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My Review of the Joint Medical Program

Ever wondered what it's like to study Medicine at the University of Newcastle as part of the Joint Medical Program?
My Review of the Joint Medical Program

Overall

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The Joint Medical Program sets you up very well to work as a junior doctor and I strongly recommend it as a university for medical students to attend.

Context

First, let me start with a bit of context.

  • I got into medical school after completing 2 out of 3 years of a Biomedical Science degree at the University of Newcastle.
  • I entered medical school in 2018 and will graduate this year (2022)
  • The Joint Medical Program (JMP) is basically a collaboration between the University of Newcastle (UON) and the University of New England (UNE).
    • It doesn't change anything in Years 1-2 as the UON students remain in Newcastle/Gosford and the UNE students remain in Armidale, except that as a student you get access to the other university's lectures and resources and as you'll find soon after starting, not all lectures were created equal so it's worth using a mixture of resources from each uni.
    • It's only after Year 3 where you start mixing with the students from the other uni and working together in research projects and seeing each other on placement etc.
    • By the end of Year 5, students from each uni have become quite integrated with each other
  • 2018 was the second year that the JMP moved to the new Bachelor of Medical Science & Doctor of Medicine program (from the Bachelor of Medicine program) and therefore my experience may not accurately reflect what students entering the program now experience
  • I have not experienced any other university's medical program

Pros

  • By the end of fifth year, you're well-equipped to work as an intern as you spend the entire year focusing on performing the role of an intern. I think JMP graduates are notoriously good interns (or at least that's what I tell myself)
  • Chill vibes, with not many 'tryhards' → not a very competitive atmosphere which is a refreshing break from what the HSC is like and what I've heard certain other medical schools are like
  • By the end of medical school you're a pretty good self-directed learner
  • Problem-based learning (PBL) was probably my favourite part of the pre-clinical years (Year 1 and 2). You get to work in small groups, which is fun and stimulating and even as a first-year student you get early exposure to clinical reasoning, which I find to be the most enjoyable aspect of medicine
  • My perspective may be different to other people's, but I love multiple-choice (MCQ) exams and dislike short-answer questions and thankfully the JMP is perfect for this as there are only MCQ exams (and OSCEs)
  • Built-in research component which gives you the skills to approach doctors to do further research projects in the future, which is becoming an increasingly important additional role of clinicians now.
    • My sister, who studied Medicine at James Cook University (JCU), said they didn't learn much about research or research skills and as a result, once she graduated and wanted to start getting involved in research projects, didn't feel like she had the necessary skills to approach doctors with confidence
  • Five-year program is relatively short for an undergraduate medical program (UNSW and JCU are six-years)
  • Opportunity to do overseas placements in 3rd and 5th year (outside of COVID times)
  • The JMP has a strong desire to improve and constantly sends out feedback surveys and implements changes requested by students
  • The staff are fantastic, wonderful people
  • The UON medical program brings a diverse range of students—undergraduate and postgraduate, international and domestic, rural and metropolitan—which means you get to interact with many interesting people which fosters a more inclusive culture
  • Strong culture of seniors helping juniors

Cons

  • Anatomy teaching is limited as you only get two years worth of anatomy teaching. I personally feel reasonably comfortable with anatomy, but I think my background in Biomedical Science and doing a dedicated anatomy course during that program helped me a lot.
  • Though the self-directed learning is ultimately beneficial for your self-development, I would say my colleagues and I felt there was too little direction and too few resources (i.e. lectures) which meant we had to not only teach ourselves and find appropriate resources to do so, but also determine what was within the scope of the knowledge that we were expected to have.
  • No past or practice papers for MCQ exams (though there are ocassional quizzes)
  • Administrative/technical support in fifth year is lacking. In the first four years, the support staff were very responsive and it was easy to get an answer to any question you might have. However, the second you pass your barrier exams at the end of fourth year, the support drastically drops off and emails often go unanswered, which just means you have to do a lot more admin to chase things up. This has been compounded by the recent switch of online software by UON, from Blackboard to Canvas, which has resulted in an extremely poorly organised online system.
  • The five-year program means there's a lot of content to cover, particularly in the first four years which can be stressful

I really enjoyed my time studying at the University of Newcastle. Newcastle as a city is great and laidback and that translates into the university culture as well. Medical school was difficult (that'll be the case anywhere you study Medicine) but definitely manageable whilst having a life outside of Medicine.

I can't think of anyone I know who was part of the JMP overall who wished they were at a different medical school and I think that's a testament to the program that the staff have created, UON and UNE.

If you're considering studying Medicine (firstly I'd be applying everywhere I possibly could anyways), Newcastle comes highly recommended from me as a great medical school.

(In saying all this, I don't think there are any bad medical schools in Australia, so again, apply everywhere and take what you can get because even getting an offer is an honour).

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