Medicine
X-ray image of the brain computed tomography.
(Image credit: Shutterstock).

Medicine

The practice of Medicine offers a breadth of experiences that it is impossible to find in any other subject. Every day brings different patients with different needs. It’s a great choice for scientists who strive to understand and apply research findings to improve the lives of the patients in their care. It offers a meaningful career that is prestigious, secure and relatively well paid. However, practising Medicine can be arduous, stressful, frustrating and bureaucratic and it’s not suited to everyone. You need to be sure that Medicine is the right choice for you. These pages will help you work that out, but there’s no better way to find out for sure than by gaining insight of medical practice by seeing it in action and talking to those who provide healthcare. Studying Medicine because that is what is expected of you is never a good idea: make sure that your motives for choosing to do so are well reasoned.

Medicine at Oxford

Medicine has been studied at Oxford from as early as the 14th century, although a Clinical School was established as recently as 1936 by a benefaction from Lord Nuffield for postgraduate teaching and research. Clinical student training started during the Second World War when medical students were evacuated from London. Today, the Medicine course at Oxford provides a well-rounded intellectual training with particular emphasis on the basic science research that underpins medicine. We have retained a distinct three-year pre-clinical stage that includes studying towards a BA Honours degree in Medical Sciences, followed by a three-year clinical stage.

Although the Medical School at Oxford has expanded in recent times, it remains relatively small, allowing students and staff to get to know one another and benefit from a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

Careers

From becoming a GP to training as a brain surgeon, a vast array of speciality training pathways is available after obtaining a medical qualification, ranging from anaesthesia or emergency medicine through obstetrics or ophthalmology to paediatrics or psychiatry.

Of course, you need not remain confined to the surgery or the operating theatre: the lecture theatre or the laboratory could also beckon. Some of our graduates end up leading the education of the next generation of doctors or directing biomedical research. You don’t need to know right now what you want to do when you qualify: the Medical School organises careers sessions for final-year clinical students and helps students learn about and apply for foundation house officer posts.

BM BCh graduates are entitled to provisional registration with the General Medical Council (GMC) with a licence to practise, subject to demonstrating to the GMC that their fitness to practise is not impaired.

Brad, who graduated in 2004, currently works as a Forensic Psychiatrist with mentally disordered offenders at Broadmoor high security psychiatric hospital. Brad developed through tutorials at Oxford the strong academic knowledge base and confidence to challenge ‘received wisdom’. This has allowed him to diversify his clinical career to include roles in leadership and innovation in the NHS.

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Biomedical Sciences, Biological Sciences, Human Sciences or Chemistry.

The standard course (A100)

We have retained a course with distinct pre-clinical and clinical sections that includes studying towards a BA Honours degree in Medical Sciences.

Applicants are initially admitted to the pre-clinical section of the course. Entry to the Oxford Clinical School is competitive; however, currently a joint admissions scheme (under review) is in place with the Universities of Cambridge and London to ensure that all suitably qualified Oxford pre-clinical students will be allocated a clinical school place within the scheme. The majority of students continue their clinical training in Oxford. Upon successful completion of clinical training and the award of the BM BCh degree, subsequent years are spent on Foundation and Specialist Training programmes.

The Pre-clinical stage

The first five terms of this course are devoted to the ‘First BM’ (the 'First Examination for the Degree of the bachelor of Medicine and Surgery'). This addresses not only much of the science that underpins Medicine, but also the clinical problems that arise when systems fail. Students are introduced to the major systems of the body and study all aspects of their structure and function in health and also the principles of disease processes. Students are encouraged to develop an enquiring approach and to consider the experimental basis of the science in the course. Matters of clinical relevance are illustrated from the outset. There are clinical demonstrations in hospitals, and students make regular visits to GP tutors.

The First BM is followed by a four-term BA Honours course (the ‘Final Honour School’) in Medical Sciences. Students specialise in an area of biomedical science selected from one of five options. They will become fully accustomed to working from research papers and primary sources in the literature, and will be encouraged to think both critically and creatively. Students will gain in-depth knowledge of their chosen option, and will improve their technical ability both at the bench and in the use of electronic resources to handle and present experimental results and to search scientific databases.

