Year 1 Survival Guide
Preclinical graduate medicine is pretty tough, but very rewarding. For the year you will become a sponge for soaking up facts, some useful, some not. All necessary for the exams. The course is delivered as lectures, practicals and supervisions. Lectures should be read over beforehand, otherwise they can be difficult and tedious to follow. The same applies to practicals, particularly dissections (where you dissect your own cadaver to reveal the anatomy), otherwise you will waste your time. For those new to Cambridge, supervisions (equivalent to tutorials, if you are converts from Oxford) consist of small group based teaching to consolidate your lectures. They are a really good opportunity to ask your supervisor about any parts of the course you don’t understand.
There are three main topics in the first year; FAB, MIMS and HOM (more later). In addition, you also have ISBM and SCHI in the first couple of terms. ISBM (Introduction to the Scientific Basis of Medicine) is a set of lectures on basic medical statistics and epidemiology, whilst SCHI (Social Context of Health and Illness) comprises a set of lectures and seminars on Medical Sociology. Both are examined in March, ISBM with 15 MCQs (multiple choice questions) and SCHI with two essays. These are relatively straightforward; your big three are FAB, MIMS and HOM.
SCHI and ISBM:
To prepare properly for the SCHI essays, write a series of essay plans from previous past papers - the same topics pop up pretty much every year, so it's relatively easy to pre-write an essay and tweak it in the exam. Use the lecture hand-outs as a basis for detail, and ensure the college provides good supervisions. For ISBM, practise using the past paper questions, and just learn the content in the slides.
Molecules in Medicine (MIMS):
The MIMS course is perhaps the most difficult subject in the first year, and seems the most distant from medicine in terms of its content. The course is examined in two papers: an MCQ paper and a practical paper. The key to passing MIMS is to learn the handouts and slides inside-out, and to do as many past-papers as humanely possible. Try not to focus on textbooks too much, as all the MCQs derive from the handouts and slides - the following books are good for understanding however. Even as a medic, do not ignore the veterinary aspects of the genetics lecture course. The exam is common to both courses, and you will be asked a few odd questions on animal genetics ('how many X chromosomes does a platypus have?' for example. Recommended text books: Principles of Biochemistry (Voet, Voet, Pratt) is a good book for the whole of the course, but proves particularly useful for metabolism. Molecular Biology of the cell (Alberts) is most useful for signal transduction, translation and transcription.
HOM is really good fun, and also very useful. The exam has three components, with an overall pass mark between 60% and 70%. There are theory MCQs, histology MCQs and practical MCQs. Here is a bit on how to get through each component:
1) THEORY MCQS: HOM is one of the more conceptual parts of the course, so my advice would be to really make sure that you understand what is going on. This is best achieved by making good use of the supervisions. There is no real need to buy any textbooks, as the handouts are generally quite comprehensive. Don’t be put off by the start of the year either, the course begins with equilibrium potentials which is quite hard, but it gets better!
2) HISTOLOGY MCQs: to pass these you simply need to identify tissue from a slide or EM (electron microscope) image. You can buy the EM slides they use in the exam at the start of term, so just go through those and make sure you know them. There are some modules online ('CAL' modules) which contain all the information that you need. The department also give you a handbook at the start of term, which provides some more detail than the 'CAL' module.
3) PRACTICAL MCQs: for these you simply need to learn half a dozen equations, be able to interpret some figures, and understand the principles of the practicals you do throughout term. The best way to prepare is by doing lots of practice questions.
Functional Architecture of the Body (FAB):
FAB is really useful. There are weekly lectures and dissection/prosection sessions, during which you will learn the anatomy of the entire body besides the Head and Neck (head and neck anatomy is covered in second year). For dissection and prosections you will be provided with a folder of information called the "Dissection Manual" which you must learn from top to bottom. The exam is in the Easter (Summer) term. 33% of the marks are from MCQs, and 66% from the steeplechase, (where you walk around a room of cadaver sections and have to name the muscle/nerve/blood vessel and answer a question on it). The pass mark is normally around 70% for the two combined.
There are three top tips for passing anatomy: 1) Learn it as you go along: anatomy is far too massive to be learnt at the last minute. 2) There are plenty of textbooks and people have different preferences so look in your college library to find the one(s) that suit you best before buying. Examples include Gray's for Students, McMinn’s (lots of pictures of cadavers), Whitaker’s ‘Instant Anatomy’. There is also an app called Essential Anatomy (costs £16), which offers an interactive 3D Anatomy learning experience and is absolutely brilliant. 3) Watch: Acland DVDS. These are absolutely brilliant, and can be downloaded free from Moodle.