Course Structure at Plymouth Medical School

Insider’s Guide to Plymouth Medical School

Plymouth is unique to other medical schools. We are a state-funded school, which means they offer the same high-quality training as other medical schools but without the high cost.

Plymouth University Medical School is a world-class medical school and research center. They are committed to providing an excellent student experience and training doctors to deliver high-quality care in the NHS.

The Plymouth course is only 5 years long and strongly focuses on the clinical skills needed to be a great doctor. You’ll learn to work with patients with exceptional care and compassion and build strong relationships with your peers and professors.

One of the most unique aspects of their medical school is that they have a very large international student body. They believe diversity makes us stronger, so they actively recruit students worldwide to join us in Plymouth.

This means that your classmates will come from all over the world – including Europe and America – so you’ll gain a global perspective on medicine before you even start your internship!

Course Structure at Plymouth Medical School

Year 1 at Plymouth Medical School

The first year of medical school is spent on the Medical Sciences Campus, where you will learn the fundamentals of medicine and science. Students will be taught by staff from the University of Plymouth, the University of Exeter, Peninsula Medical School, and Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust.

The first term is largely dedicated to anatomy and physiology—two subjects that form the basis for all medical studies. This means plenty of dissection sessions to help you understand how the body works.

You will also be taught about microbiology, pharmacology, and neuroscience before moving on to more specialized topics such as cardiology and immunology in later terms.

You’ll learn clinical medical science. The curriculum is based on life cycle. First-year students study human physical and psychological development from birth to old life. EBL seminars based on clinical case studies and lectures will supplement this.

Community placements begin in the second week of the academic year to strengthen clinical and communication skills. Jigsaw sessions improve personal and professional development, including teamwork, introspection, and ethics. You’ll complete three student-selected research components.

A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic

Plymouth has two-week timetables, so one is busier than the other. Here’s the busier week.

Abbreviations and terms: 

  • PLENARY– lecture
  • LSRC – Life Sciences and Resources Centre: Each LSRC session is 2 hours, divided into 40-minute segments.
  • Interactive Session: Public health and psychosocial issues are taught interactively. Speakers often share their stories.
  • EBL- evidence-based learning 
  • CSRC- clinical skills and resources center – You have clinical skills once a week
  • Community placements: You have one community placement every 2 weeks
  • JIGSAW: JIGSAW takes place once every 2 weeks

In total, you have around 7- 8 lectures every 2 weeks

Year 2 at Plymouth Medical School

This year, you’ll study the clinical sciences from various perspectives. You’ll learn how to diagnose and treat patients with common medical conditions, and you will be taught by doctors who have worked in the NHS.

The second year focuses on disease, pathological processes, and the personal and social implications of illness and disease. You’ll rotate around a single general practice to learn about long-term health challenges and collaboration.

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The development of your diagnostic skills will be supported by computer-based learning environments (CBLEs). The Structured End-of-year Clinical Exam (ISCE) is an important component of this course.

Year 3 at Plymouth Medical School

Your third and fourth years will focus on clinical practice and patient-centered learning. You’ll acquire vital experience in hospital and general practice-based community placements and observe how the NHS collaborates to offer patient care. Year 3 covers Acute Care, Ward Care, and Integrated Ambulatory Care.

To expantiate, for the acute care placement, You will be placed in an acute hospital department, such as medicine or surgery, where you will learn about different specialties and gain hands-on experience of working with patients in their most vulnerable state – when they are acutely unwell.

This placement is one of the highlights of our course and helps prepare you for later clinical practice as a doctor.

Also, for the ward care placement course, you will spend some time working on a ward within Plymouth Teaching Hospital Trust (PTHT) or another local hospital trust in Devon or Cornwall.

Here you’ll get to know patients who are recovering from illness or injury or having a long-term condition like heart failure or diabetes. You’ll ensure they’re getting the best possible care from all members of staff who work together as a team to provide it.

You will take an integrated approach to learn, with teaching delivered by healthcare professionals from across the health service. You’ll also learn to communicate effectively with patients and colleagues through simulated scenarios that test your knowledge and skills in the clinical setting.

Year 4 at Plymouth Medical School

In Year 4 you’ll work in hospitals and general practices to improve your communication, clinical, problem-solving, and analytical skills. You’ll also gain experience in Acute Care, Palliative Care/Oncology, and Continuing Care. You’ll take the Intercollegiate Clinical Skills Examination (ICSE) at year’s end (ISCE).

Year 4 modules include:

  • Acute Care: You will cover acute care in all clinical settings and medical emergencies such as stroke and myocardial infarction. You will also learn about emergency obstetrics and pediatrics.
  • Palliative Care: You will study the principles of palliative care, including pain management and symptom control, along with advanced knowledge of cancer care from diagnosis through treatment to rehabilitation.
  • Continuing Care: You will understand mental health issues by studying disorders such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.

