience and philosophy in order to understand the papers I was reading. I littered my personal statement with references to my EPQ and attempted to turn every interview question I could towards the subject – often successfully.

Writing a personal statement is the kind of experience that you will look back on first with fear but eventually humour. I remember speaking to a registrar about the question of why she wanted to become a doctor. She found the question as ridiculous then as I do now. But whilst she and I both agreed it, I was left struggling to craft an answer within the word limitation of the statement, whilst also trying to humbly shout about how brilliant I was.
Very few people have an unshakable desire to be a doctor. This registrar, like me, found science interesting at school and, like me, doesn’t like office work. She became a doctor, but surely would be happy in many other jobs. I ditched the idea of the vocational soul-mate for the personal statement due to my frustration at the idea. Instead I offered a few scattered examples of interesting glimpses I had seen of the medical world, how I had been impressed at the dedication of particular doctors etc. Instead of saying ‘I won x’ I wrote about how ‘the experience of preparing for x, which I eventually won, taught me y’. This seems to be a nice way around that dreadful contradiction of being told to show off in a humble way, but also helps connects things together to produce a coherent statement.

I also found it difficult not to fill my personal statement with science, as I had wanted to initially. My teachers and mother were begging me to soften it up with some personal stories, which I thought at the time to be selling out. In the end I realised that writing a personal statement is not about talking through all the things you are interested in (as perhaps it should be), but instead about learning how to communicate via words that you are a good candidate to be trained as a doctor. This involves rather subtle linguistic changes to appear personable yet professional, academic yet good with people and also eager to learn. This is how, after nine drafts, my statement ended up. Looking back on it now, I would change a few little things, but am broadly happy with the angle I took:
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Five years with St John Ambulance have proved extremely rewarding, both in giving me hands on experience and in cementing my decision to study medicine. I have been able to put my first aid knowledge into practice during marathons, charity fairs and a traffic accident. Beyond this I worked as a peer educator within the organisation, allowing me to highlight the immeasurable value of first aid to those around me. I was humbled to receive a commendation from Princess Anne for service during an emergency.

The mantra instilled by St John, that understanding brings the ability to do better, inspired me to research aerodynamics. A resulting invention went on to win the national Teen Tech competition. The prize money gave me the opportunity to spend a few weeks observing doctors in Indian hospitals. I visited GP surgeries, hospitals and a leper colony. I witnessed a dozen operations and was thrown into many emotionally draining situations.

During my first surgery I watched the suffering that results when a surgeon’s knife cuts into an inadequately anesthetised patient. Expecting to focus on the complex anatomy, I instead became starkly aware that this dissected limb was attached to a terrified, feeling person. I found myself desperately holding her hand to provide what solace I could. All the science was eclipsed by an overwhelming feeling that medicine exists for something beyond the mere acquisition of knowledge.

One Indian surgeon stands out for explaining every step of his procedures, both in terms of his delicate workmanship and patient outcomes.

During my work experience in the UK I met an equally dedicated young doctor, who made clear to me the difficult conflict in medicine between chasing scientific goals and doing what is right by each patient. She asked me to talk with each patient, allowing me to build my own relationships and discover what matters to each individual. This invaluable lesson is essential to my voluntary work at a local care home. I do my best to understand what each resident hopes for, and am always amazed at staff members’ ingenuity when it comes to reaching such goals.

Months into my work, I witnessed the particularly distressing death of a resident. I had watched a tumour slowly advance through his brain, obliterating his Broca’s area. I felt compelled to understand more about the relationship between the brain and our conscious experience as an extended project. A research trip to the British Library opened my eyes to the electrifying feeling of examining a scientific frontier. Deciphering the causal role of phenomenal consciousness, as well as its correlates and proposed physiological basis allows access to a wonderfully expansive area of research, pulling together the best of philosophy and neuroscience. Regular reading of the Consciousness and Cognition Journal has been instrumental in my endeavour.

I take an active role in school as House Captain and editor of the school magazine. In school teams I have had success reaching the national finals of the RSC School’s Chemical Analyst competition and I achieved gold in the Biology Olympiad. My passion for reading has led to short-term ventures in interventionism, Mid Staffordshire failings and evolutionary philosophy.

