Congrats, you’ve been accepted into Medical school! Still, even though you’ve aced the GAMSAT, the whole idea of medical school is pretty daunting. But, you can find comfort in the fact that Graduate Entry Medicine is a well-beaten track and by now there are hundreds- if not thousands- of doctors who were GEMs in Ireland.
GEM1 will be a busy year. Semester 1 is designed as a crash-course in the fundamental sciences, while semester 2 is devoted to the Cardio-respiratory system. This means that, regardless of your background, by the end of year 1 you will have a solid foundation in the basic tools of medicine.
If you ever experience any doubt, remember that you earned your place in the course and you have every right to be here. Look forward to meeting your new classmates, there will be plenty of bonding as you endure the workload together. Medsoc’s infamous Wine & Cheese events always kicks-off each semester… so look forward to many new faces at those, as well as plenty of wine (and very little cheese).
This subject covers the anatomy of the upper and lower limb (The first of two 10 credit modules this semester). The exit exam is part MCQ, part essay paper. The dissection practicals are useful for relating what you’re doing in lectures to real cadavers. I highly recommend a little prep work the night before dissection sessions – a little bit goes a long way! Be prepared for the possibility of having your first anatomy practical on your first day!
You will have Clinical Skills sessions which cover basic physical examinations that are assessed with a journal that accounts for 10% of the module grade. Try and do the entries for each session as soon as possible after the session because you’ll be surprised how easily they can pile up! The recommended text is Clinically Oriented Anatomy which is pretty thorough. Many people also use flashcards and an Atlas like Netter’s to enhance what is learned during dissections. Teach Me Anatomy.com and Essential Clinical Anatomy are good for the bare bones (pardon the pun!) if you’re in a fix close to exam time. The best way to learn anatomy is repetition and challenging yourself to name things out loud, so study groups can be especially useful in this subject! Also a focus on essay learning from the start can help in the long run.
There were also a number of formative assessments undertaken in lecture theatres, these are nothing to get stressed about but are good testers of your knowledge at that point.
Patient-Centred Practice (PCP):
PCP is made up of a number of different elements: lectures in professional practice and healthcare systems, computer based practicals, seminars, first aid training, and a group presentation. This subject will be your first opportunity for patient contact with a group interaction of a visiting patient.
Assessment in this subject can change from year to year as the academic staff is responsive to feedback from students. The portfolio accounts for most of the assessment marks in this module, a 5,000 word beast that you’ll struggle to finish and no doubt come to hate whilst writing it. This is something that’s worth getting done as soon as possible so you’re not left writing up until the deadline very hungover on the day after Med Ball! It can be a good idea to look over the portfolio guide before your visit with your patient.
The other assessments are tamer and you get an easy 10% for completing the basic First Aid course. The presentations are on a number of topical health related issues, this is a fairly standard presentation but good marks can be difficult to get. The questions from the guest lecturers received were deemed to be quite tough so try to prepare for this.
Molecular Basis of Life & Disease (MBLD):
MBLD is the big one (The second 10 credit module) of the first semester and is a whistle-stop tour through the Life Sciences. There is a large volume of detailed lectures so it’s worth trying to keep up-to-date with study as much as possible as there just isn’t enough time to cram at the end of the semester. For those who don’t come from a science background, Molecules in Medicine runs at the same time as this course and covers MBLD topics in more detail. While the course can seem very tough, if you pay attention in lectures and do a bit of reading around the topics you’ll succeed in this module.
The exit exam is an MCQ with no negative marking (music to a GEM’s ears!) that counts for 70% of the final grade. The questions are specific and ask for the nitty-gritty details so it’s worth dedicating time to this module from the start. There are also two small assignments and a group project to design a poster for the remaining marks in this course. While the submitted assignments were fair the poster marks varied widely so try not to spend too much on this. An eye catching design is more important than a wall of text.
The glory of the GEM class is that you’ll probably have a graduate from each of the six subjects covered in this course so if you’re struggling with some particular part make sure to ask a person in your class who’s an expert!
Cell-Cell Communication and Signalling:
This course is Cell Physiology 101 and covers the principles of intracellular and intercellular signalling with a focus on muscle, nerve, and immune cells. Similar to MBLD, there is a good bit of detail in this course but by virtue of being a smaller module it feels a good bit more manageable. You’ll probably have a couple of Physiology grads in your class too, they’re the ones to catch on the walk to the next lecture and grill with the questions you didn’t manage to get in during class. The lectures were supported by tutorials and a computer practical – very doable. The subject is assessed in a 100% exit MCQ exam and even though the exam at the end is the only assessment, helpful mock exams are available on Blackboard to help with prep. It’s possible to do well in this subject by covering the lectures well and a gawk through the relevant chapters in Vander’s. It may seem a less important module but make sure not to ignore it as many found this exam tough as a result with many questions coming from minute details in the lectures and external texts.
