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What It’s Like Studying Medicine at UNSW

UNSW Medicine - Fact Sheet

If you’ve clicked on this article, you are most likely an ambitious person; a knowledge-seeker who wants to learn as much as they possibly can. If your goal is to help others, whilst tackling the complex issues in the medical industry, then UNSW Medicine could be your degree.

It may be a long haul, but the benefits are oh-so rewarding. To help you figure out if you really want to study Medicine at UNSW, we’ve packaged the essential info about the degree into this article.

Let’s take a look!

What is a Bachelor of Medical Studies/Doctor of Medicine at UNSW?
Core Units for this Degree
How to Get into Medicine at UNSW
What’s the Teaching Format?
What’s the Faculty and Culture Like?

What is a Bachelor of Medical Studies/Doctor of Medicine at UNSW?

A Bachelor of Medical Studies/Doctor of Medicine at UNSW is a six-year full-time degree that will give students the opportunity to learn in hospitals and within UNSW’s Clinical Skills Centre. This double-degree course combines both an undergraduate Bachelor of Medical Studies (BMed) and a Doctor of Medicine (MD).

UNSW Medicine - Quote

As UNSW is one of the few universities that offer an undergraduate level Medicine degree with a path to complete a Doctor of Medicine, it is not a surprise that this course is the most popular choice for NSW high school graduates.

Throughout your medical studies, you’ll learn the basic medical sciences in relation to the human life cycle, experience clinical or other health-related environments through clinical transition courses, understand the social, ethical and legal issues within healthcare and complete an independent learning project or a one-year honours program in your fourth year if eligible.

This degree is jam-packed and you’ll be walking out with all the tools to become a successful and knowledgeable healthcare professional (even though you are always still learning and growing throughout your career!).

Career Paths

Graduates of this degree are able to embark on a wide range of rewarding career paths. Some exciting roles in the medical industry that the degree can prepare you for include:

  • General practice
  • Specialty practice
  • Paediatrics
  • General surgery
  • Pathology
  • Radiology
  • Psychiatry
  • Obstetrics and gynaecology
  • Infectious diseases
  • Medical research
  • Health policy

The medicine field is actually quite broad, even though you might think a doctor is a doctor. There are many avenues that you can pursue. You can become a surgeon in the surgery field or become a physician and specialise in an aspect of the body e.g. gynaecologist.

“Or, you could do something more general and be a GP in the community or become a psychiatrist if you’re into mental health. You could also enjoy being in a university and want to become a clinical academic and professor.” — Eshwar Umashankar

Core Units for this Degree

The Bachelor of Medical Studies/Doctor of Medicine is an integrated degree that is divided into two parts: BMed and MD. 

Bachelor of Medical Studies (BMed)

The BMed is divided into Phase 1 and Phase 2 learning. 

Phase 1 begins with a compulsory Foundations course, followed by 7 x 8-week courses. These courses focus on the human life cycle, issues related to healthcare and clinical experience.

During this phase, students will also be able to work collaboratively in small groups with students from different stages of the program. Core courses include, Foundations, Beginnings, Growth and Development, Health Maintenance, Ageing and Endings, and Society and Health.

Phase 2 consists of 2 x 16-week courses. This phase emphasises the correlation between prior and current learning and has an increased amount of clinical content. 

Fourth Year

Students will need to complete either an Independent Learning Project (ILP) followed by a clinical transition course OR an Honours program, if eligible. This year will give students the opportunity to engage in meaningful and impactful research.

The projects will equip you with the skills and knowledge to prepare you to become a change leader in health. If you are completing an ILP, you should also complete 12 units of credit of General Education courses in a faculty other than Medicine.

If you have achieved a high standard in your BMed, you can undertake a one-year Honours program, where you will complete a supervised research project. Those who get accepted into the Honours program do not need to do the ILP. 

Doctor of Medicine (MD)

The MD includes Phase 3, which consists of 10 x 8-week courses that focus on clinical work whilst incorporating relevant content from the basic medical sciences. 

Now, the Doctor of Medicine is the fun part. It’s the time that you decide which specialities interest you and what medical path you want to walk down. Students must complete a course in the disciplines of Internal Medicine, Surgery, Psychiatry, Primary Care, Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Children’s Health (Paediatrics).

