Principles Block

Last week we passed the first milestone in our medical school career – the end of the Principles block, designed to give us an introduction to the basic sciences that will support our further study into the various systems of the human body. Principles has been a whirlwind introduction to our studies with a great range of topics being covered in a variety of teaching styles.


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It’s been interesting comparing life as a university student now with my original undergraduate degree. In ‘the old days’ we only really had two types of classes – lectures, in which we frantically tried to scribble down everything that the lecturer was writing on the giant rolling blackboards, and weekly tutorials, in which you and a fellow student would be the sole focus of the tutor’s eagle eye.


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Modern teaching is rather different. Lectures are of course given with the aid of powerpoint, which are usually made available to us in advance, and since the lecturers are no longer having to scribble on blackboards, we don’t spend the whole hour staring at their backs. It’s amazing how much more interesting a lecture is when you can see the lecturer’s face! I started out trying to make notes in lectures but I now use a voice recorder so that I can go back and check things later, and just sit and listen. Now that I’m not frantically trying to write everything down, I find that I’m taking in far more information during the lecture itself.

The bulk of our time has been spent in lectures, but we’ve also had a number of different classes and tutorials, mostly aligned around General Practice.  For some of these we’re subdivided into groups of 7/8 people, and will stay together for the next 3 years.  We’ve had 5 clinical skills sessions during Principles, focusing on some of the fundamentals such as infection control, communication skills and taking vital signs.

Towards the end of the block we’ve had a number of different labs, ‘playing’ with red blood cells and bacteria, squinting down microscopes at histology slides and trying to make some kind of sense out of the pink and purple patterns, and most fun of all, measuring nerve conduction velocity. This last involved applying small electrical shocks to contract the muscles of the hand, and whilst not really painful, was a decidedly odd sensation.

Nerve velocity tutorial

One strong point of Dundee is that we’re given a lot of opportunities to meet patients early on in the degree. Gone are the days when after three years of theory you’d suddenly find yourself confronted with your first patient!  In addition to sitting in on a GP surgery in the first weeks, we’ve all been assigned a patient to follow over the next three years in The Patient Journey.  These volunteers from all over Dundee have offered themselves up to meet with us and chat about their health and their daily life.  In the latter clinical skills classes we’ve also had volunteer patients who let us practice our skills on them, either by acting out a specific scenario or by drawing on their own health conditions.

So that was Principles, now it’s time to starting learning about ‘real’ medicine, and we have the official hospital name badges to prove it!

Written by:

Natasha is from the UK, but has been working as a software developer in The Netherlands for the past 13 years. She's moving to Dundee on a permanent basis with her 3 cats, and is going to be studying Medicine.