Studying medicine in the United Kingdom is no easy feat. Studying medicine in the UK as an international student from Canada can be even more difficult still. From the differences between schooling systems to cultural differences, studying medicine as an international student has been an interesting experience to say the least.
Personally, it has been equal parts exciting and terrifying. To start at the beginning, the first few days of medical school were actually rather easy. That is, until the realisation dawned that my lecturers had managed to summarise my last three years of high school in a matter of hours.
Many people wonder what benefit there is from studying abroad, when a person could just stay in their home country and study the same degree. For starters, in North America, medicine is a four year long post graduate degree. This means, before a person can even apply to a medical school of their choice, they must have already completed a first degree (this normally takes four years). In the UK, medicine is normally a five or six-year undergraduate degree. Another reason people choose to study abroad is the competition to get accepted within their country. Using Canada as an example, there are a little over 15 medical schools in the entire country. The majority of medical school applicants in Canada get rejected for the simple reason that there just are not enough spaces. On the other hand, in the UK alone there are 34 medical schools, meaning more opportunities to get accepted.
The Universities and Colleges Admission Service, or UCAS is a UK based admissions service used to assist both universities and applicants in the application process. Through UCAS I was able to apply to five British universities, upload my personal statement, as well as be notified of the progress of my applications. UCAS was a major tool for me to smooth an application process that had the potential to be very complex due to the nature of applying internationally.
Personally, adapting to a different country was not exactly a huge issue as I used to live in Ireland and spend summers in England with my family from a very young age. Still, the language here took a bit of getting used to. For any international students that are as confused as I was, “You alright?” means “How are you?”, not “What is wrong with you?”. Nevertheless, I do understand that the transition can be difficult for most. I would recommend befriending other international students as it can be helpful to know that there are others in situations similar to your own.
I study Medicine at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and although I cannot speak for all schools across the country, UCLan medical school provides each student with an academic advisor and access to a pastoral tutor, both which are available to speak to for support and to help ease the transition from one country to another.
The School of Medicine at University of Central Lancashire is an undergraduate medical program lasting five years with a tolerance of one year if you decide to intercalate. The school uses a spiral curriculum, meaning it approaches learning by mixing lectures, problem based learning, and inter-professional learning. Additionally, integrating clinical science, clinical skills, and communication skills in year one, through the use of volunteer patients, truly hones skills that many students do not begin to develop until second or third year.
Concerning the educational aspect, coming from high school in Canada, the learning curve in medical school was extremely steep, and easily the hardest thing I have ever had to in my entire life. My advice, stemming from personal experience, if you did not school in Britain, I would highly recommend either doing A-levels or a foundations course in medicine before going into medical school. I recommend this because, going from a North American high school straight into medical school is almost equivalent to finishing GCSE’s and then entering university. Undeterred by this jump in learning, some people still go through their first year of medicine with very few issues. A tip for both home and international students – know your learning style. Knowing and understanding the best way for you to learn will ultimately save you a lot of time and stress. Also, remember, what works for everyone else may not necessarily work for you. Do not get agitated or upset because it looks like those surrounding you are studying less than you, more than you, or differently from you. As long as you are learning and understanding the information you have been given, stick to your own study method.
Many things can be learned about oneself through an experience like studying medicine. Despite the late nights, unholy, amounts of caffeine ingested, and the occasional wondering of whether it is even possible to finish school with your sanity – one thing can be concluded – a medical degree is an extremely unique degree and one of the most fulfilling degrees there is. Through the trials and tribulations as well as through the times of joy and excitement, it is important to understand that bumps in the road are part of the journey. Not understanding a concept, having to do a resit, or even having to repeat a year does not mean the end of the world. As long as there is a willingness to keep pushing, and continue working until your goal has been met, success will be your portion.
Written by Ayomide Akinmokun
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