Welcome to Oxbridge medicine!!

What to do if you didn’t make the grade…

Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

It might have been the wrong paper, a bad day, something ongoing in your personal life, or you simply didn’t put in enough work.


While AS or A level results are hopefully just a formality – getting the right letters to move on to the next stage – having a nasty and unexpected surprise can be very difficult to pick yourself up from. But all is not lost….


The most important thing is that you don’t capitulate and give up on all the dreams, the planning and hard work that you have already put in. At this stage, you need to think about the reasons why the exams didn’t go very well, and come up with an action plan.


Retakes – Whilst this involves taking a lot more work onto your plate, it is very very manageable.  A lot of the knowledge you will have gained from the 1st modules of AS will be consolidated and furthered in A2 modules. This actually makes your AS levels retrospectively very easy.


Work Experience – You need to now make sure that yours stands out. Make a journal of experiences, write down and reflect on what you gained and what to improve on going forward. This can in some cases be something you can take to your interview by way of a portfolio. This shows a very professional approach to your learning and development, and is something that will be required for the rest of your career.


Years out.

If you have just finished your A-levels and they haven’t gone as planned, then you may want to consider taking a year out and re-applying. This year will be tough for you as your friends will all be off having fun at their new universities, or travelling round the world, and you will have to be very disciplined in your study AND have steely resolve. You must also benefit from this year to take advantage of work experience. Portering at hospitals and volunteering in a research lab are both options I would recommend.


Further Education.

Alternatively, you might do a biomedical science or affiliated subject BSc and re-apply for graduate medicine later. This will make a 6 year medical degree into a 7 year one. On the one hand, graduate entry medicine is extremely competitive and generally harder to get into, and you will also have to consider financing that extra year of study, however, the NHS will pay tuition on your last 2 years of medicine, and by making the decision early to do graduate medicine you will have time to get a lot of work experience and figure out what you want to do. This is a pretty drastic measure, but if you really want to do medicine, it may be your only option. Getting a high 2.1 or First will be paramount of course if you are hoping to get a graduate place.


James studies Human Sciences at Oxford, and then went to Oxford medical school as a grad.

Common reasons for Failing at Interview


Failing to show what the work experience meant for you.


In your interview you need to be able to demonstrate how you are


– Professional

– A strong communicator



• Tell me what you learned from your work experience ?

• How would you handle the stresses of being a doctor?

• What are the most significant aspects of communication?



How you choose to discuss your work experience in the interview should demonstrate the above 3 competencies. You should also weave in your organizational skills, flexibility, responsibility and attitudes into this conversation.


Wider issues and Intercurrent affairs


Leadership is increasingly a necessary skill for Doctors to possess and the NHS is currently overhauling its view on managers and how Doctors work. In years to come, Doctors will have a far greater role and input into how health institutions are run, and you need to recognize early that you need to be a part of this. Even if you didn’t set up your own charity aged 12, there are plenty of opportunities for you at school and in your spare time to demonstrate leadership.


You need to have an understanding of public health. With an ageing population, diminishing budgets and increased inter-disciplinary collaboration in top-down patient care, you must have an understanding of preventative medicine.


•Life expectancy and longevity are rising. What are the implications of this?

• What are the issues surrounding the NHS?

• What difficulties and stresses are posed for GPs?

• What recent medical news have you recently come across?

• If you were made in charge of the NHS budget, where would you allocate your


• Recently there has been a rise in the cases of measles. Do you know why?


Scientific knowledge:


Your interviewers won’t expect you to know everything, but anything which is wodely publicized or ‘hot’ is fair game.


• What sort of diseases are mentioned alongside stem cell research?

• What body system does cystic fibrosis affect the most?

• What method can be used for gene therapy?

Resources for Medical School interviews

Now with you AS levels out of the way, and with interviews looming in the not so distant future, it’s really important for you to keep up to date with the issues in the NHS and for junior doctors that will affect you in a few years.


Below is a list of my top resources to read:


– bma.org.uk


-The bbc.news.com website and health section

Radio 4 website. Podcasts and morning programme.


Labs for Oxford and Cambridge Preclinical medicine

During the first BM – the preclinical part of the Cambridge medicine and Oxford medicine courses – a lot of time is spent on practical demonstrations. Indeed this is one of the distinguishing features of the traditional courses at UCL, oxford and Cambridge, where science and experimental understanding is emphasised.

