Non-traditional routes to medical school: BSc (Hons) Medical Sciences

When most people think of medicine, they have the idea of a standard five-year course at a medical school and at the end of it they’re doctors… easy right? wrong. Medical applications are currently at one of the highest they’ve been yet the number of spaces available have remained the same, so what happens to all those other students? As previously mentioned, my entrance to medicine was for what of a better word, non-traditional… but I believe it is those experiences which will make me the doctor I want to become. In recent years, we have seen the National Health Service becoming more and more strained, not enough GPs, not enough hours in the day to treat and a large bed and resources shortage. Traditionally, many would view medicine as a vocation for males and the family route meaning, if his father was a doctor and his father was a doctor… you too shall be a doctor. However, this isn’t the case anymore, females in medicine are at an all-time high and within the medical community there have been great efforts to widen access to medicine to those from non-traditional backgrounds… this is where I come in.

My undergraduate degree is BSc (Hons) Medical Sciences which I undertook at the University of South Wales. It is essentially a biochemical degree with a large clinical aspect that feeds into postgraduate medicine at Cardiff University. It was the first of now four feeder schemes into the program where the top students from each of the four individual degrees are selected and put through an application process and if successful join the second year of the five-year A100 course, otherwise known to postgrads as the A101 postgraduate medicine feeder scheme.

Medical Sciences is designed for those who want to pursue medicine however, may have fallen slightly short of the entry requirements or like me you’ve come from a different background completely but always wanted to opportunity to become a doctor. On this course, you are delivered an exceptionally high standard of not only clinical modules including hospital placements, but an array of biomedical, physiological and cellular modules. I found myself so mentally stimulated on this course and through the diverse modules I found my main passions to be, pathology and pathophysiology. In year one you enter into a small cohort and are instantly thrown into the big scary world of anatomy, having bones and muscles coming at you left, right and centre. You learn how all the systems of the body communicate and how overall, they allow us to carry out our day to day activities. Also during this year, you get to look in depth at different diseases and how they affect the human body and what needs to be done to correct this… if possible. Alongside your standard cellular and biochemistry modules.

Second year was my favourite year, during which you look closely at the physiological state of different systems of the body such as renal and cardiopulmonary. The course has also in the last year switched over to case base learning to ensure the students are fully prepared for this teaching style when transferring to medicine. It was during my second year that I found a true passion for medicine and advanced my skills in linking how disorders initiate a cascade of events within the body and as clinicians our role is to understand, diagnose and intercept.

Third year to me began and ended in what I can only describe as a fast blur. From the summer, we studied relentlessly for our GAMSAT examination to then beginning applications when returning to uni, to then go through the process of submissions, interviews and eventually gaining our offers all while undertaking modules in tropical medicine, biochemistry, pharmacology plus many more. It was during this year I had the incredible opportunity to also undertake a human dissection module carried out through our partnership with Cardiff Medical School. The aim of the dissection was to carry out essentially a pathology report which would become our dissertation but at the same time, understand and learn true anatomy. We may learn a lot from textbooks but nothing truly prepares and educates you on anatomy as well as a human cadaveric dissection.

Throughout my time at USW, I had so many opportunities as a student such as being a student ambassador for my course and the uni itself which led me to becoming an official university blogger. Also, being a mentor to new students to help their integration onto the course. With the help of two friends we created the Medical Preparation Society aimed at helping those with the aim of postgraduate medicine enhance their clinical skills and aid in their applications to ensure they had the best chance of acceptance. Through this we carry out workshops, exam and OSCE mocks and overall, we built a community built on helping one another to be the best medic we can be.

This degree is not for those who are unsure about their future, we were pushed to no ends, we were mentally drained sometimes just hoping for a break but that’s not going to get us anywhere. We were pushed yes, but we pushed right back. We worked so hard and pushed boundaries to learn more and become more. I absolutely loved my time on the course, between the diverse modules and the inspiring lecturers who presented them, I can without a doubt owe my medical education to them. Without this course, I would not be the second-year medical student I am today and yes it was a hard course… but its medicine, we didn’t choose it because it was going to be easy, we chose it because it’s who we want to be.

Sophie Simmonds
Cardiff, Wales


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Elliot is a St George’s graduate currently working as an F1 Doctor in East London. As the first in his family to apply to university, Elliot is well aware of the barriers that can be faced in trying to get to medical school. He is passionate about widening access to medicine for underrepresented groups.
 He was the representative for St George’s on the BMA Medical Students Committee, and has done lots of work with local schools and colleges to raise awareness of medicine as a career, as well as working on admissions policies with the widening participation team St George’s. Elliot is part of the @BecomingaDr outreach team and National Health Careers Conference Team.