Knowledge of your Chosen Medical School

December 15, 2022

The following are topics relating to the medical school, which you may be asked about during your interview, and suggestions for what to include in your answers:

Why this medical school?

To gain an understanding of why you have chosen their medical school, interviewers / assessors may ask you directly why you have chosen to apply there, or what appeals to you about the medical school. They may also ask you why you think it’s the most suitable place for you to study, what you think the advantages and disadvantages of the medical school are, or what you are most or least looking forward to. If you attended an open day event, they could ask you about your experience, or you may find it helpful to use this to support your answer to why you have applied for that medical school. 

What to include in your answers

Undoubtedly you will have reasons why you chose to apply to each medical school and the best answer you can give is a personal and genuine response, as naturally your enthusiasm for studying there will be evident to the interviewer. The only caveat we would give to this, is that while a genuine response is favourable, ensure that the reasons you share give the interviewers a positive impression of your priorities when choosing a place to study. For example, if you decide to discuss the location of the medical school, referring to the types of patients you may have contact with and opportunities that this will present, or even the cultural opportunities on offer, demonstrates to the interviewers your commitment to medicine and your focus on the learning opportunities available. This will make your answer more impactful than just saying I would like to live in this location. 

The following are suggestions of topics you may wish to include when answering these types of questions; perhaps there are areas which you haven’t researched about your chosen medical school/s, which may be useful to do so for your interview. You’ll find much of the information relating to the ideas below, for your chosen medical school, in the Individual Medical Schools section, but visiting the medical school website will also support you. 

You could include elements of the following areas within your answer:

  • The teaching methods
    Are there particular teaching methods used by the medical school which you think suit your style of learning or will have a positive impact on your learning experience? 
  • The curriculum
    Having looked through the medical school prospectus or course information, are there elements of the curriculum which you are particularly interested in? Does the medical school offer something unusual that you are particularly looking forward to? 
  • Clinical contact
    Clinical contact is a crucial element of studying medicine. What does your chosen medical school offer in terms of when you are first exposed to clinical settings, the variety of clinical settings you will experience and the amount of time dedicated to it throughout your training? How did these factors influence you to choose this medical school?
  • Teaching hospitals and the local area
    Are you aware of the teaching hospitals associated with your chosen medical school and the clinical settings in which you’re likely to train? How do you envision that these settings and the location that they’re based in will support your learning? 
  • Dissection and prosection
    Does the medical school offer opportunities for dissection or prosection? If they do, it’s certainly something they will present as a big plus about their course, as it’s not offered at all medical schools in the UK. Find out if the medical school you’re interviewing for offers dissection, prosection or both, and ensure that you can discuss the advantages of these, and possibly why they appeal to you. 
  • Extracurricular activities
    If the university offers extracurricular activities which particularly interest you – perhaps it’s an activity that you’re already involved in or something unique or new that you would like to try – then include this in your answer. Medical schools want applicants who are well-rounded students so don’t think your answer has to only focus on the experience you will gain on the course.

Although it may not be practical to include all of them, any of these topics could contribute to your answer on why you want to study at that particular medical school. You may also find that you’re asked direct questions about some of these topics, each of which we explore in more detail below, to support you in either situation.

Teaching methods / curriculum

There’s a multitude of different questions that you could be asked about the teaching methods and delivery of the curriculum; below are examples of the types of questions you may experience: 

  • You could be asked directly what you know about the curriculum delivery or the teaching methods and why you think their approach will suit you. Alternatively, they may ask you about a specific teaching method they use. For example, what you know about case-based learning, its advantages and possible limitations, and why you think this method would suit your learning style. 
  • You could also be asked about your preferred way of learning or how you think you learn best. This provides you with an opportunity to link to the teaching methods used at the medical school, what you know about their curriculum delivery and how you think this will benefit your learning. 
  • Similarly, they may ask you about your learning experiences so far and how they have prepared you for medical school. For example, interviewers may want to know how well you will cope with peer learning or independent study.