The Principles of Clinical Anatomy course, delivered at the end of the third year, is designed to teach students clinically relevant aspects of anatomy that will be of immediate use in their clinical years. This is compulsory for students progressing to clinical training at Oxford or elsewhere, but does not impact on the degree classification obtained for the BA in Medical Sciences.

Teaching methods and study support

During the pre-clinical stage of the course, the college tutorial system is a central feature: students see their tutors and are taught weekly in groups often as small as two. This teaching can be tailored to individuals’ needs and interests. Most University lectures, seminars and practical classes take place in the Medical Sciences Teaching Centre in the Science Area. Lecturers are drawn from Oxford’s extensive pre-clinical and clinical departments, all of which have international reputations for excellence in research, and the courses are organised on an interdisciplinary basis so as to emphasise the interrelatedness of all aspects of the curriculum.

Research work

In addition to taking written and computer-based examinations, and submitting practical reports and an extended essay, students undertake a research project as part of their BA course. This will be in a field of interest to the student, and will offer valuable first-hand experience of scientific research. Students have the opportunity to undertake research in a laboratory from a wide range of departments within the University.

A typical weekly timetable

During the First BM, lectures and practicals occupy about half of the time, and the remainder is free for tutorial work, self-directed study and extra-curricular activities. During the BA course, formal lecturing is kept to a minimum, and students are mostly free to pursue their research and to prepare for tutorials and seminars. Strong academic support ensures that students manage their time effectively.

First BM Part 1 - Terms 1-3

Courses

  • Organisation of the body
  • Physiology and pharmacology
  • Biochemistry and medical genetics
  • Population health: Medical sociology
  • Patient and Doctor course

 Assessment

  • Three core knowledge computer-based assessments
  • Four written papers
  • Satisfactory practical record
First BM Part 2 - Terms 4 -6

Courses

  • Applied physiology and pharmacology
  • The nervous system
  • Principles of pathology
  • Psychology for medicine
  • Patient and Doctor course

Assessment

  • Three core knowledge computer-based assessments
  • Four written papers
  • Satisfactory practical record
Final Honour School in Medical Sciences - Terms 6–9

Courses

  • Option (one from: Neuroscience; Molecular medicine; Infection and immunity; Cardiovascular, renal and respiratory biology; Cellular physiology and pharmacology)
  • Research project
  • Extended essay
  • Principles of clinical anatomy

Assessment

  • Written papers
  • Submission of extended essay and research project write-up
  • Oral presentation of research project
  • Qualifying exam in Principles of clinical anatomy: computer-based assessment

To progress to clinical training, at the end of Term 9 students take:

Course

  • Principles of Clinical Anatomy

Assessment



  • Three computer-based assessments

Progress to Clinical training

In December of the third year, students must apply to be accepted by a clinical school. Currently a joint admissions scheme (under review) is in place with the Universities of Cambridge and London to ensure that all suitably qualified Oxford pre-clinical students will be allocated a clinical school place within the scheme. Of those who choose to apply to the Oxford Clinical School, about 85% have been successful in past years. The rest mostly go to London or to Cambridge. No student is guaranteed a place in Oxford, but there are sufficient places in the system to ensure that all qualified students will find a place for their clinical training. Upon completion of the clinical stage of the course, the subsequent years are spent on Foundation and Specialist Training programmes.

The standard course (A100)

A-levels: A*AA, in three A-levels taken in one academic year

Excluding Critical Thinking and General Studies. Candidates are required to have Chemistry (compulsory), plus Biology and/or Physics and/or Mathematics to full A-level.

AA in Advanced Highers (taken in one academic year) and AAAAA in Highers (taken in one academic year)

Applicants are required to offer Chemistry (compulsory) and at least one from Biology, Physics or Mathematics at Advanced Higher. 

IB: 39 (including core points) with 766 at HL

Candidates are required to take Chemistry and a second science (Biology or Physics) and/or Mathematics to Higher Level.

All candidates must also take the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) as part of their application. Please see how to apply for further details.

Subject combinations

Please note that we have no preference for whether the third or fourth A-level subject (or further subject in equivalent qualifications) is a science or not.

Other qualifications

Other national and international qualifications are also acceptable. Please see our website for further guidance. Any candidate in doubt as to their academic eligibility for this course is strongly encouraged to seek advice by emailing admissions@medschool.ox.ac.uk.

