By Erin Bushe
Get the inside job (and how to prepare) – from a St Andrews Medical School Student with Edinburgh Transfer
Part of the joy of going off to university is experiencing the novelty and the changes, good or bad. However, that is not to say you cannot prepare yourselves for some of them! I went to St Andrews for three years and then transferred to Edinburgh Medical School. If you are not familiar with the St Andrews pathway, you complete a three year BSc in Medicine, before transferring to another medical school to complete a final three years of clinical placement. This can be one of: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Manchester or Barts. When applying to St Andrews, you have to choose between the Scottish or English pathway for you partner school, and then in your 2nd year of university you pick your choice. However, some partner schools are more competitive, so you are allocated based on your grades. There are positives and negatives to each partner school, but I will only discuss going from St Andrews to Edinburgh!
So, here are my top tips and hopefully helpful inside knowledge of St Andrews medical school.
Changing the way you study
Number one really has to be that you will need to work differently from school. I think this will be relevant no matter which medical school you choose. You cover a much greater volume of material in a much shorter space of time. Sometimes. it felt they would cover what would have been comparable to a whole module of Higher or Advanced higher in a single lecture. That means that you have to adapt your learning style to what is most efficient. It’s handy to know for St Andrews that everything you need to know for exams is on a lecture slide somewhere. I had never made flashcards before, but when I started university, I just transferred everything from the slides onto flashcards. This worked well for me, but might not for others!
The Academic Experience
From what I heard from friends at other medical schools, it seemed St Andrews was very academic with a particular emphasis on anatomy. You will get great teaching from St Andrews, some of which you wouldn’t get at other medical schools, but you might also have to work slightly harder. Also, if you are interested in surgery, it really is probably one of the best places in the country to study, as you will be dissecting cadavers from week one. The last thing I will mention about the work at St Andrews, is that you shouldn’t believe anything you hear about St Andrews not offering clinical experience! You are well taught in a wide range of clinical skills and have placements throughout. When I transferred to Edinburgh, it was clear that we had a lot more experience clinically.
Having Fun! (and time)
Having gone on about the intensity of the workload, it is also important to emphasise that you will also have time – and should – do other things than medicine in your life! It is very easy to get wrapped up in the medic bubble and to feel a bit overwhelmed by it all, especially initially, but St Andrews has so many societies and activities to offer. And you will have time! So, when you start university, don’t freak yourself out too much, join the societies you want to and make sure you set aside time to meet and make friends (they’ll be with you for life trust me). There is an exam pretty early on in semester one to make sure you are keeping up with material. So, I would advise just making sure you keep on top of work as you go along. If you let it build up it can threaten to overwhelm! So big lesson number two – make sure to have fun and not let work take over your life (but to do that make sure you keep up to date).
Next up is to appreciate the place. St Andrews is absolutely beautiful and despite it being small, there are so many places to explore. If you like big cities and anonymous streets and nightclubs, St Andrews is definitely not the place for you. If you like community and bumping into friends, then St Andrews is the place for you. It is super easy to see your friends all the time because they live so close, and a commute is a maximum fifteen minute walk, It’s unlike pretty much any other university. It’s unique setting and campus-like feel. There are so many fun traditions and things to do. Don’t keep to the same three streets and think there isn’t anything else to the town. If you do you are really missing out.
Leaving St Andrews
It’s probably clear that I had a really good time at St Andrews, and that made leaving very hard. It is both a great and really rubbish thing to have to transfer at the end of the three years. You have made such wonderful friends and had such a good time, that having to leave can be really difficult. Your medic friends are all going to different transfer schools and your non medic friends are staying at St Andrews. And you have to start again. It felt a bit like being the new kid at school when I started at Edinburgh. You know the St Andrews people who have also transferred, but you have to go out of your way and really try to find your place in your new medical school. It isn’t like freshers again, as you’re going straight into fourth year. Everyone already has their friendships groups. So that is probably the hardest thing, and the biggest downside of St Andrews.
However, there is a good side to it too! You do make new friends! And it is a new experience. I have loved my time at Edinburgh too, but it has just been different. It is a chance to do university again, start societies you had always wanted to but never got around to or do whatever. For example, I focused on sport in St Andrews, but then my focus changed in Edinburgh, where I have been heavily involved in the drama society. It is also quite refreshing being in a bigger city; more shops, pubs, restaurants. Slightly cheaper living than St Andrews… St Andrews has notoriously expensive rent. So big lesson number three (I think?) is to really throw yourself into your new university. Embrace the change and give it time to transition! Edinburgh is a good medical school and gives you a good breadth of clinical placements. You don’t always get the same level of teaching as St Andrews, but that is mainly reflective of the transition from pre-clinical to clinical years.
Initially you may also find yourself to be a little ahead of the Edinburgh students. They have just taken a year out to intercalate, whereas St Andrews students do clinical work alongside their dissertation. It is well known that St Andrews students tend to be ahead at this stage! They quickly catch up, but it does allow you to settle in without having to do too much work initially. I would also argue that as transitions between medical schools go, St Andrews-Edinburgh is probably the most fluid as Edinburgh is a full six-year degree, with a pre-clinical to clinical transition. Some of my friends who went to other medical schools have found the transition more difficult.
And lastly, Edinburgh is also a very beautiful city. I have been very lucky to study in two such beautiful places and would choose exactly the same route again if I had the choice. I would highly recommend! And hopefully I have given you a little appreciation of both St Andrews and Edinburgh medical school, and you can better inform your choice – or if you have already made it – go into St Andrews with a little more preparedness!