What to include in your answers

The key to being able to answer questions relating to the delivery of the curriculum is knowing what teaching methods and modes of delivery are used – find out in the Individual Medical Schools section or on their website – and having an awareness of your preferred way of learning and how this will be supported within your chosen medical school. 

Types of teaching methods:

Common teaching methods which you may encounter as you’re looking through the course information for your chosen medical school are:

  1. Traditional pre-clinical and clinical course
  2. Integrated or systems based learning
  3. Problem-based learning (PBL)
  4. Case-based learning (CBL)
  5. Enquiry-based learning (EBL)
  6. Multi or inter-professional learning

It’s useful to have an understanding of a range of teaching methods, as although your chosen medical school may not use a particular method, you may still be asked how it compares to others, and therefore a general understanding is needed. It may also help if you are asked about the advantages and limitations of the primary method to be able to compare to other methods of teaching in your answer. 

Below is a breakdown of the different teaching methods and a brief description. We’ve also included possible advantages and limitations of each, which have been grouped together, as for the majority of them whether you consider an element to be positive or negative will depend on how you prefer to learn and will no doubt be a deciding factor when choosing a medical school which uses that particular teaching method. 

Teaching method Description
Traditional pre-clinical and clinical course

A traditional pre-clinical and clinical course focuses on building a base knowledge of medical science within the pre-clinical years (generally the first 2–3 years) followed by clinical based learning for the final 3 years, usually supported by lectures to underpin learning.

It may be delivered through:

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Practical lessons, such as dissections
  • Group work
  • Tutorials

Few medical schools use a traditional course, namely: Cambridge, Oxford and St Andrews. See the Individual Medical Schools for more information about this, as St Andrews in particular offers an unusual structure.

Advantages & Limitations

  • Supports you to develop a strong foundation of medical knowledge first.
  • Limited patient contact in the first few years (the pre-clinical years): this could be seen as limiting your opportunities to learn through experience to the clinical years. However, you may still have some clinical experiences during this time, so don’t assume it is entirely without clinical contact.
  • Opportunities to apply acquired medical knowledge within clinical settings once a base is developed (final three years).
  • During the clinical years, the learning you experience within clinical settings is supported by further lectures, seminars, etc.
  • Relatively structured and guided curriculum – this makes for a good comparison with teaching methods like PBL.
  • A significant amount of independent study is required.
Integrated / systems based learning

An integrated approach is referred to as system-based learning, meaning rather than teaching anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, etc. separately, they are taught in relation to each system within the body. For example, when studying the respiratory system you would explore anatomy, physiology, etc. in relation to that bodily system.

An integrated approach often includes other teaching methods, such as PBL, CBL and EBL.

It may be delivered through:

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Practical lessons, such as dissections
  • Small group work
  • Tutorials
  • Clinical placements

Advantages & Limitations

  • Early patient contact which allows for practical learning through experience and develops practical clinical skills.
  • It usually includes a mixture of different teaching methods (PBL, CBL and EBL) and a variety of ways of delivering the content.
  • You gain an understanding of each system of the body as a whole, which can make it easier to make links.
  • There is still a significant amount of independent, self-directed learning.
Problem-based learning (PBL)

Within a PBL approach, you work within a small group to resolve medical cases; predominantly these will be provided for you, but you may also begin bringing your own cases from your clinical placements as you progress through your training. PBL is supported by a tutor but the focus is on the group to direct the learning and undertake self-directed, independent work as needed.

PBL is generally not used as the sole teaching method within medical schools, but is often used alongside others, such as the integrated approach, offering you the opportunity to experience PBL with the benefit of lectures, seminars, etc. to support your learning.

Advantages & Limitations

  • Early patient contact and a strong focus on a patient-oriented approach.
  • Peer learning: supports the development of teamwork and leadership skills; however, you could discuss the difficulties of working in a group, particularly if the group does not work well.
  • Develops problem solving skills and promotes motivation for learning, as you’re responsible for directing the task and undertaking independent learning.
  • As the learning is student-led it allows you to explore areas of interest to you and to take responsibility for your learning; however, it may also mean that you develop gaps in your knowledge due to the lack of structure. This is why combining PBL with other methods can be more beneficial.
Case-based learning

CBL is similar to PBL, in that you are provided with cases to explore within a small group, aided by academic and clinical experts. Within CBL, small group work is supported by a variety of teaching formats, including:

  • Lectures
  • Clinical placements
  • Self directed study
  • Clinical skills sessions
  • Anatomy sessions

CBL integrates the teaching of science, social science and clinical practice to develop skills and knowledge.