Year 5 at Plymouth Medical School

Now that you’ve completed the first four years of education, you’ll be prepared to put your newfound knowledge, abilities, and self-assurance to use by working “on the job” as a member of a functioning healthcare team at either Derriford or Torbay hospital. 

You’ll gain more self-assurance when handling clinical circumstances and deepen your awareness of the NHS’s guiding principles. You will also have the option to complete an elective in a different social or cultural setting to supplement your independent study with a portfolio of indicative presentations.

Pros of Studying at Plymouth

  1. No single stake exam – You pass based on your aggregate over 5 years. If your aggregate is good, you can fail some (pass). In year 1, you can fail all four as long as you pass the End of Year 1 exam, which only evaluates year 1 knowledge, but if you passed all your progress tests, you’ll still pass the year. After year 1, there are just four progress exams and no end-of-year exam.
  2. SDL HEAVY – SDL stands for Self-directed learning, and this depends on you. I like learning content myself and having time to do so, thus I like the time off schedule to do so.
  3. MedSoc teaches – The medical society in our institution runs medsoc lectures once or twice a week for every year group. These are student-led lectures related to what you’re learning on course, and older years teach you areas the university doesn’t cover well or tough concepts. Because students are teaching, it’s easy to grasp and follow along. Separate teachers for each year ensure continuous support.
  4. Lots of support — this can be in terms of pastoral assistance, where you can pick who you want to talk to (about anything) and they’ll check on you. You also have medsoc families, where two students from the year above act as your ‘parents’ and you have’siblings’ from your year. These parents will help you settle in by hosting family meals and teaching if you ask. You get to know your elder years and see familiar faces. It was good that mine contacted me before I started. You can also’marry’ someone in your year and get kids from the next freshmen class. Participating in family events is fun. You also have an academic tutor (AT) who you meet with 2-3 times a year to discuss your progress after each progress exam, the course, any concerns, etc. You can also meet with them whenever you have questions or need to discuss.
  5. First-year placements begin the first week. You’ll have these every 2 weeks, so you’ll meet doctors, GPs, and local communities early on and chat to patients, see ailments, etc.
  6. Good for individuals who dislike traditional lectures – You receive 7-8 lectures every 2 weeks; the rest is small group work or interactive. The lectures are 1 hour max – you may have 2 back-to-back, but that’s it – and if there are more, there are pauses. It’s well-spaced.
  7. Easy timeline — As I’ve said before, the timetable is laid back, yet you do your own work and decide how much to complete.
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Does Plymouth offer dissection?

Plymouth does not offer dissection, however, anatomy is taught in LSRC sessions using real-life models, anatomical models, and the Anatomage table, the only fully segmented genuine human 1:1 3D anatomy system.

Dissection is not required as part of medical education, and medical schools are not recommended to provide dissection facilities.

This is because learning anatomy from cadavers can have adverse psychological effects on students. Furthermore, there are few opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience with real human bodies outside of medical school. However, some students may still wish to pursue dissection outside of the university setting.

What is the pre-clinical / clinical split like? Do you get early clinical exposure?

Pre-clinical years include stages 1 and 2, whereas clinical stages 3-5 are based in Derriford, Torbay, or Taunton. Pre-clinical years feature patient engagement as early as two weeks into the academic year.

These community placements provide students with an appreciation of Plymouth’s patient services. In the second year, a general practice placement allows you to learn about long-term health challenges and teamwork.

Stages 3-5 are hospital-based, where you’ll cycle between specialties each week to learn clinical practice in various settings.

Each department’s multidisciplinary team supports patient-centered learning. By stage 5, you’ll be ready to apply the information, skills, and confidence gained in stage 1 and get ‘on-the-job’ training to become a foundation doctor.

What are the clubs and societies like? What is the social life like?

I’ve lived in Plymouth for years and love it. The city is small enough to walk around and explore but big enough to have everything you need. It’s a lively city and a ghost town during term breaks. There are plenty of great pubs and restaurants and an abundance of shops on Union Street.

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The clubs and societies at Plymouth are a fantastic way to get involved and meet new people. There are many options, from sports teams to academic societies and more creative pursuits like music and drama.

There are lots of sports teams to get involved with – rugby, football, hockey, basketball, netball – they all have their own club which you can join. They meet regularly during term time and compete against other universities in local and national tournaments. I’ve played football for MedSoc, and it’s been a great way to meet new people who share your interests.

MedSoc has its own choir, which meets weekly and performs weekly in the city. It’s a great opportunity to improve your singing skills while performing alongside other students from Plymouth University and other institutions. You will also have opportunities to perform for patients at hospital wards or nursing homes around Plymouth.


Based on the above, it is important that junior doctors remember to prioritise their study time, and ‘never miss an opportunity of teaching’ yourself. Taking significantly more responsibility for your own learning will only serve you well in the future when you begin working as a doctor ‘in the real world’.

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