The medical course at Cambridge has recently been extended to six years in line with broader changes in medical training across the country. You begin with three years of preclinicals, where you study the basic science underlying disease and its treatment, before moving on to do three years of clinical work where you will focus on disease diagnosis and management. Click on the links below to explore the course in more detail.
The Cambridge Course
In the preclinical years, there is a large emphasis on the scientific basis of a broad range of topics ranging from fine molecular detail (Biochemistry and Pharmacology), integrated function of organ systems (Physiology and Neurobiology), and overall body layout (Anatomy and Neuroanatomy). In contrast, most medical courses throughout the country have changed to a more integrated approach to patient interaction, centred around problem-based learning and patient-centred teching from year 1.
The common argument of the course’s critics that the study of basic science is largely irrelevant for patient diagnosis and management could only be true if there were established treatments for the majority of human diseases. However, this viewpoint is in stark contrast to the current situation in healthcare: there is a largely unmet need for improving management of a number of conditions, including neurodegenerative processes, cancer and autoimmunity. The future leaders of the profession will play a crucial role in improving our understanding of disease processes, as well as in testing and validating novel therapies before these become clinically available. The scientific understanding and rigour acquired before moving on to clinical work are indispensible qualities for the rapidly developing field of translational medicine. Furthermore, the MB / PhD programme offers the option for students wishing to pursue an academic career to integrate doctoral research within the clinical course.
When deciding whether to apply to Cambridge it is thus important to consider whether this course format suits your own personal interests and ambitions. If you are interested in the scientific basis of medicine, then you will find the course rewarding and stimulating; if not, you are unlikely to enjoy yourself reading medicine at Cambridge.
The Preclinical Years
Studying preclinical medicine at Cambridge consists of three equally important components: formal teaching (lectures and practicals), small-group teaching (supervisions) and independent work. During the first two years (Part IA and IB), each subject you study consists of, on average, three lectures, one practical and one supervision each week. This works out to approximately 20-25 hours of scheduled teaching each week, in addition to personal study.
Lectures introduce the material you need to cover, while practicals give you a chance to observe the scientific concepts you learn in action – comprehensive lecture and practical notes are usually provided. During supervisions, you have the chance to clarify any questions you may have with an expert in the subject field you are studying. Supervision group sizes range from 2-4 students, thus enabling you to receive individual feedback on your progress. In addition, your supervisor will set you work on a regular basis in order to prepare you for the summer exams.
In the first year you will study Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry, before moving on to Neurobiology, Pharmacology, Pathology and Reproductive Physiology in Part IB.
In year three, you can choose from a wide variety of subjects to study towards your final BA degree. Some students choose to take Natural Sciences, thus encompassing a research project in the laboratory, while others go for art options, such as History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) or languages. Since you will have secured a place in clinical school before the end of the year, your Part II subject selection is a purely personal choice.
Clinicals and the MB / PhD
With the recent expansion of the clinical school, now all medics stay on to do their clinicals in Cambridge. The new 3-year clinical course (divided into three stages) starts with an introduction to patient history-taking and examination, before moving on to attachments in individual specialties, and ending with final year attachments aimed towards overall integration and fluency. About one half of your time will be spent at district general hospitals within the East Anglia, where accommodation is provided.
Students on the MB / PhD programme leave the clinical course after Stage 1 to undertake a 3 year funded period of research in a subject and laboratory of their choice, before returning to finish the remainder of the clincial course. On average, about 5-10 students are admitted to the MB / PhD programme every year.