As with PBL, CBL is generally used in conjunction with other teaching methods; however, many medical schools incorporate CBL in some way, so it’s useful to be aware of this teaching style and be able to discuss it objectively.

Advantages & Limitations

  • CBL is patient centred so there is a focus on clinical contact and developing clinical skills alongside academic knowledge.
  • Delivery is a mixture of small group work, lectures, clinical placements and self directed study, which provides a variety of learning methods.
  • As with the PBL, the group work element presents opportunities for peer learning and to develop skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication, but group work is not without its challenges.
Enquiry-based learning

As with PBL, you are responsible for directing your own learning with an EBL approach. You are presented with questions, problems or scenarios to facilitate this, and tasked with developing your knowledge and finding solutions.

Again, as with PBL, EBL is generally not used as the primary teaching method but supports a diverse curriculum delivery, often used for projects and research work.

Advantages & Limitations

  • Develops problem solving skills and promotes independent learning, as you’re required to take responsibility for directing your own research and learning.
  • Although self directed, learning is initiated by a question, problem or scenario and facilitated by a lecturer or tutor, etc., so there is some structure while allowing it to be student-led.
  • Useful for initiating projects and self-directed research.

Advantages & Limitations

  • CBL is patient centred so there is a focus on clinical contact and developing clinical skills alongside academic knowledge.
  • Delivery is a mixture of small group work, lectures, clinical placements and self directed study, which provides a variety of learning methods.
  • As with the PBL, the group work element presents opportunities for peer learning and to develop skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication, but again it's not without its challenges.
Inter-professional learning

Some medical schools also provide opportunities for inter-professional learning with other healthcare professionals, such as future colleagues from nursing and pharmacy. Students from different healthcare disciplines explore case studies or simulated scenarios to develop an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of different members of the healthcare team.

Inter-professional learning prepares you for working within a collaborative team to provide effective care and the best outcomes for patients. It develops teamwork, leadership and communication skills.

Advantages & Limitations

  • Develops teamwork, leadership and communication skills.
  • Develops your understanding of the roles and responsibilities of different healthcare professionals.
  • Provides experience of working in a mult-disciplinary team in a collaborative manner to achieve the best outcomes for patients.

When answering questions about teaching methods, try to provide an objective response, demonstrating that you understand that there are advantages and limitations of each method. Crucially, relate it to your own learning wherever possible, as admissions staff want to know that you will learn effectively through their curriculum and means of delivery. If you have experienced a teaching method previously, then give an example of this to support your answer, sharing how it enabled your learning.

You may also come across reference to a spiral curriculum within the Individual Medical Schools. This refers to a curriculum in which topics are revisited throughout your training to develop your knowledge and understanding, and to continue to build on what you have previously learnt, as opposed to being taught a topic once without revisiting it.

Clinical contact / teaching hospitals

You may be asked directly for your thoughts on the opportunities for clinical contact within the medical school. For example, when you will first experience it, the variety of clinical contact you’ll be exposed to, and the effect you think this will have on your learning experience. Alternatively, you may wish to refer to the clinical placement opportunities in answer to a different question, if for example you are asked why you applied to this particular medical school. 

Additionally, you may be asked what you know about the teaching hospitals associated with the medical school or about the local health within the main areas in which you will be training. 

What to include in your answers

Whether your chosen medical school offers early clinical contact or focuses on more teaching before exposure to patients, you can discuss the perceived benefits to your learning. You can also discuss the types of clinical contact you will be exposed to on the course, the amount of time you will be based in clinical settings during your training, and how these contributed to your decision to apply to this medical school. Having an understanding of the opportunities that your chosen medical school offers for clinical contact is essential to be able to answer questions relating to this. 