These skills were invaluable in winning the competition to represent the UK in the European Youth Parliament next year. There I learned how to research, present and defend unfamiliar topics under immense time pressure. In my spare time I also enjoy playing the piano and flying light aircraft, which I finance through jobs at a local church and on a cow farm. Both hobbies give me an immense sense of freedom and peace.

I have seen enough blood and anguish to know that medicine is not a career of glamour, or prestige. It is one of service upheld by high standards of care, and of progressive intellectual effort to understand our bodies so we may alleviate suffering. I do not believe there is anything more worthy of dedicating my life to. ”
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Specific prep for the UCAT/BMAT consisted of online practice questions and a number of books available on Amazon containing MCQs.

UCAT book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mastering-U...gateway&sr=8-6

UCAT Medify practice questions:

https://www.medify.co.uk/ukcat

BMAT book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mastering-B...gateway&sr=8-5

BMAT Ninja practice questions:

https://bmat.ninja/?gclid=EAIaIQobCh...SAAEgIxuPD_BwE

I also attended courses for both the BMAT and the UCAT. Looking back at the courses now, I have almost no memory of how they actually were, however I do remember thinking them a waste of money. They offer minor advantage by sharing fairly obvious advice.

I do remember having a very nice ploughman’s sandwich at lunch with huge pieces of pickled onion and rustic bread – but this was not included in the price of the course.

For BMAT, I found my decision to take all the sciences to AS level meant I did not lose touch with any of the subjects, despite the fact that questions only supposedly require GCSE knowledge.

I do not like essays, so the essay section did not come naturally. Stepping out an argument in my head and practicing relaying it seemed to be the best way for me of preparing, although undoubtably revision styles will vary.

A few months earlier I entered the Corpus Christi essay competition, on whether evolution should be classified as fact or fiction. Despite not winning, this was useful in helping me craft arguments and it also forced me to resurrect my GCSE English skills in a way which probably positively influenced my BMAT.

I really can’t remember what I got in the BMAT now, but I do remember several people who did not do as well as they hoped but still made it into good medical schools. The UK systems seems rather good to me in that usually, people fall comfortably into either those that find the UCAT straightforward or the BMAT. I fell more into the latter camp, getting a perfectly serviceable but not outstanding 707 average in the UCAT.
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Interview


There is a prevailing view that grades are both necessary and sufficient to propel a person to Oxford. From my experience I think that this may indeed be true up until the interview. However, once you enter the interview room, you have already essentially met the academic threshold. During the interview, the focus is on how you solve problems and how much they enjoy you. When you take a step back, it makes sense that when your tutors interview you, they pick the students they most want to teach.

There were certainly people with better grades and a more detailed understanding of medicine than I, but what I did have was a vast pool of information to pull from as a result of extracurricular interests like St John and my EPQ. For this reason, I would urge anyone who is told to focus solely on grades to not give up tangential interests, however irrelevant they may seem.

My interview experience was not overwhelmingly positive.

I arrived a day early, due to my geographical distance from college, so the time moved slowly. During the evening a few first years did a fabulous job of looking after me. They remain today people I am very fond of. I still felt, of course, somewhat an outsider, wandering the quads which I could not quite imagine being mine. I did enjoy sneaking into the library to brush up on a few papers before the interview. Quite often I now return and sit in the same spot during term-time.

Judging how the interviews had gone was insanely difficult. I had made some major gaffes, including forgetting the name of a key endocrine organ.

That evening, after the first set of interviews, many prospective medic and engineer interviewees were staying over. This relaxed me, and made for a lovely evening as we journeyed out to an ice cream parlour.

Sadly, none of the fifteen or so I met there actually got into my college.

I do remember that the one person (who did get in, but at another college) had brought a huge gym bag filled with books, including a couple by Gawande.

The next day I was interviewed at my randomly assigned college. This pair of interviews went far worse than the first.

In the first two I had felt like I had occasionally offered sparkling answers, but here my answers were grey, dull, fumbling wrecks. I am certain that were this my only performance, I would not have got into Oxford. Reflecting on this too much is rather scary, because it reminds me how much luck is involved. If I had applied to the second college and been bounced elsewhere, I might not have had the opportunity to show what I knew.

Somehow, I made my offer, which came through by post in January. I remember a tremendous sense of relief, having worried for some time about how it had gone. The first and the last week of waiting were the worst. In between, I largely just got on with life and revision for mocks.