The idea behind the Oxbridge courses is that time spent in practicals can reinforce the theoretical classroom learning and build a solid scientific basis, meaning that the grown-up Doctor will then be able to reason from first principles physiology and pharmacology, rather than having to rely on memory. The principles of medicine follow a logical principle, and hence understanding the basic physiology/immunology/pharmacology lends itself to a more intuitive style of Doctoring.

The other approach adopted by some medical schools is that of problem based learning, aka PBL. This involves being given a problem as a group to solve, and develops an earlier emphasis on teamwork, presentation skills and project work.

Here I aim to explain to you what kind of practicals to expect on a medicine course at Cambridge or Oxford.

Pharmacology – these practicals involve real tissue, usually dissected from mice, guinea pigs or frogs prior to the session, and you will be applying drugs to a specific area, for example the myocardium (heart), and recording changes that are visible or measurable such as electrical potential. Here you will begin to appreciate the different effects of medications, their method of action and antidotes.

Histology – Here you will be introduced to Gram staining and the identification of both pathogens and tissue samples from their microscopic appearance. In the preclinical part, you will familiarise yourself with normal tissue and the appearance of certain bacteria, whereas later you will begin to identify tissue that is diseased.

Anatomy –  Prosection demonstrators will come in to teach you your anatomy in a systems based approach– musculoskeletal,  Thoracic, Abdominal etc etc. Here you will be taught using a real body, and have the different parts of the anatomy pointed out to you. In Cambridge medical school, this is later examined in a tough map-like approach, whereby candidates will have to identify numbered flags at random. Lots of learning, lots of cramming!!

For your intercalated year/ Final honours schools you may get the opportunity to conduct novel primary medical research as part of your dissertation. Here you will be familiarised with labs and the pressures of publication that come with them.

Good luck.

J Manning, Gonville & Caius 2003

A day in the life…. Preclinical medical sciences. Oxford medic.

I remember when I started medicine at Oxford, the curricular activities definitely got in the way of the extra-curricular. When you first start there are drinks  receptions on pristine lawns, dinners in grand halls,  canapés with the tutors, university and union events,  college JCR events, sports I just ‘had’ to do for at least a term and obviously the mandatory college play. Needless to say, when I got to my collection (Oxford-speak for mock exams after each term) on the 1st term’s medicine, my performance was less than ordinary or as my tutor politely put it, “sub-optimal.”

I continued to have fun throughout the 3 years, but I was fortunate enough to realize that – particularly for the medics – there is a vast amount of study that goes on and that needs to get done. The medical students have a busy schedule, much more so than almost any other subject, and you simply have to get through it. Some people unfortunately didn’t realize this, and had their time at Oxford curtailed to a brief 1 year innings.

So really I wanted to spell out a typical day for me in the 1st year.

Get up early, really early, to go and row. Out on the river in the freezing cold. Nothing wakes you up quite like an outing on the Thames when you have been riding on 2 hours sleep because you had an essay deadline to meet at midnight the night before, and then obviously had to go out and celebrate afterwards.

9am lectures – always. There would be a lecture on Biochemistry, a lecture on physiology/pharmacology and one on anatomy. Running in late to see the familiar frown and growl of the senior lecturer John Morris, or the beaming smile and Ozzie twang of Gary  Brown, world expert in the weirdest and most wonderful of genetic disease and then furiously making notes for 3 hours.

Back to college for lunch, and possibly a quick anatomy tutorial with one of the orthopaedics Doctors from the Radcliffe.

Then back to the medical sciences building for the ‘demonstration room’ and practicals.  Formaldehyde and dead bodies is enough to turn most stomachs, and we had it at least twice a week.

Afterwards, back to college and a few hours to kill. If I had an essay deadline the next day (I often did), I would take this time to do a bit of reading and make a start on the essay. Some times the Profs would organise a tutorial at this time, or sometimes on weekends!

After dinner in hall, depending on what the flavor of the month was, play rehearsals, drinks with friends, sports training or more work. Usually I would end the night at one of the free events which do the rounds. This might be a comedy night at the purple turtle, a lawsoc champagne and strawberries event, one of the plays which are running and pop my head in to one of Oxford’s finest club establishments.

I moved to London for my clinics and still look back fondly on my time in the dreamy spires, as do all the Cambridge medicine ‘transfers.’ It certainly gets me through the moments where my boss is shouting at me because the discharge summary hasn’t been done for patient ‘x’ yet, and I haven’t contacted the GP to find out ‘y’ piece of information! Good luck!