Medicine at Oxbridge – what is all the fuss about?

Everyone comes out with a medical degree, they specialise or generalise, and then essentially how good a doctor you become depends on your clinical experiences, your training and how hard you work – so what is the big deal about Oxbridge? This is a common question asked about people who choose to pursue their medical studies at either Oxford or Cambridge medical schools. Is it the glory? Is it the chance to spend time among these towering spires, is it because mum and dad really want to say that you go to Oxbridge?

Unsurprisingly, the human body is indeed the same in Oxford and Cambridge, as compared to Leeds, Peninsula or Cardiff, so what is the big fuss all about?

Everyone knows that Oxbridge preclinical degrees are supposedly more academic. Care to elaborate?

Well it really relates to the style and method of teaching, and the emphasis of what is learnt. As you go through medical school you will become ever more familiar with the term ‘first priciples.’ When presented with a clinical problem or when trying to decipher the mode of action of a drug, can you work backwards to the route of what is going on (admittedly this can be quite difficult when you are being quizzed by a leering gnarled consultant) or does all of your problem solving rely on rote? Whilst there is certainly a need to recall large amounts of information, in medicine your life can be made a lot easier if you master the art of clinical judgement.

Certainly at Oxford, we were encouraged to question, to understand what the background to some of the key medical discoveries in history were, and to focus on the theoretical basis. In the first 3 years however, this tranlates as a vast amounts of essays and tutorials based on you understanding of the physiology – it’s not for everyone.

Whilst the first 2 years are mostly an exercise in testing that you have the required amount of knowledge to pass go and enter into clinical school, in the third year you enter into the world of primary research and the experiments that have led to the foundations of our understanding. It is your chance to question the validity of the methods and assumptions used in the medical field, and one where you could have an influence on a small part of human knowledge. After all, Charles Best – of the Banting and Best Nobel prize winning duo that discovered insulin – was only a fresh faced 22 year old medical student when he made his contribution to Science, so who knows what you could achieve!

At Oxford, I felt that I was encouraged to pursue anything that I was interested in, and that the tutors were happy to put me in contact with the relevant leaders in that field if ever I showed an interest. In the 3rd year, I was given the opportunity to study the history of medicine, chemical pharmacology or biomedical engineering as an extra module, and there were always tutors who made themselves available and were happy to give an extra hour of their time to tutor you. I feel genuinely privileged to have had so many leading intellects at no further than an email away who were willing to impart what they knew. I feel that I developed immeasurably during my time at Oxford. I cannot speak for the other medical schools, but I feel very fortunate to have studied in such a dynamic, facilitating environment. It’s not for everyone, but it was for me!

Oli Arbuckle,

ST1 Doctor. Keble College, Oxford.

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