Making my grades then become the most important thing. Looking back now, A levels were made easy in one lovely way. All of my subjects produced a clear syllabus and a number of past papers to practice with. This luxury disappeared upon arrival at university. My tactic for hitting my grades was to go through the syllabus line by line, crossing it off until I understood everything. I would strongly recommend this approach, which I credit with making my grades.

During A-level, I gave out a lot of my revision notes to other people in the year, which is fine but if you are given such an offer, I would always urge you to make your own too. The majority of the consolidation, for me at least, came with making the notes rather than reading them.
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Oxford


Freshers week is a brilliant, but uncertain time. You are thrust into a new world, knowing nobody, as though just birthed. I was lucky and so made good friends fast, as well as enjoying the course at its early stages.

Very early on, I realised the high calibre of lectures, some of which are tipped to win Nobel prizes. To this day there remains a certain sense of awe in some students of our lecturers. There are, in my mind, three big differences (besides the course style) between Oxbridge and other medical schools: content, contact and essays.

Content-wise, the first year of the course is split into three subjects: organisation of the body (OB), biochemistry and medical genetics (BCMG) and physiology and pharmacology (PnP). In OB the focus is learning about the structure of the body as well as basic function. There is a lot to learn in OB, making it not perhaps a course for someone who doesn’t like rote learning. In BCMG we learn about genetic replication and associated conditions, as well as many of the core biochemistry pathways. For PnP, we are taught about the normal functions of the heart, kidneys and circulation. The broad structure is similar to other medical schools, but the level of detail is far more.

Occasionally I wondered quite what the point was of all this detail, leaning about every ion channel type in the kidney, and each enzyme of the Krebs cycle. More recently, the advantage has become absolutely clear because as I began working on research projects and reading more journals, I find that base of knowledge incredibly helpful. It is, however, often not necessary to simply becoming a doctor. First year content is thrown at you at an alarming rate, probably at the rate of an A-level’s worth every 3 weeks (a rough estimate). However, you do not have to be superhuman to survive, you simply find yourself adapting to the pace. Similarly, when we all saw our first prosected head, we were alarmed, but have now grown used to the idea.

For me a large downside for the first year was that the brain was almost entirely exempt from the curriculum. Neuroanatomy and physiology come in second year.

Contact hours also differ massively, not just from other medical schools, but from other subjects at Oxford. Many humanities students have a couple of lectures, a class or two and a tutorial a week. As medics we are subjected to around three lectures a day, with two hour labs on half of days. On top of this, we have just under three tutorials a week on average. So overall contact hours are probably upwards of 25 hours a week. This is more than almost all of the subjects at Oxford and more than what my friends at non-oxbridge universities experience.

The reason for this it to fit in all the content set, which, as I say above is not necessarily relevant to becoming a doctor. For these reasons, some might quite rightly conclude that Oxbridge is not for them. In defence of this system, I would argue that the majority of these contact hours are very engaging and push your thinking. However, I did not always think that at 10pm, when I had two essays due the next day.

This other core difference, having to produce essays, is likely also going to turn off budding scientists. But in truth, the essays we produce may start off a little messy in first year, but week by week they turn into something progressively more like an academic paper. For those interested in academia, learning to write in this way helps turn you into an effective communicator. I do, however, still hate essays. Unlike most medical schools, our end of year exams, which have to be taken essentially in black tie (except confusingly the tie is white), are largely essay based.
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The undergraduate course is not completely without patient contact.

Once a month, we infiltrate the GP practices of the Oxford area in our college groups for an afternoon. Here we practice important skills such as taking histories, establishing informed consent, and eating as many biscuits as possible. This is a nice chance to pretend we are doctors, despite our complete lack of clinical skill. Despite the first three years having a more biomedical feel, we are occasionally reminded what we are here to do – become doctors.
For those of you concerned about the lack of early patient contact, I would also add that Oxford has already opened a number of doors to clinical experience for me that would not otherwise have been available.

Because of the excessively short terms, just eight weeks long, there is a lot of vacation time (purposefully called a vac rather than holiday by oxford, because you are often expected to do some work). I, and many other students, have used this time to shadow clinicians.

Last summer, I observed the work of excellent doctors and researchers at SiTran in Sheffield. Once a medical student, they trust you with much more information than during 6th form work shadowing.

