Medical school open days are an amazing tool that you can utilise as a prospective medical student to decide which universities will be the right fit for you. Since you can only apply to 4 medical schools, it is important to consider different aspects of each university when applying, such as the location, environment and social scene, as well as the course structure and opportunities. This article is going to contain a few important questions you should be thinking about when approaching your medical school open days.
Location is something that can be very important when applying to medical school. Each person will have different opinions on the location of the university they wish to attend. They may wish to stay close to home or move out. They may want to stay in a large city or go somewhere quieter or more scenic. They may want somewhere more affordable or somewhere with plenty of things to do. It's important to have a think about your priorities and ask questions about the location during your open day- is it affordable to live here? Is there good access to transport here? Am I able to drive or cycle easily in this area? Are there good food places and things to do in this area? What's the night life like?
When you go to a medical school open day, look at the surrounding area outside the campus as this is where you'll be living for the next few years.
When talking about environment, I think it is important to assess not only the environment of the medical school itself but also of the rest of the university. Is the university a campus university or does it have different campuses across the area? Is the medical school separate from the rest of the university, and therefore will you be able to easily meet and make friends with non-medical students. What types of societies and opportunities are available to students? Are there places where you can relax and sit back with friends? Do they have spaces available inside and outside to spend time or have lunch? What does the library look like, and is it open 24/7?
It's not that these are all deal breaking questions, however asking these questions will help you get a good idea of the feel of the university and whether it feels right for you.
If you want to live away from home during your time at medical school, it is important you find out about the accommodation that the university has to offer. It would be a good idea to tour the different accommodations surrounding the university to see their proximity to campus, the types of rooms, whether they are catered or not catered, if en-suite rooms are provided and the amenities offered. This will help narrow down accommodation options based on what is important to you. Some questions to ask would be how much rent you would be paying each week, circuit laundry prices and proximity to local supermarkets and transport services. It is always worthwhile talking to students from that university to see which accommodation blocks they recommend if any.
Whether you opt for university accommodation or finding a flat for yourself, you should still be asking yourself these same questions. Living alone at this point might be new to you, so it's important to identify what is important to you.
This is probably the best way you can learn more about a university as you will get an honest opinion from someone who is currently studying the course. By talking to a current student, you can get a good idea of workload, social life, and how the year progresses as you approach exam season. You can discuss how the years progress, the pros and cons of the curriculum, how placements are organised and which hospitals the university is associated with. You can get a good idea about what the teaching is like at the university and whether it suits you. It's also worth talking about the range of societies on offer, the social life and different opportunities available to students, and how easily accessible these all are.
If you know you want to attend a university that naturally offers an easier work-life balance and you want to get involved in things outside of medicine, it's important you ask these questions to gauge the intensity of the course and the opportunities on offer.
Asking questions about the course directly to staff at the medical school on open days will give you a clear idea of how the medical school approaches education. It is important to determine whether the learning style is right for you- many medical schools now approach the curriculum with a problem-based learning approach which may suit some, but others may prefer a much more traditional course structure. Finding out how the course is delivered and how time is split between lectures, workshops, placements and other practical activities (e.g. dissections, histology) is something that may be helpful in envisaging whether you want to choose this medical school as one of your four options.
Another aspect to consider will be how much patient contact you have. Some people prefer when the course is split into pre-clinical and clinical years with no clinical content in the first few years, but others want patient contact from the beginning. Along with learning about the frequency of placements, finding out about the hospitals you have placements at will also be good to be aware of.
Medical schools offer the opportunity to intercalate. We have a comprehensive blog about this here - but if there is a subject you really want to intercalate in, it is worth asking questions about which courses your university has on offer, and/or whether they are happy for you to go to a different university to study for the intercalation year. You don't want to get to your intercalation year and realise that your university doesn't offer the course you want, and doesn't allow you to apply elsewhere for it. Whilst it is quite far ahead into the future, it's definitely something worth thinking about.
Author: Fateha Khawaja
Editor: Dr Latifa Haque