Level of attainment in Science and Mathematics

In order to be adequately equipped for the BMAT and for the academic demands of the course, and if Biology, Physics or Mathematics have not been taken to A-level (or equivalent), applicants will need to have received a basic education in those subjects (for example at least a grade C at GCSE, Intermediate 2 or Standard grade (Credit), or equivalent; the GCSE Dual Award Combined Sciences is also appropriate).

Graduates

Students with degrees may apply for the standard course. There are no places specifically reserved for graduates, and there is no separate application process. Graduates are in open competition with school-leavers, and need to fulfil the same entrance requirements.

The accelerated (graduate entry) course (A101)

Graduates in applied or experimental science subjects may be eligible to apply for the four-year accelerated course (UCAS code A101 BMBCh4). Further information about the graduate entry course, including details of eligibility and entrance requirements, can be found on the relevant section of the Medical School website.

All candidates

All candidates must also take the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) as part of their application. Please see how to apply for further details.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in how to apply. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

The standard course (A100)

How to apply

For details on how to apply please refer to how to apply. Please note the closing date for applications for all Medicine courses is 15 October 2014.

Written work 

You do not need to submit any written work when you apply for this course.

Written test 

All applicants must take the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) in their own school or college or approved test centre on 5 November 2014. The standard deadline for registration is 1 October 2014, and the final deadline for registration is 15 October 2014. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure they are registered for this test.

See www.bmat.org.uk for further details.

What are tutors looking for?

Please note that competition to study Medicine at Oxford is particularly strong and only around 425 applicants are shortlisted for interview each year.

Applicants are shortlisted for interview on the basis of BMAT test performance, prior academic record, and all other information on their application. No student is admitted without interview. Any overseas candidates for Medicine who are shortlisted will be expected to come to Oxford for interview in December. Students are selected for their scientific ability and for their aptitude for Medicine. Applicants are expected to show that they have a realistic understanding of what a medical career will involve, and that they have the potential to become effective and caring doctors. All colleges use a common set of selection criteria that relate to academic potential and suitability for Medicine.

Applicants are free to make reference to skills or experience acquired in any context to illustrate how they might fulfil the selection criteria; sometimes candidates refer to voluntary work and other extra–curricular activities, but many forms of evidence can help demonstrate to tutors that a candidate has made an informed decision regarding their own suitability to study Medicine.

Application conditions

Oxford conforms to the UK Department of Health’s requirements regarding immunisation status (hepatitis, BCG and rubella) and the GMC’s conditions on Fitness to Practise, and a satisfactory Disclosure and Barring Service check. Students may be refused entry to, or be removed from, the University’s Register of Medical Students on grounds that may be either academic or non-academic (for instance health or conduct). Applicants should be aware that some practical studies involving living animal tissue are an obligatory component of the course.

Progress to Clinical training

In December of the third year, students must apply to be accepted by a clinical school. A joint admissions scheme is in place with the Universities of Cambridge and London to ensure that all suitably qualified Oxford pre-clinical students will be allocated a clinical school place within the scheme. Of those who choose to apply to the Oxford Clinical School, about 85% have been successful in past years. The rest mostly go to London or to Cambridge. No student is guaranteed a place in Oxford, but there are sufficient places in the system to ensure that all qualified students will find a place for their Clinical training. Upon completion of the clinical stage of the course, the subsequent years are spent on Foundation and Specialist Training programmes.

Selection criteria

All colleges use a common set of selection criteria (see website) that relate to academic potential and suitability for medicine.

The accelerated (graduate entry) course (A101)

Graduates in applied or experimental science subjects may be eligible to apply for the four-year accelerated course (UCAS code A101 BMBCh4).

Further information about the graduate entry course, including details of eligibility, entrance requirements and the application procedure, can be found on the relevant section of the Medical School website. Please note the closing date for applications for all Medicine courses is 15 October 2014.

Applicants for this accelerated course will need to sit the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) on 5 November 2014. Please note that separate registration for this test is required and it is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for it. The standard deadline for registration is 1 October 2014, and the final deadline for registration is 15 October 2014. For information on how to register and specimen papers please see www.bmat.org.uk.

