The Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos is the pre-clinical course where you learn the scientific theory behind medical practice. It is three years long and usually followed by three years of clinical studies, during which you have hospital placements and learn clinical skills. The course is broad and varied, with opportunity to specialise in aspects that interest you. There are two parts: Part I lasts two years is a medical course, and Part II is an ’option’ year when most medical students take one of the Natural Sciences courses, but it is possible to take other courses such as History of Art or Philosophy, with the permission of the Director of Studies.

The Course: First Year – Part IA

Functional Architecture of the Body (Anatomy)

The anatomy course is detailed and challenging, but you focus on the clinical applications of what you are learning. Dissection is the most important part of the teaching and is a wonderful opportunity to really understand how our bodies are built. It is important to keep up with the course by committing the anatomy you learn each week to memory, but the supervisor is very helpful and makes sure that you keep up. The course also includes embryology.

Homeostasis (Physiology)

This course has lots of clinical relevance and is interesting to study. Material is taught through lectures and tested in practical classes, which are excellent for developing problem solving. These classes are tough, but are meant to get students to apply the knowledge they have and to really think about experimental technique. Histology is also part of this course and is easy once you get used to using microscopes and start recognising patterns in tissue slides.

Molecules in Medical Science (Biochemistry)

This is a varied course, covering topics including protein structure, metabolic processes, and genetics. It is probably the most conceptually difficult because it studied in depth. As well as lectures and practicals there are Problem Solving Exercises and Bioinformatic classes. These aren’t very exciting or interesting but there are only three of them, and they are an opportunity for group work and research into clinically relevant topics.

Introduction to the Scientific Basis of medicine (Statistics) and Social Context of Health and Illness

These are short courses examined at the end of Lent term but a multiple-choice paper. They are straightforward, well supervised, and you get to meet patients in lectures who talk about their experiences with medical professionals.

Preparing for Patients

You visit a GP clinic once a term in first year and a hospital for a few days in second year, then write a short piece of coursework based on your experience, demonstrating communication skills.

The Course: Second Year – Part IB

Neuroscience and Human Behaviour

There is a lot of material to learn: the sensory and motor systems, higher cognitive functions, psychopathology, and neuropharmacology. Luckily there are two supervisors, one for the neuroanatomy and the other for the neuroscience concepts. It is a well taught through lectures and anatomy classes where you can use scans, models, and human brain specimens to further your understanding.

Mechanisms of Drug Action (Pharmacology)

This is another course with a lot of material: drug names. But the same way you get through anatomy in first year, you just have to learn as you go along. There are some calculations to get to grips with, but your supervisor should go through them until you are confident.

Biology of Disease (Pathology)

The different aspects are taught separately; including virology, bacteriology, mycology (fungi), parasitology, atherosclerosis, and cancer. It is well taught through lectures and practicals, where you learn histopathology and how to identify bacteria on agar plates. It is very well supervised in Peterhouse, and a lot of fun.

Human Reproduction

This course involves everything from development of gametes to progression of labour. Also included are lectures on endocrinology, ethics, law, and demography. There are two supervisors covering the different aspects and a very good textbook that covers everything, so this is straightforward to learn.

Special Options

Students can specialise at the end of second year. You choose one option for List 1 (Clinical and Applied Physiology, Infectious Diseases and Host-Pathogen Interactions, Experimental Psychology, and Janus Drugs) and one option from List 2 (Developmental Biology, Man Molecules and the Environment, Sensorimotor Neurobiology, and Tumour Biology). It is examined by an essay paper, and is a chance to study a subject you might consider taking in third year.

How the course is taught

With all this to do there are a lot of contact hours. 2-4 hours a day are spent in lectures, 6-10 hours a week in practicals, and you have around 4 supervisions each week meaning you write 2 essays a week on average and spend some time learning the material from lectures, reading textbooks, or writing practical reports. Still, most medical students find time for sports, music, and socialising. Exams are multiple-choice, short-answer and essay questions (essays are actually very important). There is a ’steeplechase’ for anatomy, which involves identifying and describing structures on prosections.

Medicine at Peterhouse

The best thing about studying at Peterhouse is the clinical relevance we learn from our supervisors. Supervisors take you to wards in the hospital to learn about physiology and you even have a few supervisions with the Master of the college, Professor Dixon. The hardest thing about studying at Peterhouse is getting consistent advice about exam practice. From experience past papers aren’t as useful as people think, and essay planning is better, but I would suggest you speak to supervisors or older years about what YOU should be doing, and forget about what others are doing because everyone learns differently.

It’s a really exciting course, and useful – which is more than most undergraduates can say! Medical students are kind and helpful (obviously) and a lot of fun, so just ask if you are ever finding anything difficult. The best advice to an applicant is to read things that interest you in magazines or on websites, and practice analysing them for reliability and relevance to scientific discovery. Best of luck!

Hannah Laidley, 2013