I also had the opportunity to do a ‘clinical fellowship’ in Moscow last Christmas. This consisted mostly of watching surgery, but by the end also joining in. Having been given a week long crash course suturing on plastic skin models, we were given the chance to do it for real. For most of this placement I worked in urology, but on one day I was able to visit cardiology and watch a very rare and delicate surgery. A young patient required surgery to fix a large aneurism of the aorta, which developed as a consequence of Marfan syndrome (an unusual connective tissue disorder due to a collagen defect). Watching the repair has to be one of the most impressive things I have ever seen.

After finishing first year, the pace picks up slightly in second year, before dropping off in the final year of the undergraduate degree. During second year, we learn about neuroanatomy, neurophysiology as well as the immune system, cancer and more in depth cardiovascular concepts.

After Easter exams, we settle into a research project, which spills over into third year. This project is a placement of approximately eight weeks in a lab, spent conducting novel research. I was very lucky to find an excellent supervisor who let me work on a topic I was interested in. For the project, I was attached to the NDCN and worked on decision-making systems in the brain.

I was lucky in that my hunch about interaction between two types of learning turned out to be true. This has produced a novel finding, that I may be lucky enough to publish.

I learned skills during this project that I never would have expected, particularly how to code in MATLAB. The Oxford research project is, as far as I am aware, very different from most universities which may offer intercalation in a similar position. For some, intercalation may be a better choice, and so other universities should be considered. The Oxford research project is rather marmite-like, in that some people love it, and feel it sets them up well for a research career. Others think it a waste of time that they could be spending actually working on being a good clinician. I certainly fall into the former camp.

During the rest of third year, students are allowed to pick between around a dozen options. These options include cellular biology, systems neuroscience, cancer biology etc. In third year, the emphasis is less on content from textbooks, and more reading from primary literature and critical appraisal of papers. When we finally graduate after third year, we decant up to the clinical school located at the John Radcliffe Hospital. Up here life is different, short holidays and lots of moving around to local hospitals. From what I have heard from those in the years above, these months are great. Many of us are already looking forward to it now.
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syrup!
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this ABSOLUTE [written] gold
thanks a lot mannn
much appreciated
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Oxford Mum
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Thank you syrup!

You have no idea how much my son loved writing this, for you and other medics!

I secretly hope that if you, and others reading this book, get in, you can blog a similar chapter for Cambridge medicine here on TSR. This will benefit future Cambridge prospectives sooooo much!
(Original post by syrup!)
this ABSOLUTE [written] gold
thanks a lot mannn
much appreciated
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syrup!
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and it showssss. your blogs are high-key the best on tsr
(Original post by Oxford Mum)
Thank you syrup!

You have no idea how much my son loved writing this, for you and other medics!

I secretly hope that if you, and others reading this book, get in, you can blog a similar chapter for Cambridge medicine here on TSR. This will benefit future Cambridge prospectives sooooo much!
i havent got into cambridge (yet? :rofl: )
so anything i could say would technically be hearsay ;-;
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I know... I am talking about the future...
(Original post by syrup!)
and it showssss. your blogs are high-key the best on tsr

i havent got into cambridge (yet? :rofl: )
so anything i could say would technically be hearsay ;-;
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This is a brilliant resource for all medical applicants - but particularly those applying to Oxford of course. Many thanks to OM's son, M. Thank you for putting so much effort into writing this for the benefit of other people who you don't even know x
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OH IM STUPID loool
yeahhh id definitely do that if i got in
(Original post by Oxford Mum)
I know... I am talking about the future...
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All those I have asked (current students) to write chapters are dying to help TSRians, and are scribbling away as we speak. I wanted to show you all that Oxford students are not toffee nosed, remote people, but the down to earth, friendly types you would like to be friends with.
(Original post by harrysbar)
This is a brilliant resource for all medical applicants - but particularly those applying to Oxford of course. Many thanks to OM's son, M. Thank you for putting so much effort into writing this for the benefit of other people who you don't even know x
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:dance: Thanks, I know I can count on you!!!
(Original post by syrup!)
OH IM STUPID loool
yeahhh id definitely do that if i got in
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There are a lot of unverified comments like 'it's harder and more detailed here' - where is the proof of such statements?

Simbasoul what are you thoughts on this?
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