The role of teaching hospitals is vital in your medical training and being able to demonstrate your knowledge of the teaching hospitals associated with your chosen medical school will emphasise your enthusiasm and interest in studying there. Researching the teaching hospitals to find out more about them and exploring what opportunities they may offer you on clinical placements, rather than merely learning their names, will aid you to do this well. Similarly, gaining a basic understanding of the local health in the areas in which you will be training, will show your passion for the medical school and allow you to discuss how this relates to learning opportunities. 

Dissection / Prosection

If your chosen medical school includes dissection and/or prosection within their curriculum, you may be asked how you think this will benefit your learning or how effective you think it is for teaching anatomy. Even if the medical school you’re interviewing for doesn’t offer dissection or prosection, they may still ask for your opinion on it as a teaching method, or if you think it’s a disadvantage not to have this experience. 

Again, if you’re not asked directly about this topic, you may find it helpful to include in your answer if you’re asked what appeals to you about the course. As only a limited number of medical schools offer dissection and/or prosection, it may understandably be a selling point if your chosen medical school does offer it, and something which you’re looking forward to within the curriculum. 

What to include in your answers

Fundamentally, you need to know if your chosen medical school offers dissection and/or prosection as part of their curriculum in order to answer this question confidently – go to the Individual Medical Schools to find out. 

Regardless of whether it’s included or not, it’s a good idea to present a balanced argument for dissection and prosection, demonstrating that you understand the advantages of both as well as alternative methods for learning anatomy. Understanding what your chosen medical school offers in terms of teaching anatomy will allow you to tailor your answer, demonstrating that you’re aware of what methods they use and the positive implications for your learning. It will also highlight your interest in the medical school to the interviewers, as it shows that you’ve researched their curriculum in more depth. 

The main advantage of dissection or prosection, rather than other representations of organs, such as models, is that it provides a more accurate experience of human anatomy, demonstrating variations between individuals, and allowing you to explore human organs and gain first-hand experience. However, even if your chosen medical school utilises dissection or prosection, your learning will be supported by other methods of teaching anatomy, so it’s important to demonstrate an understanding of how this will also benefit your learning. Avoid downplaying the use of models and other representations of organs, as these are effective methods for exploring and understanding general structures within human anatomy; particularly if your chosen medical school does not offer dissection or prosection, you should focus on the benefits of learning anatomy via alternative methods. 

Extracurricular activities available

During your interview, you may be asked directly what extracurricular activities you’re looking forward to or what you will bring to the university in terms of extracurricular contributions. In this instance, you can easily demonstrate your awareness of the opportunities that the university offers and your enthusiasm for studying there. However, you may simply be asked what extracurricular activities you currently take part in or what your hobbies and interests are outside of your academic studies; this type of question can be an opportunity to demonstrate your passion for attending your chosen medical school, or it may present a possibility to link your extracurricular interests to skills which will support your medical training, depending on the framing of the question. 

What to include in your answers

Understandably, the extracurricular opportunities available may not have been a deciding factor in choosing the medical school you are interviewing for. However, being able to demonstrate your awareness of some extracurricular activities offered will again show to the interviewers that you have researched the university and, therefore, your decision to apply there is well-informed. 

Many medical schools offer Student Selected Components (SSC) as part of their curriculum; these may be linked to medicine, for example focusing on the history of medicine or perhaps global health topics, or they can be completely separate to your medical training, offering you the opportunity to learn a variety of modern languages, for example. If your chosen medical school offers SSCs, these can be useful to discuss in relation to the opportunities this will provide you with, in terms of choice within the curriculum and gaining additional skills and knowledge. Alternatively, it’s perfectly acceptable to discuss clubs or societies that the university offers that you’d be interested in joining; remember, medical schools are looking for well-rounded students, so don’t be afraid to mention activities which aren’t related to your course, as it demonstrates your interests outside of medicine. These interests and hobbies can also provide examples of how you have developed skills and qualities which are useful for medical school; we discuss this in more detail in the All About You section.

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