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The Structure of the Medical Degree

The structure of the medical degree at Oxford is quite unique in that you come out with 2 degrees at the end of the 6 years: the first in Medical Sciences and the second in Medicine. This structure allows you to attain both a breadth and depth of knowledge on human biology and pathology before even receiving any clinical teaching! The aim of this post is to clarify the course structure over the pre-clinical years. In the first two years you are taught and examined on the First BM parts 1 and 2, the second BM is taught in clinical school.

The First BM Part 1 is structured with 3 main components that are taught through lectures, practical classes and tutorials. The ‘Organisation of the Body’ module aims to cover the developmental embryology, structure and function of the main body systems. This is supplemented by histology practical classes and anatomy classes in the dissection room, where you are taught anatomy by surgical residents using cadavers. The second module is ‘Physiology and Pharmacology’ that covers how the body systems work in health, including the respiratory, cardiovascular and endocrine systems and how these can be affected by drugs. It is also supplemented by practical classes that usually focus on how the drugs work and interact. The third module is named ‘Biochemistry and Medical Genetics’ and is focused on the metabolic pathways of different cell types and the genetic basis of inherited disorders and diseases, including cancer. The practical classes to supplement this module are focused on understanding the principles of basic biochemical techniques such as PCR. One additional module, Medical Sociology, is taught only through lectures in the second and third terms. It looks at a range of topics from how the pattern of disease has changed over the last century to why some people do not present to the medical profession.

Over the second year, the second part of the 1st BM is taught, building on principles from the first year. The modules are again taught with lectures, practical classes and tutorials. The modules covered include ‘The Nervous System’ covering neuroscience and neuroanatomy; ‘The Principles of Pathology’ covering infectious diseases, the immune system and its dysfunction and ‘Applied Physiology and Pharmacology’ that integrates the principles from first year to clinically relevant diseases. Just as in the first year, there is an additional component, ‘The Psychology of Medicine’ that is taught through lectures and a few tutorials. It looks at a range of topics from anxiety disorders to human memory and attention and is examined through essays and MCQs.

Although it seems like there isn’t much clinical exposure, over the first and second years each college is assigned to a GP tutor, who organises a patient with a disease relevant to what is being studied, to come in and speak about their condition and medications. This is often a really exciting opportunity to learn from the patient, apply what we learn in lectures and get a taster for what clinical school is like!

In the 3rd year, medical students are given the opportunity to select modules based on the subjects they most enjoyed and complete an eight-week long research project into an area of science that interests them. While most people choose projects based in labs in Oxford, there is the opportunity to pick a lab outside of Oxford, even outside the country, and study something you enjoy!

Overall, the course is structured to ensure both a breadth and depth of information is covered before medical students even set into the hospital. It aims to give a strong background of scientific knowledge that you can apply when seeing and treating patients!

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