Elective (Choose 1 of 7 in ):
This is the only time in the GEM course that you get to take an elective outside of medicine and not even everyone has to do one! For anyone coming from a non-science background Molecules in Medicine is recommended. Most people choose a handy option for the elective so they can to get a bit of R+R during an otherwise hectic semester. On a basic level, it’s heavily advised to select a module that runs just in the first term… but not all medical students are that lazy. Pick Storytime* unless you have good reason not to. Food, Diet, and Health is a sound alternative if Storytime is full.
Molecules in Medicine:
Recommended for non-science grads and not available to science grads. A support for the topics covered in MBLD. This was a module of some controversy in our year. Some found it useful, some did not especially for the amount of work that was required (We had a 33% exam in the second week).
The advantages of this module is that you are finished by week 9 so that means you have one less end of year exam than other students and it allows you an insight into the world of MBLD – especially valuable as non-science students. The class size is small and allows for a more class based rather than lecture based type of learning.
However, it will take up a far larger part of your studies than other students in the far less taxing modules available as electives. This course changed largely from the year previous where assessments were mostly assignment based to our year where it was three 33% open book exams (Open book is essentially useless but good to have as a backup if you get stuck) so it may change again.
My personal advice is to go to the first few lectures of this module even if you haven’t registered for it and suss it out for yourself.
Social History of Irish Healthcare:
Affectionately known as Storytime*; an enjoyable subject and relatively easy to do very well in. Passionate lecturer looks at the evolution of the healthcare system and professions in Ireland.
Basic Principles of Cell Biology:
Comparably heavy workload and a final exam. Overlap with MBLD.
This is a fairly straight forward module with plenty of overlap with other modules especially MBLD. For most people it will be incompatible as Cell Signalling and communication is the next (and more difficult) module in the sequence of cell biology lectures. Some students from Science or Biomed backgrounds may be able to get an exemption from Cell Cell and take up this module instead. More than half the module will be covered in MBLD with almost the exact same lectures (sometimes given over 2 lectures for what is covered in MBLD in 1 lecture) on DNA, Protein, Transcription, translation and immunology. It also features very basic concepts in signal transduction. This module is a good module for anyone without a science background as it reinforces aspects of other modules. It is also nice for those from science backgrounds who don’t feel like doing a lot of work so as to focus on the more taxing core modules. It is examined by three in term assessments (3 posters on transcription, “the cell” and protein structure worth 13.33% each) and an end of term MCQ (60% of the module) As far as I remember the MCQ was reasonable and the posters were handy for picking up marks. However the poster on protein structure (Dr. Stephen Pennington’s part of the module) was graded rather harshly so I would recommend putting in a little more thought into this one.
Introduction to Psychology (Semester 1 or Semester 2):
Intro to psychology is that rare elective which is both easy and interesting. It will allow you to take a much needed break from the health science building to trek over to the arts building, where you'll receive some pretty entertaining lectures on the basics of psychology. As a first year module, it won't be taxing either. Assessment comes in two parts: a mid-term consisting of MCQs and short notes and an end of semester exam. Another nice thing is that the lecturers will make it obvious what is coming up on both exams. Only downside to this module is that it can fill up quickly once registration starts, so try and get in there early.
Food, Diet and Health (Semester 1 or Semester 2):
Easy to follow course material with fair assessments. Three MCQs in total (two during term, one at end). Very very manageable.
Anatomy of the Thorax:
Another “does what it says on the tin” anatomy module concerned with (you guessed it!) the anatomy of everything found inside your ribcage. 10% of the module is continuous assessments which are clicker tests completed at the end of every other practical (Best 2/3) – these tests were very visually based. There was also a non-graded presentation, it’s important to not spend too much time on this but you still want it to look good as you’re presenting in front of your class and guest lecturers. My advice is to pick a topic covered early in the lectures to get this out of the way asap.
One of the practicals at the end was devoted to surface anatomy where you get a chance to draw on your classmates. With at least one anatomy module under your belt, you will probably have found your groove studying anatomy. Just like before, a little prep before a practical goes a long way and Clinically Oriented Anatomy is your best mate for this course. The organised peer based learning in the practicals was found to be valuable for those who took part in it.
Therapeutics is all about learning how different drugs work and the appropriate clinical scenarios for their use. Generally the order of topics follows the same course as Cardiorespiratory Disease, so in most cases you’ll have covered the pathophysiology of the disease before you discuss the treatment. The lectures are supported by tutorials from a hospital doctor early on in their training so you get a feel from them what will be of use in practice on the wards.