You will also need to choose from a range of other clinical modules. In terms of clinical experience during this third phase, this degree really gives you a broad spectrum to help you envision what you want your future to look like.

For instance, you will need to undertake a minimum of 4 weeks in a rural location! During placements, you will adopt the principles of clinical clerkship whereby you will be a part of the treatment of patients under the care of experienced medical practitioners.

Completion of Phase 3 results in provisional registration, allowing for the commencement of a hospital internship before being registered as a medical practitioner!

For reference, here’s a go-to outline for this 6-year course:

PhaseSchedule
1- Compulsory foundations course
- 7 x 8-week courses
2- 2 x 16 week courses
Independent Learning Project (ILP), followed by Clinical Transition Courses

OR

Honours Program
- 1 year
3- 10 x 8-week courses (including clinical placements)

Internships and Placements

For UNSW Medicine students, internships work a little differently in comparison to those who aren’t studying medicine.

It is a bit different in the medical context. An intern is what you are after you finish your degree. The Healthcare System of NSW automatically allocates a medical student a medical placement after their degree.

“You don’t have to go out there and apply for jobs yourself. UNSW does provide you with an elective term where you work for six weeks in whatever hospital you choose, which could be an equivalent of an internship.” — Eshwar Umashankar

How to Get into Medicine at UNSW

It won’t be a surprise if we tell you that entry into this double-degree is very competitive. But if you have the drive, ambition and brains… it’s worth shooting your shot!

The majority of students who are admitted into Medicine follow a selection process based on academic merit, performance in the UCAT and performance in an interview. 

Step-by-step Guide

  1. In terms of academic merit, you will need to have a minimum ATAR of 96. However, the Rural Entry Scheme allows for students with an ATAR of 91 to apply for entry. 
  2. You must apply for and sit the UCAT test. UCAT is the University Clinical Aptitude Test for Australia and New Zealand. It is a 2-hour computer based test which assesses a range of abilities, which are deemed important to practicing in the fields of medicine. The test consists of five separately timed subtests which each contain a number of questions in a multiple-choice format. 
  3. Begin your application on the Medicine Application Portal. You must complete and submit your application by the deadline. 
  4. Complete the UAC application by the closing date.  
  5. Once both applications have been received and you’re successful based on their selection criteria, you’ll be invited for an interview at UNSW Medicine. This will also count towards your overall application.
  6. Sit and wait for the outcome! If you’re accepted, your offer will be available through your UAC account.

Special Entry Schemes 

These steps may not be easy for everyone to complete. That is why UNSW has a range of special entry schemes for you to peruse. If you believe you may be eligible for one of these schemes, have a look here. 

Scholarships

There are also a fair few scholarships within the Faculty of Medicine for first years. These include the Future of Change, Indigenous General Merit Undergraduate, Daniel and Helen Gauchat Port Macquarie Award for Rural Medical Students and UNSW Equity Scholarships.

Have a look at the full list of scholarships here! You can also check out some of the most lucrative scholarships on offer at UNSW here.

What’s the Teaching Format?

The teaching format of a Bachelor of Medical Studies/Doctor of Medicine at UNSW has a modular structure comprising a series of fully integrated courses studied over 26 teaching periods, with each of them being generally 8 weeks in duration. 

In Phase 1, students must complete 96 units of credit. These units consist of 8 core subjects worth 12 UOC each. 

In Phase 2, students must complete 84 units of credit. The Independent Learning Project is a multi-term course run over 3 terms for a total of 30 UOC. Units in this phase include, Portfolio Examination, Clinical Transition and Integrated Clinical Studies. This is only if you are not undergoing an Honours program. 

In Phase 3, students must complete 96 units of credit, each of which include 10 core subjects. 

To reach an overall 288 units of credit, you will also need to complete 12 units of credit from a general education course.

It’s really spread out over 6 years. Our six year degree is broken down into 3 phases of 2 years each. In terms of the calendar, it is a trimester schedule at UNSW but it doesn’t affect the Medicine program as we are doing our own thing here.

“For us, we have four semesters per year for the first two years and four semesters per year for the final two years.” — Eshwar Umashankar

Class Structure

UNSW Medicine - Class Structure

For each year of study, your classroom numbers will differ. In your first two years, there’ll be about 280 students attending lectures and classes such as tutes and labs will be much smaller with only about 15 to 20 students.

