The Medicine Course

Hello prospective medics!

So, you're thinking about studying medicine, and thinking about studying at John’s… all we have to say is that you're thinking along the right lines! Most of us here like to think that there is no better course in the world, and no better place to study it than right here, in what we believe to be the best college in Cambridge.

No-one will pretend that studying medicine is easy - it’s a complex and demanding course, but if you enjoy science, care about people, and are sure that you really want to be a doctor then you will find it very rewarding.

Cambridge’s course is more comprehensive and scientific than most, but if you are prepared for some hard work, you will come out of your pre-clinical years with a very strong foundation on which to build your clinical experience, which should ultimately make you a better doctor. It also provides you with an excellent basis should you wish to enter into academic medicine or research at some stage in the future.

The medicine/veterinary course is 6 years long and is called the Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos (MVST.) Read on for more details about the components of each year.


MVST Part 1a

Year 1 is called MVST Part 1a. The course components are listed below; some courses are common to both medical and veterinary students, while - in some cases - medical and veterinary study parallel courses.

3 ‘main’ courses run throughout the whole year and are assessed at the end of the year through MCQ, practical and essay papers.

Two additional courses - providing a clinical/epidemiological strand - are assessed by a single exam at the end of Lent (second) term.

One additional course is run for medics, forming part of their ongoing Preparing for Patients course in which they get to observe clinical medicine and meet with patients.


MVST Part 1b

Year 2 is called MVSTA Part 1b. The course components are listed below - again a mixture of common and parallel courses is provided for veterinary students.

Again 3 ‘main’ courses form the bulk of the course and run throughout the whole year, with exams comprising MCQ, practical and essay papers.

Two smaller courses hold slightly less weighting in the year’s overall marks and are only run over two terms. They are assessed by a single exam held at the end of the year alongside all other exams.

Again, medics complete a Preparing for Patients strand and - in second year - veterinary students have a parallel course called Preparing for the Veterinary Profession.

Medical students complete the third strand of their PfP course over the summer vacation before third year.


MVST Part 2

Year 3 is called Part 2 and is the “intercalation” year, which is optional at most other universities.

In Part 2 students choose a course that they wish to study for the year.

Most choose a scientific Part 2 course, which they follow alongside Natural Sciences students. Courses include: Physiology, Development and Neuroscience; Biochemistry; Genetics; Neuroscience; Pathology; Pharmacology; Plant Sciences; Psychology; Zoology.

These subjects are taken either as a “project” course or a “BBS” course.

It is also possible to student a non-science course at Part 2. While not all subjects are available, there is a lot of choice, including History and Philosophy of Science; Politics, Psychology and Sociology; History of Art; and Management Studies.

During Part 2, medics carry out the final strand of their Preparing for Patients Course


Preclinical Course Structure/Marking

At Cambridge, the pre-cinlical course is split into two elements - Tripos and Professional Qualifications...

Tripos is just a word for “course” at Cambridge. As stated above, Medical and Veterinary students take the MVST tripos, but there is a different Tripos for all subjects.

Cambridge grades all of its Triposes, meaning that - in addition to the pass/fail you would get at any other medical school - you also get a grade for each year (I, II.i, II.ii, III).

Certain subjects do not contribute to your Tripos grade - these include ISBM, SCHI and the PfP/PfVP courses. Otherwise all exams count towards your Tripos grade - the MCQ, practical and essay elements.

While you want to get as good a grade as you can, to be entitled to continue the course and progress to clinical school, all you need to do is pass the subjects that count towards your Professional Qualifications.

The professional part of the course is called the MB or VetMB. At Cambridge, 1st MB doesn’t exist (getting the place at Cambridge is completing 1st MB!) but to progress to clinical school you need to pass your 2nd MB.

You need to pass each individual component of 2nd MB (i.e. each subject that is a component of the 2nd MB) to progress to clinical school, and you are only entitled to one retake of any subject. Failure to pass after two attempts results in being withdrawn from the Medical Student Register.

All subjects at MVST part 1a and 1b are components of the 2nd MB/VetMB however 2nd MB only takes into account your MCQ and practical papers. Essay papers contribute to your Tripos mark but not your 2nd MB mark!

Part 2 does not count towards your 2nd MB/VetMB (though the PfP D course that medics do during their third year does.)

What does this mean?

Basically, for any subject you take in the first two years, your initial result will be a “pass/fail”. You need to pass or else you cannot continue the course and go on to clinical school. The pass/fail mark will be based on MCQ/practical papers only for major subjects (minor subjects such as ISBM/SCHI only have one exam.)

In addition to your pass/fail result you will be given numerical results for all the different papers you have sat. Your marks for all Tripos-eligible subjects are then collated and normalised across the whole year group and - ultimately - you are given a grade for the whole year.


Further Information

If you have any other queries about the course, more details can be found on the Faculty of Biology’s Course Page.