The tutorials from previous years are available on Blackboard and are excellent for some last-minute revision. The issue with preparing for this exam is volume, and it’s worth remembering to focus on the pharmacology and therapeutics aspects of the course whilst studying. This is VERY important as the lecturers (who are all practising doctors) will not always place this emphasis during their lectures! You get to do a GP visit with a much smaller write-up assessment in this subject, which is reassuring when you have a few marks under your belt entering the exam hall!
Pathoma and Sketchymicro videos were found to be of use in this subject.
Principles of Infection and its Treatment:
Dr. Chan is a superstar. You will love him more when you accept that it is only humanly possible to write down 20% of what he says during lectures. You will also love his review lectures that he gives you with the undergrads, and the extra ones you get because you’re GEMs – however…(For our year) his review sessions while valuable but should not be relied too heavily on.
The tutorials are great for this subject and genuinely help reinforce the material covered in lectures, preparing for these is a great way to prepare for the exams. Relating the infections to clinical presentations really helps to make the information stick. As you may have noticed is a recurring theme in GEM1, there is a dizzying volume of information in this course. This means putting in work daily because cramming it is impossible. The assessment is all at the end of term in an exit exam made up of and MCQ, EMQ, and an essay section. Some of the lectures can be tedious but do your best to attend them all as it can be a useful way to cut through the volume in them and find the most useful information.
I personally found Skecthymicro as a great way to get a hold of the information in this module but it is important to use the videos in tandem with the lecture slides as not everything that comes up in lectures will be in the videos.
PS: The undergrads you share this module will be the year you ultimately combine with when entering hospitals… so get to know them (they are awesome). ;)
Cardiorespiratory Disease is your first real taste of pathology after your brief introduction in MBLD covering all that can go wrong with the heart and lungs. As mentioned earlier, this runs pretty much in tandem with Therapeutics so you’re seeing the same diseases come up again and again. Similar to Therapeutics too, there are lots of clinical lecturers who can go into significant detail making it difficult to extract what’s actually key. Try not to get bogged down and use Robbin’s Basic Pathology as your text to inform how much you actually need to know. The lecturers are passionate and the tutorials are clinically relevant so genuinely add to the learning in this course.
Assessment in this course a 100% Final exam with a MCQ and essay component. Robbin’s review of pathology is invaluable for drilling yourself in questions of a similar standard to the exit exam.
Personal and Population Health (PPH):
Widely acknowledged as the PCP of the second semester, PPH covers psychology, sociology, and epidemiology. A thoroughly grand course that’s a break from the denser material in other subjects because it fails to delve too deep into any of the fields you cover. The majority of marks go on a group project that can be time consuming. You will have your presentation date from pretty much the first day of the course so you can portion an appropriate amount of time to it but you don’t need to go overboard! It’s difficult to do badly as long as you make any effort with this. If you attend all the lectures and pay attention you can probably get away without too much extra reading.
Cardiovascular and Respiratory Physiology:
This is your only 10 credit module in the second semester, so even though it may not seem like it, you’ll have spent the most lecture hours on this subject. The subject is loosely broken into cardiac biology, vascular biology, and respiratory physiology.
Although it’s a pretty big course because you have practicals, and reports to write on them, everyone will have some marks going into the exam. Vander’s is the recommended text and goes into great detail. The exam is challenging in this subject and made up of an MCQ and essay paper meaning you have to have touched base with everything to perform really well. Luckily none of the concepts are exceptionally difficult to grasp, so as long as you have been doing something all along you should be alright!
There are plenty of video tutorials available online so if you are having trouble grasping a concept simply Google it!
Other GEMs of wisdom:
Do your best to focus your energies on doing the amount you are capable of. Try to make peace with the fact that nobody covers everything and that it will always look like there are others doing more than you. Realising this early on saves on stress.
There is a huge value in participating fully in your class. I mean this in the sense of making time to hang out and do things that aren’t class with your new classmates. The GEM program structure means you only have the first two years together, just because you’ve made college friends before doesn’t mean there isn’t some pretty great ones in your course too. There’s plenty of opportunities to mix with people including a surf trip organised by the year above (GEM2s), the tag rugby tournament in the second semester and many social nights.
Give yourself a break.
Coming back to university is challenging, especially when it’s medical school, and even more so when you have travelled halfway across the world for the opportunity. Be kind to yourself and look after the basics like sleep, eating well, and (if you’re really great) some exercise to get you through the year in fine fettle.
Don’t forget that the undergrads will one day be your colleagues so try and keep your disdain for them at a minimum. You’re likely to do better at muscling yourself towards the free sandwiches, tea, or wine at MedSoc events if you’ve made an effort to speak to them before so just do it!
Run for Medsoc rep if you so desire, its great craic meeting students in other years and attending the events. If leadership roles aren’t for you, be sure to speak openly with your Medsoc rep about what you think Medsoc could provide for you.