However, towards the end of your degree, you’ll begin to have classes in a hospital. These classes tend to have about 12 to 13 students in attendance.

In terms of format, your first two years of the degree is where you learn your basic clinical sciences. That involves being in the campus, where you have lectures, tutorials, lab visits (anatomy and microbiology lab).

“You also have clinical workshops, so your clinical skills activity where you learn how to take blood pressure, how to use a stethoscope… that sort of basic stuff. In your last 4 years, you do a lot of hospital-based activities such as ward rounds, hospital-based tutorials and simulation workshops.” — Eshwar Umashankar

How much time do you spend in classes?

As you may have already assumed from the nature of this degree, you’ll be spending quite a lot of time in classes. You’re practically at uni 5 days a week!

In the university, we had lectures and classes everyday 9-5, four days a week with one day 9-1. Pretty much 5 days a week. About 40 contact hours a week.” — Eshwar Umashankar

What are the assessments like?

UNSW Medicine is pretty full on, so expect plenty of assessments to keep you busy. You’ll primarily have formative and summative assessments.

Formative assessments you’ll complete include assignments and simulation cases, which are to develop your knowledge.

On the other hand, summative assessments are the ones you need to pass in order to proceed into the next year of your degree. It’s a portfolio of all the assignments and exams you’ve done, and you will be assessed on whether you’re capable of studying Medicine the following year.

There are also some interviews in between all these assessments.

Skills That You Refine and Learn

UNSW Medicine - Skills

You learn to become a doctor. Practically, that involves developing competencies to become a doctor, understanding how to assess patients, how to manage certain diseases that patients would present with and incorporating yourself into the Australian Healthcare System. That’s the biggest takeaway you can get out of six years.” — Eshwar Umashankar

Choosing to become a doctor is not an easy decision to make. You know that it will take a lot of your time, dedication and commitment to get to the finish line of your degree. However, if you’re adept it is a highly rewarding job that will allow you to refine and learn a variety of skills.

Now, the skills you need for Medicine are not all about your education. To be a doctor or physician, you must have certain ‘soft skills’ that are of the same importance.

For starters, communication is incredibly important as you will be spending a large amount of your day-to-day time interacting and diagnosing patients. In order to effectively diagnose, you need to be able to read between the lines, ask the right questions, and communicate your thoughts in simple terms for your patient to follow and understand. 

This is now where compassion and emotional intelligence comes in! The ability to display sensitivity and tact is another key skill. It is a guaranteed part of the job that you will have to be the bearer of bad news to your patient. It is in these difficult moments that you must act with empathy, professionalism and understanding. 

In a way, being a doctor is like being a detective! You are gathering clues for evidence in order to find and diagnose the problem. Once you find the problem, it is your job to solve the case and provide a treatment plan. Therefore, problem-solving skills are a must in this career.

Another skill you need to have is leadership and management. People will be coming to you as a key point of contact. You are the go-to person! Use your knowledge and skills to step up to the plate and become a leader in your field!

What’s the Faculty and Culture Like?

Faculty

The UNSW Faculty of Medicine has been delivering world-class education to aspiring doctors since 1960. The Faculty of Medicine has eight schools in the Kensington, Sydney campus and the Rural Clinical School with country campuses across NSW. 

When studying within the Faculty of Medicine at UNSW, you will be taught by industry leaders that will get you thinking critically, whilst developing hands-on clinical experience in the real world. If you are a part of this faculty, you will also be at the forefront of modernising medicine. 

If you are accepted into the Medicine program, you will be joining an extremely innovative faculty that aims to improve health both in Australia and around the world through their research

The Faculty of Medicine at UNSW also hosts a range of industry, social and innovative events that will get you thinking and will help you to create a long-lasting network of industry links. Scroll through the list of thought-provoking events here!

The faculty changes as you go through the years of your degree. One professor that really stood out to me was Professor Gary Velan. He was just a really good professor, passionate about what he taught and would always make the atmosphere light by telling jokes in classes and making us feel comfortable. The faculty does prioritise your mental health and wellbeing, specifically Professor Gary Velan.” — Eshwar Umashankar

Culture

You’re going to be at this university for 6 years, so you might as well have the time of your life! Lucky for you UNSW has a range of clubs and societies, sporting and cultural facilities, and student led events.

