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An Overview of Bristol Medical School

This post was written by Caitlin Christie, a current 3rd year student at Bristol.

Course structure

At Bristol the standard MBChB degree is a five-year course, with the opportunity given to intercalate between your 3rd and 4th years of study. A combination of teaching methods is used at Bristol to provide a well-rounded yet thorough programme, with early clinical exposure, including a health care assistant (HCA) role in your first year.

First year

In your first 10 weeks, you will receive an introduction to the foundations of medicine, to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Following this, the concepts of Human Health and Well-being are covered for each system in the body, with two weeks on each system. Within the two weeks, lectures, workshops, case-based learning (CBL) tutorials, lab work and clinical skills teaching will be used to help you learn. CBL tutorials are a great way to discuss anything you don’t understand and relate the science to clinical situations. Furthermore, every two weeks you get an opportunity to practice what you have learnt on a GP placement.

Second year

The second year at Bristol has a similar structure to the first year, however you re-cover each system, learning what can go wrong. By revisiting each system in the body, it is a great way to reinforce what you already know from the first year. Placements continue which allow you to develop your practical skills and become more confident when speaking to patients. In the second year, you alternate every two weeks between being in a GP and attending one of the two hospitals in Bristol. This is great as you get a well-rounded clinical experience and become more familiar with a hospital setting.

Third, fourth and fifth year

In your last three years you spend most of your time in hospitals, circulating between different specialties, with the final year solely designed to prepare you for your foundation job. Bristol has eight different academies, and throughout your time studying, you will circulate between them, spending around four months at a time in each place. This means you get to experience time in both big, and smaller hospitals, in and outside of Bristol, learning different skills and having a variety of opportunities. Throughout these years you will continue to have a placement at the GP.

More detail…

Anatomy and Labs

In your first two years you will have integrated lab work including anatomy and biomedical lab work. In Bristol, prosection is used to teach anatomy, where the cadavers have already been dissected. This is a really helpful way to visualise the anatomy of what you are learning and understand how it works. However, dissection is not part of the course. The biomedical lab work is there to help develop skills such as performing ECGs and tests on urine samples, practising on each other before patients.


Placements in first and second year are largely day placements at the GP, and at one of the two hospital in Bristol. However, in your first 3 weeks of second year you will be put in one of the hospital academies, this could be one of the two hospitals in Bristol, or one of the six around Bristol. In these three weeks you get an opportunity to experience in-hospital teaching by clinical teaching fellows, greater hospital familiarisation, as well as experiencing living in hospital accommodation. This is a really good way to prepare for the clinical years!

In the clinical years you rotate around the different academies. Over the 3 years, you will usually get five different hospital placements, two of which will be in Bristol. During your time in academies student usually stay in hospital accommodation, this can seem intimidating, however it’s a great way to meet new people. Also, there’s a real advantage of being placed on out-placement in smaller hospitals, as you often get really good teaching and opportunities, such as scrubbing in during surgery.


In first year, all students undertake three health care assistant shifts at the one of the two hospitals in Bristol. This again is a great way to familiarise yourself with ward layout and timings etc and appreciate the other roles of other members in a patient’s team of carers. It is also a really good way to boost your confidence speaking to patients, as this can be new to lots of people. Furthermore, in the first couple of years you will days with workshops for inter-professional leaning with students from with nursing, pharmacy and physiotherapy students.

Research and presentations

Throughout your first three years you will do a student selected choice component. These components involve clinical placement, essay writing and presentations. Within them there are opportunities to get your work published and get involved with areas of medicine that you are really interested in. For example I did a project on homeless health for women in my third year which I found very interesting and different from the usual things we learn. Furthermore, in your second and third year there are opportunities to go abroad to do these projects!

Tips for the Bristol (and generally all med schools really) interview:

  • Talk about experiences that you have had! These don’t need to be experiences in hospitals but just anything that helped you realise why you were interested in medicine. Anecdotes are great as they tell the interviewer that you haven’t learnt generic answers and allow the interviewer to get to know you.

  • If you don’t understand something in the interview, don’t worry. Remember you can ask the person at the station, it’s normal to ask for help when you are stuck! Or if the question catches you off guard, just take a minute, they will expect you to think on your feet but not to have an answer prepared for every question.

  • Try to smile, always nice to seem approachable yourself.

  • At Bristol, some interviewers might not give you a lot back, but they may have been briefed to do this, so try not to let it put you off.

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