[Day In The Life] Cambridge Medicine Student

Have you ever wondered what it is like to study Medicine at Cambridge? Graduate Francis Dyer, talks us through daily life throughout pre-clinical and clinical years.

Last Updated: 2nd February 2015

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Are you curious to know what it is like to study Medicine at Cambridge?

The excitement and anticipation that fills you whilst applying for Medical School is only matched by the question of what is life actually like whilst studying Medicine?

Graduate Francis Dyer talks us through what life as a Medicine student at Cambridge is really like. 

Life as a cambridge medicine student

At Cambridge, Medicine is taught using the traditional learning method. This means the course involves three years of pre-clinical study, followed by three clinical years. 

This method meant that when I started my clinical years I had a strong understanding of scientific theory which I then applied to real-life scenarios. 

I felt this teaching method worked really well for me, particularly the supervisions and getting to do full cadaveric dissection. 

From this, I feel it gave me more confidence when dealing with medical issues in my clinical years. 

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Cambridge Medicine: Pre-Clinical Years

It is important to consider just how different life is when in pre-clinical years and the clinical years. Read on for an idea of what a day in my life was like during pre-clinical study.

7:45 AM

Jump out of bed ready to start the day – and by that, I mean repeatedly snooze my alarm clock at 9-minute intervals wondering sleepily whether I can get away with skipping breakfast – which one days where I have dissection, this would be a very bad idea…

8:20 AM

Time to quickly read over today’s lectures so I have an idea of what’s going on and can follow them better… or wait for the slides to load on my phone while pouring myself some cereal one-handed.

9 AM

Lectures get notoriously cliquey pretty early on in the year. There are the college/society groups spotted with their identical hoodies in packs, the front-row kids and those hiding in the corners right at the back (I mean can they even see the slides?)

Take a look through our collection of Day In The Life articles for more insight into university life:

10 AM

Two hours of bonding time with your small dissection groups over a cadaver. Possibly a measure of internal desires to become a surgeon and/or pathologist, but there’s usually the one or two that will whip out their scalpels and get right in there while everyone else watches/stands back warily. Dubious food analogies and “is that a tendon or a vein…?” doubts aside, these sessions are really useful for getting to grips with anatomy and not to mention invaluable for the anatomy exams at the end of the year. Just make sure you’ve had a look at the session before (the supervisors WILL grill you) and that you’ve had a good breakfast – for some reason, dissection tends to make you peckish… 

12 PM

More lectures…

1 PM

Pop back to college for some lunch in the hall, a nice reprieve in the middle of the day to actually chat to some non-medics. 

University of Cambridge Exterior

2 PM

And it’s back to work! Two-hour physiology practical this time – usually involving mars bars, exercise bikes and frogs legs, these can be a lot of fun and a great way to learn about physiology in a hands-on way. Just expect to spend a lot of time gaining a glimpse into what being a clinical student is like – spending far too long analysing that little notch in your ECG and wondering if you have some kind of lifelong underlying cardiac pathology that no one has ever told you about and whether you should really get that checked out or not, and comparing your exercise tolerance with that of the general population and being a little concerned (or was that just me?)

4 PM

More lectures…

5 PM

Pre-supervision lecture note cramming while attempting to eat some less-than-nourishing dinner 

6 PM

Excitement for supervisions can vary depending on your supervisor and your relationship with them, but they are undeniably an excellent way to keep track of your lectures, keep learning and make sure you know how to write essays before exam term hits. As you’re only in groups of about 2-5, there isn’t really anywhere to hide, so working that bit harder on an essay or flicking through the relevant lectures beforehand is a sure-fire way to make you feel that little bit smug when you get a “well done!” from your supervisor.

8 PM

Finally back to my room after being waylaid chatting to the folks on my corridor for a bit, and it’s time to make a start on that essay! But they did mention a group of them were heading down to the college bar in a bit, maybe I could just pop down for an hour or so…

3 AM

… time to sleep I guess.

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Cambridge Medicine: Clinical Years

Once I started my clinical years, I longed for the day-to-day life that the pre-clinical years brought. The routine and structured nature of it is so different to the ever-changing world of medicine. 

Though no two days would ever be the same, this is roughly what a day would look like. 

8 AM

Hospital life starts a lot earlier than student life, especially if you’re on a surgical placement (medics usually start at 9) and especially if you’re more than a five minute walk away. Rocking up to the morning ward round and introducing yourself to the team is essential at the start of the placement – and the deep-seated terror of the consultant asking you to recall a fact from first year physiology is almost worth it when you get it right. Almost.

This is usually inevitably followed by awkward shadowing time watching the junior doctor doing paperwork because I’m too polite to ask if I can leave. Oh, that’s another thing you learn in clinical school – doctors spend a lot of their day doing paperwork. When they’re not saving lives, of course.

10 AM

At Cambridge, there’s a lot of focus early on around taking histories from patients and examining them. This means you spend a lot of time wandering around the wards searching for patients that:

This is a lot harder than it sounds. But on the whole, patients will love to talk to you – as a medical student, you’re one of the few people in the hospital that can spend a long time with them listening to their story. Make the most of it and you’ll learn loads without even having to open a textbook. And it is so exciting when you hear a new murmur or feel an organ – especially if you spot it!

12 PM


1:30 PM

What you end up doing during your placement all depends on what speciality you’re attached to.

  • You might be in clinic, which is great for a rapid turnover of patients with all kinds of signs and getting some one-on-one teaching with the doctor.
  • Surgery can be lots of fun, especially if you get to scrub in and actually assist with the operation (the novelty hasn’t worn off yet)!! Make the most of your time by asking questions and being engaged, there’s no point standing in the corner trying to hover over the surgeon’s shoulder. If you can’t see anything, ask for a stool…
  • And of course, there’s loads of teaching to cover – you’re still at university after all. This could be lectures, seminars, or practical skills sessions. Skills include taking blood, cannulas, and all sorts – and yes, you’ll do most of them on each other. It’s all about empathy!

5 PM

The end of the working day and hence the end of your day. Clinical school is more flexible than in your undergraduate years, so it’s really up to you how you structure your day in order to make the most of it. Try and follow up what you’ve seen at the hospital with some bookwork in the evenings to really consolidate it and make a bit of a dent in the massive clinical medicine textbook you’ll acquire. Finally putting everything you’ve learnt and applying it to real patients is what you’re here for – so enjoy it!

Due to the fiercely competitive nature of some specialities like surgery, lots of clinical medics do extra things like completing teach the teacher courses to make themselves stand out.

10 PM

Nights out can be harder to get away with when you have to be on the wards early in the morning… on the plus side, you’ll get your evenings and weekends all to yourself now! And there’s so much to get involved with at clinical school, too. 

Final Thoughts Of a Cambridge Medicine Student

I hope I have been able to provide you with some valuable insights into what life is like as a Cambridge Medicine student. 

It is a lot of work and a long journey, but it is so incredibly rewarding when you get to the end of it. All those years of study and clinical time will be more than worth it. 

I’ve changed a lot. Had lots of new and exciting experiences. It can be very tough, and it will stretch you, but ultimately I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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