Arc is the student organisation at UNSW that provides you with a range of programs, wellness resources and over 300 clubs and societies related to film, politics, sports, comedy and more! Arc also runs a variety of fun events throughout the year so that you have a chance to form friendships and connections with fellow like-minded students. 

If you’re looking to progress further in your desired career, Arc provides unique opportunities to help you. For example, you can have your work published in one of UNSW’s publications, whether it be the political, social and cultural journal, ‘Tharunka,’ or the annual literary journal ‘UNSWeetened.’

If volunteering is your thing, Arc gives you 20 programs to choose from so that you can make friends, learn skills and make a lasting impact on the community. 

During the six years of your double-degree, you will have countless opportunities to choose from, helping you to create your own jam-packed and exciting student life! Start mapping out your social plan here!

UNSW Medicine has a really healthy culture. Especially with medical degrees, it is competitive to get into. There is competition involved in trying to get the best marks. Regardless of that, there is a healthy and supportive culture where the seniors help the juniors, so third year students help second students with understanding what content to study for exams, what’s the best way to look good for your portfolio interviews.

“So it is a supportive culture where people help you progress from one year to the next year. It is very interactive. A lot of assessments are based on teamwork and effective communication between students. It is a healthy and wholesome culture.” — Eshwar Umashankar

UNSW Medical Society

Now if you’re looking for a specific society to join, the UNSW Medical Society is it. They organise over 100 events each year, so you have plenty of opportunities to socialise, engage with your academic learning or think about your future with career-focussed events.

“We have the UNSW Medical Students Society. It is a representation of all the Medical students within UNSW. I took part in the Medical Society. I was the International Representative in 2018. Our job was to give support to the international Medical students and organise activities and assist them with settling down in Australia and provide guidance with exams and portfolio interviews.” — Eshwar Umashankar

Mentorship/Support Programs 

UNSW Medicine offers students a number of mentoring opportunities and programs. Whether you would like to be mentored or you’d like to be a mentee, UNSW is the place for you.

You can choose from Career Ready mentoring, HDR Peer mentoring, Peer mentoring and Clinical mentoring. Take a look at these programs here!

UNSW also aims to help students through their support and development programs. UNSW has something for everyone to suit their own, specific needs.

Depending on where you would like some extra support, UNSW offers equitable learning services, academic skills workshops and resources, student exchanges, financial help, peer support, emergency services, professional development support and wellbeing and health services just to name a few.

Delve deeper into what these services can offer you here. If you need more help, you can also contact support and success advisors here.

The UNSW Medical School has organised a thing called the Clinical Mentoring Scheme, which is a way to allow current doctors and professors to network with current students. It gives them an idea of how to progress and get them interested in research.

“UNSW also has psychological services, called CAPS. It provides counselling and mental health support to students in general. It is useful and I’ve heard good things. The Medical Students Society also is a good liaison service with the university itself.” — Eshwar Umashankar

That brings us to the end of our guide to pursuing one of the most in-demand undergraduate degrees for high school leavers and aspiring doctors! If this has given you a spring in your step and you just know that this is your path, apply right now!

Wondering what the pros and cons of this degree are? Check out our article here!

Looking for more resources on studying Medicine?

If you’re still unsure about which medical school is best for you, don’t worry! We’ve got info on a whole range of medical degrees offered in Australia and you can learn all about them below:

We’ve also got some general resources to help you with the application process and the top medical schools in the country:


Thomasin McCuaig is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and an Arts graduate with majors in English and Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney. Thomasin is a passionate writer, singer and drama teacher, who has had her work published in Holidays with Kids, Signature Luxury Travel and Style and Offspring Magazine. Thomasin also writes junior plays for her students and aims to publish a novel someday. During the COVID isolation period, Thomasin put her passion into practise and launched her own writing and editing business, ‘Re:Write Editing.’ In her spare time you will find her either napping, talking to her cats or looking up real estate for absolutely no reason at all. Fun fact: Thomasin appeared on Japanese morning breakfast show ‘ZIP!’ as a travel reporter, where she presented a six day exposé of Sydney!

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