How my intercalation year made the future clearer

Intercalated degrees give you a chance to study a particular area of medicine in depth, whether you’ve already covered it on your medical course or want to study something new. Freya Webb is a medical student who elected to do an intercalated degree in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine (TERM) and below she discusses her intercalated year in depth from why she opted to TERM to how it has impacted on her future career plans…

The selection process

I knew that I wanted to study a masters during my intercalation year as long as I could find one which really interested me. This particular course excited me from the get-go as it is a pioneering area of research with fascinating projects on offer. The outline of the year showed all of the new and different skills I would learn, and the experiences I could have. I had also previously done a literature review on organoids which has an association with regenerative medicine, so I knew that it was an area I found interesting

I did also consider the Oncology MRes, however I wanted to expand my skills in lab-based research, as we don’t get much teaching of that in medical school. The TERM MRes also provides a much boarder field of knowledge which can be applied to almost all areas of medicine, and as I’m not sure what specialty I would like to pursue yet so this was really appealing to me.

How I found my time on the course

Even though it may not be an undergraduate degree I got to experience what a normal student life was like, as with medicine you don’t have assignments which you have to hand in every month, or modules where at the end you write a piece or have an exam on it. I was expecting it to be hard work and wasn’t entirely sure whether I was up for it but in hindsight it’s one of the best things I’ve ever chosen to do.

The course truly went above and beyond my expectations and I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of it. In Medicine, we never really get taught how to write a paper, and we learnt how to do this early on in semester one which is extremely helpful for now and the future. During the second semester, I got to experience how a lab works, including techniques and the different people who work there and how they interact.

Being in the lab in semester two was probably the highlight of the degree. Although this was cut short because of COVID, I was loving it. I went in every day and learnt new skills, and as time went on, I was becoming more and more independent. As you see your owns experiments progress, and you achieve your own results its actually really exciting. It’s also very nice writing about your own results and putting in your own data to a paper, it makes you feel like you’ve really achieved something.

My lab supervisor was extremely involved and was with my every day, I understand that not all supervisors are as attentive as that, but my teaching was impeccable. As I developed, I could do things more on my own, but I wasn’t ever left not knowing what to do. It’s an extremely supportive atmosphere.

Comparing TERM to Medicine

Both courses are very different from one on and other. For a start, there are assignments which have to be handed in which just doesn’t happen in medicine. A lot of the time during a medical degree, the school expects you to just know things (like writing papers) and then you just have to do it. In this MRes we got taught everything we needed to know, and if not directly then we would be pointed in a direction and told to go and learn this.

The first semester is similar to pre-clinical years, you have course lectures (obviously much smaller) and then big lectures, and lab skills sessions where you learn all you need for research. Then in second semester it’s similar to clinical years but you are in a lab, learning new things. The difference is that in a lab people expect you to be there because you’re actually adding something to them and their work. You’re creating your own research whereas with medicine your only job is to learn, you don’t really add anything to the ward or GP surgery as you’re not qualified. It’s more responsibility but it’s your own responsibility to produce your own project.

I now know that I would like to combine medicine and research in my career. I am also thinking of pursuing a research-based Academic Foundation Programme (AFP). I think it has added a great deal to my potential career and the path I will choose.

The future

I would like to pursue a research-based AFP. Other than that, I know I would like to pursue a specialty where I can combine TERM research with application into clinic. For example, dermatology or plastic surgery. If I stay in Manchester I would actually choose to try and work with the lab I have this year and see if that steered me towards a different specialty as I think what they are doing is very important and exciting.

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