Aspiring doctor Emily talks about the value of hospital placements, case-based learning and human dissection

Emily Spencer - Medical Sciences student

Aspiring doctor Emily Spencer studied Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics at St Albans RC High School before coming to USW to study the Medical Sciences degree.

"My mum found the Medical Sciences course after I was unsuccessful in gaining a place to study undergraduate medicine.

I was sceptical at first as it meant another three years of study before I could apply for postgraduate medicine but three years on, I am so glad I chose Medical Sciences. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

During my time on the Medical Sciences course, I have developed a wealth of experience including clinical skills, manual handling and basic life support as well as experiencing hospital placements and case-based learning.

Hospital placements

My placements have been at Royal Glamorgan Hospital, mainly on respiratory wards, but I've also had the chance to observe various surgeries as well as shadow the anaesthetics team.

First year placements involve shadowing nurses which gives you an insight into how hospitals and multi-disciplinary teams work, as you clean, feed, observe and care for patients alongside the nursing team.

In your second year, you shadow a junior doctor in their everyday duties. I also got to take patient histories and take blood whilst accompanying the junior doctor and consultant on their ward rounds.

My hospital placements have allowed me to put my knowledge and skills into practice whilst experiencing many aspects of the role of a doctor such as working with other professionals, referring patients, venepuncture, ward rounds, interacting with patients and their families as well as prescribing.

What is case-based learning?

Case-based learning involves using scenarios that simulate real-life problems, usually divided into body systems such as the pulmonary or cardiovascular systems.

Small teams of students then break down, research and discuss each case with the class and lecturers, answering clinically-related questions and offering a potential diagnosis.

Case-based learning is a key part of the curriculum in many medical schools so being able to experience it at USW has been a real bonus.

I've found it an effective way to learn as it encourages self-directed learning whilst improving depth of knowledge and team working skills, all needed to succeed in postgraduate medicine.

Human dissection

This year, I was one of a few USW students selected to take part in the Human Dissection module at Cardiff University where I joined a small team of Cardiff's first year medics in performing a cadaveric dissection. 

Alongside improving my overall anatomical knowledge, I was also required to produce a pathology report - in this you discuss pathologies found in the donor, speculate on how life may have been like for them living with these pathologies as well as possible causes of death. I felt incredibly honoured to have such an opportunity through USW. 

Applying for graduate medicine

The Medical Science degree has has more than prepared me for graduate medicine. Not only have I got three years’ worth of knowledge and understanding of the human body and how it works but I have gained clinical skills, extracurricular opportunities and most importantly, friends and memories that will make it hard to leave University of South Wales.

I have now applied for postgraduate medicine and albeit daunting, if I get accepted, I will be starting my new journey fully equipped with the skills, knowledge and confidence I need to become Dr Spencer.