Application conditions for both medical courses

Oxford conforms to the UK Department of Health’s requirements regarding immunisation status (hepatitis, BCG and rubella) and the GMC’s conditions on Fitness to Practise, and a satisfactory Criminal Records Bureau disclosure. Students may be refused entry to, or be removed from, the University’s Register of Medical Students on grounds that may be either academic or non-academic (for instance health or conduct). Applicants should be aware that some practical studies involving living animal tissue are an obligatory component of the course.

Fitness to Practise advice and support:
General Medical Council

University of Oxford Occupational Health Service

Suggested reading

Prospective students for Medicine may like to start by looking at the introductory reading list below. You may also be interested in the Oxford Medical School Gazette, for more information about the Gazette and subscription offers for Sixth Form students please see their website.

Alex, 3rd year on the standard course (A100)

'I was attracted to the strong scientific grounding of the Oxford medical course. The Pre-clinical course enables you to gain in-depth knowledge of the science behind clinical practice while experiencing the primary scientific research that fuels medical progression. The first year encompasses organisation of the body and so includes dissection – an incredibly useful tool in learning anatomy! Being lectured by people who are world leaders in their field is awe-inspiring and gives an edge to my learning. I’m currently in my third year and love the freedom and self-direction of my research project. I am developing skills as a scientist which will be useful in clinical practice, while also getting to grips with topics that fascinate me. I’m doing an option called ‘Infection and immunity’, and love being able to trace current developments in the field and apply them to potential future therapeutic applications. There is also a clinical aspect provided by the doctor-patient course. I found this valuable in helping me to develop good communication skills, as I learnt how to take patient histories and interact with patients under the guidance of a practising GP.'

Gordon, who graduated in 2004

He now works in the field of biotechnology. He says:

‘Although I studied medicine as an undergraduate and qualified as a doctor in 2004, I have not remained working in clinical medicine in the NHS, instead building my career in small high-growth biotechnology companies in the UK, California, and France. My time as an undergraduate at Oxford was hugely influential in seizing interesting scientific and business opportunities well outside the boundaries of a typical medical career in the NHS.’

Joe, Medicine, who graduated in 2012

The most unexpected thing about my course:

'Writing essays. I wasn't expecting to be writing as many as I did (two or three a week) but find them a good way to solidify my knowledge.'

I wish they'd told me when I was applying to university...

'That tutorials are by far the most helpful thing and they are rare in universities around the country. Also, the number of opportunities that are available to you at Oxford.'

The best thing that Oxford did for me:

'Friends - the people here are amazing and you can have fascinating chats with them. Events are really fun in Oxford and they are often in venues that you know have so much history.'

My favourite Oxford memory is...

'Doing the charity Jailbreak event, when me and my friend hitchhiked from Oxford to Dover, Brighton and then back again.'

Rhys, Medicine, who graduated in 2013

The most unexpected thing about my course:

'I was surprised by how relaxed the tutors were. I was expecting tutorials to be official, scary and have a general feeling of impending doom about them! But practically straight away I found that my tutors were people I could easily talk to about anything at all, and they had absolutely no problem with me saying outright that I was clueless about certain topics. I've even had chocolates, cakes and wine during tutorials - supplied by my very tutors themselves!'

I wish they'd told me when I was applying to university...

'Well, in terms of Oxford I wish that I'd been told about how varied the people really are. Open days and interviews don't give an accurate representation, as the other students who are attending are always a bit more reserved than they would usually be. I was actually tempted to choose to go to UCL because I was extremely concerned that I would be too different to everyone at Oxford in terms of my sense of humour and general whimsicality to make any friends at all. Luckily, I chose Oxford and am so glad that I did because I couldn't imagine having better friends!'

The best thing that Oxford did for me:

'I'm a Moritz-Heyman Scholar, so probably that. Money has always been an ongoing problem throughout my life and no one really wants to ask when they need help. It's meant that I can afford to do everything that my peers are doing and experience Oxford to the fullest. Also, the scholarship requires me to undertake a level of voluntary work, which is great because it's forced me to look into the Oxford Hub, through which I've made more friends and had some really fun experiences.'

My favourite Oxford memory is...

'Oh gosh, there are so many... I would say nights out because I love experiencing the nightlife. But Medics' Dinner was amazing: a completely free, three-course meal with wine with all the other medics at my college and tutors.'

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college