Traditional Learning Medical Schools UK

Is a traditional learning Medical School right for me? The traditional learning Medical School approach is one of several formats of teaching at medical school. But what is traditional learning?

Author: Chloe Hewitt

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There are a number of different teaching methods offered at Medical Schools, understanding them is essential when applying. 

Traditional learning is an example of this, and when applied effectively students will develop a strong medical foundation.

What is traditional learning though, and which UK Medical Schools use it? 

What Is Traditional Learning?

A traditional Medicine course involves two or three years of pre-clinical study, followed by three clinical years. 

In traditional courses, you will learn the scientific theory first and then apply it in clinical settings later on in the course. 

Pre-Clinical Years:

In the pre-clinical years, you will focus on learning the scientific theory of Medicine and cover many different disciplines. You will be taught modules in distinct scientific fields, such as Physiology, Biochemistry and Anatomy. This is unique to traditional Medical Schools. 

The purpose of this is to provide high-quality education in clinically relevant biosciences leading to intellectually self-reliant graduates of the calibre sought by the profession. Additionally, it provides a stimulating and challenging learning environment where teaching is informed and enhanced by research to international standards of excellence. 

The intention is that at the end of the pre-clinical years, students should have the knowledge and understanding of the basic principles and processes of biomedical science. Most importantly, students will have begun to develop skills in oral and written communication and in learning through curiosity, and also develop skills in listening to and dealing with patients. 

If a student can exhibit this, they should be aware of the standards of competence, care, conduct and responsibilities expected of a member of the medical profession and successful progress into the clinical years.

Clinical Years:

The rest of the teaching takes place in clinical settings, such as ward rounds or GP placements. There may still be some lectures and tutorials at this stage, but they will be complementary to your clinical learning. 

The clinical years build on the foundation of knowledge and skills acquired during the pre-clinical years. Students will develop skills, knowledge and attitudes for effective clinical practice while maintaining a spirit of enquiry and critical thinking. 

Components chosen by the students, complement the core teaching allowing students to develop skills and knowledge in areas of particular interest. This allows them to explore career interests, and to build additional research, presentation and specialist clinical skills. 

The teaching and learning strategies of the course aim to support the development of self-directed learning styles appropriate for work-based lifelong learning. Throughout the six years of the Medicine course, students take progressively greater responsibility for directing their own learning. 

Clinical years support this transition by providing a mix of structure teaching sessions, supervised clinical experience and self-directed study. 

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What Medical Schools Use Traditional Learning?

Understanding traditional teaching is only part of the considerations, knowing what Medical Schools offer this approach is another. 

Only two Medical Schools in the UK use traditional learning, and it likely is not a surprise that it is Oxford and Cambridge. 

Cambridge offers a traditional six-year Medical degree, segregated into pre-clinical and clinical study. Course highlights include small group supervision, in which students can learn from eminent members of faculty and full cadaveric dissection. 

Pre-Clinical (Years One, Two, and Three):
The first three years are known as the ‘Tripos’, ultimately leading to a BA qualification. Major areas of study include ‘Biology of Disease’ and ‘Neurobiology and Human Behaviour’. Students specialise in a specific area in the third year of study, including core-scientific and non-core-scientific disciplines.

Clinical (Years Four, Five, and Six):
Years four, five, and six introduce students to clinical attachments. Each year starts with an introductory course, informing learning objectives for the academic term. Year four focuses on core clinical practice, while years five and six focus on specialist and applied clinical practice.

Oxford’s traditional Medicine programme is delivered over six years, with the first three years of the course culminating in a BA degree. Course highlights include the college tutorial system in which students are taught by faculty members in groups of two to four. 

Pre-Clinical (Years One, Two, and Three):
The first three years at Oxford are pre-clinical, focussing on the science that underpins medical practice. Modules include ‘Organisation of the Body’, ‘Physiology and Pharmacology’, and ‘Biochemistry and Medical Genetics’, among others. Teaching is delivered through a mixture of lectures, college tutorials, practicals, and self-directed study. From 2021 onwards, Oxford medical students will no longer be able to transfer to London medical schools to complete their clinical medical training.

Clinical (Years Four, Five, and Six):
Years four through six are taught in the Oxford University Hospitals NHS, with some teaching taking place in Northampton, Swindon, and Reading. Emphasis is placed on the use of evidence-based Medicine in patient care. Students are able to pursue areas of clinical interest in the last six months of the course with an elective, before commencing FY1.

What Are The Pros and Cons Of Traditional Learning?

 As with any teaching method, there will likely be advantages and disadvantages to it. So what are the pros and cons of traditional learning?

The Pros of Traditional Learning

The purpose of the traditional learning medical school style is to fully equip students with the academic knowledge behind medicine. This means that students are more likely to feel prepared for the knowledge behind medical pathology on entering clinical school.

Furthermore, traditional learning is carefully structured to ensure that students cover a broad and thorough range of the theoretical material of the medicine course. Compared to problem-based learning, where research into a clinical problem is student-led and thus may leave holes in certain aspects of a topic. However, the material for a traditional learning medical school approach is thoroughly covered by experts in the field.

Instead of just sitting in lectures, tutorials can feel very personal and are a great opportunity to quiz these experts on anything you want. There is lots of essay writing to be done in traditional courses so think about whether this is something you are okay with.

If you like and have a strong understanding of the science behind medicine, then a traditional learning Medical School course could well suit you. An advantage of learning all the science first is that you can have more confidence when dealing with medical issues in your clinical years.

The Cons of Traditional Learning

When wondering whether to choose a traditional learning Medical School, you must also think of the negatives as well as positives.

Due to the many different teaching methods, there has been a recent rise in the debate between Medical Schools that provide problem-based learning versus traditional learning. The Medical Schools that use traditional learning have a “hands-offapproach until later years of study. For students who would like a more integrated approach, this may make learning theory less engaging given that patient interactions aren’t until after the pre-clinical years. This is often a deciding factor considering working with patients is the reason people go into Medicine rather than other healthcare fields.

Learning the content of Medicine may also seem less appealing without a clinical context. In problem-based learning, the theory is learned after being presented with a clinical case, so it is possible to directly relate the knowledge learned to the work as a doctor.

Furthermore, whilst the traditional learning Medical School approach may suit more independent learners, the pre-clinical years may not foster the teamwork and communication skills that other teaching approaches such as problem-based learning do well in. You may struggle to carry out clinical skills because you haven’t been given the opportunity to practice.

Is traditional learning right for you?

Ultimately, the decision as to what Medical School learning approach is best for you is a personal one. Whilst other styles offer a greater scope for team-based research and seeing clinical correlates, the traditional learning Medical School approach offers an unprecedented depth and comprehensiveness to pre-clinical theory.

Whichever style you feel best suits you, be sure to take this into consideration when deciding which Medical Schools to apply for. Make sure you know what has drawn you to that teaching approach as you could even be asked what drew you to it in your Interview. 

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