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[personal profile] misspotter
In high school, I had a dream of going to Oxford, pursuing an undergraduate degree in Classics (like JK Rowling) and then settling into graduate med. However I must admit that doing HSC Latin kind of took a lot of the fun out of the language, and Oxford’s fees seemed prohibitively high (the pound was worth about 3 of the Australian dollar at this point), and I soon figured getting stuck into med was more my thing anyway, so this all fell by the wayside. But then I found out about how we had elective terms in med, and kept dreaming of the day I would get to call myself an Oxford student, even if only for a term.

But I remember quite clearly the period when I was writing my application. It was about a quarter of the way through fourth year coursework in 2011. I wasn’t in the best of places because I’d gone through a breakup and I was restarting med after a year of ILP followed by a year of arts. A big part of me had mostly given up on Oxford (I thought my grades weren’t good enough and my extracurriculars weren’t particularly impressive) and was filling out the application because it would give me something to hope for, no matter how small, and because it was almost 2 years in advance, I thought it would be good practice and I could simply copy/paste bits of my Oxford application into future apps.

And then I got this email around August saying that I was in, and it turned my life around.

Well okay, it didn’t quite hit me for a long time. I kept thinking they’d made some mistake and that in a few weeks I’d get another email saying that they’d mixed up my application with someone else’s. But eventually, 2012 rolled around and I got a “welcome to Oxford” booklet in the mail and various other exciting things. And then it came time for me to apply for my Tier 4 visa (make sure you save about $400 for it or get an OS-help loan). And then I was getting on a plane. And then I was actually in Oxford. And then it was my first day…

I suppose a lot of people will be reading this because they want some advice on how to get in. The truth is, I don’t know how I got in. I really don’t think I’m anything special. I’m not dux of my year, I don’t have a PhD behind me, I was never president of anything (except VP of the Quidditch Society, which I thought would count against me if anything) and I don’t tutor. I suppose though, having my Arts degree (I’m one of those combined med people doing a 7-year degree) made me a little different from the ordinary applicant, and putting my UAI on my CV didn’t do me any harm.

The only advice I will give you is to make yourself sound really unique in your application. I’m proud of my application because a lot of it was written from the heart (as I said before, I wasn’t in a great place, so writing a self-promotional thing was quite good therapy) and I think it effectively communicated my quirkiness (which I think English people are into). I admitted liking Doctor Who and Harry Potter, for example. I wrote about heart sounds being like music and I wrote about my BA in English giving balance and teaching me about the power of narrative. The thing is, Oxford gets a *lot* of applications and they probably have heard nearly every line before, so your greatest challenge is to stand out from the crowd. Unless you have a hundred publications or something, you really won’t stand out if you just promote yourself the conventional way. It is heavily CV-based, so write a good, detailed CV – it is worth getting other people to check it – that contains things such as descriptions of what each of your jobs entailed. Like if you say that you’ve vocal directed med revue, explain that it involves arranging music, teaching cast, working one-on-one with soloists, and occasionally resolving conflicts between teams. If you work as a receptionist, write about how you juggle answering telephones with data entry and whatnot. There isn’t a word limit for this, but keep it less than 3 pages.

Ok, I lie, I'm going to give you a second piece of advice. JUST APPLY! Even if you think you won't get in. The cut-off for applications is almost a year before any other elective placement's, so think about it this way. You will have plenty of time to find a backup in the event you do get rejected. However, if you don't apply at all, you'll never know! Application is also free, unlike Cambridge and Edinburgh, so you actually have nothing to lose. And as JK Rowling says...
 You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
If you got in, congratulations! Seriously...there is a box of rejections about the size of a bar fridge. If you got in, you are probably intelligent enough to figure out how to get cheap flights (STA Travel) and that you need insurance (because the "bilateral health agreement' pretty much only covers dire emergencies.

If you want the full college experience, stay in a college – but it’ll be about 500 quid a month and you will have to catch the bus into hospital every day. But rest assured, even if you stay in Ivy Lane, which is 0 quid a month, it’s quite easy to get the college experience through dinners , bops, movie nights and such. I stayed in Ivy Lane and really liked the proximity to the hospital (<5 minutes!) as well as the big rooms and nice kitchen. What I did not particularly love and wish I had been warned about so I could budget for were:

• The lack of communal toilet paper, hand soap, dishwashing liquid, laundry liquid, tea towels, and so on. It depends on what flatmates you have, but mine were quite protective over their own stuff even when I pointed out I was only there for a month.
• The single, tiny hospital towel (even Wagga gave me three!).
• The lack of communal cooking oil, salt, pepper etc. I’d actually advocate eating out if you want to eat decent food.
• It costs 2.20 pounds to do a load of washing and 1.00 pound to dry it. This doesn’t sound like much, but if you do one load each week, then in a month you’ve spent 12.80 pounds, and if you’re like me and you like to do washing more frequently, you should actually budget more.

Although lots of Australian medical students go to England with the view of partying in London and sightseeing in continental Europe, my advice is to actually spend in Oxford as much as possible (as tempting as the 10-pound, 1-hour train to London may seem). And not just in terms of at the JR/Nuffield, because the hospital time is fantastic, but there is actually a lot do in this little town if you just open your eyes. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

1. College-hopping
Oxford has something like 40 colleges, all of which are uniquely beautiful. Make sure you go in and take photos of the grounds/halls/chapels. You will get a “Bod Card” which will get you free entrance into virtually all the colleges. My favourites were Christ Church (the inspiration for the Hogwarts Great Hall), New (the cloisters are where Malfoy gets turned into a ferret), Magdalen (biiiiig grounds, also castles!), Exeter (has a bust of Tolkien in the chapel), and All Souls (has an AMAZING chapel with a million statue things on the wall). On the same theme, make sure you spend time in the Bod Library and the Radcliffe Camera! One really good way to get into the more exclusive colleges, eg Queen’s, which is only open to visitors if you go on a pre-booked special tour, is to attend the “Evensong” at the chapel. This usually happens on Sunday nights and one or two weeknights. It is basically a church service conducted mostly in song, and many Oxford colleges are renowned for their choirs, plus the chapels have great acoustics, so it is the most amazing ear candy.

2. GTC events
You will be made an “honorary member” of Green Templeton College. Make sure you sign up for lots of formal Wednesday/Thursday dinners - it’s 12 pounds for a 3-course meal, with pre-dinner drinks and post-dinner chocolates/tea/coffee. They also do cool rituals such as herding everyone into the dining hall with a bell and saying grace in Latin (so don’t sit down until everyone else does). There are also bops with very cheap drinks, free Sunday brunches where you can bring a dish to share if you like, movie nights, cocktail nights, and interesting lectures. There are a couple of black tie dinners for every term (so make sure you pack a nice outfit or plan to buy one), but you need to sign up on a lottery system. Oh, and if you can, try to make friends with people from different colleges to get invited to formal dinners in their halls (I recommend Balliol).

3. Med events
Oxford’s Medsoc hosts fortnightly “bops” in Osler House, i.e. the common room (or rather, common house). Don’t show up before 10:30pm though, because the action always starts quite late. Their specialty is the “Willy-O”, a six-shot cocktail which costs 4 pounds (but you can get a half-strength three-shot for only two pounds, never fear, small Asian girls!) English people take their party themes very seriously, so be prepared for things such as “Anything But Clothes”, “Athletes and Mathletes”, and “Sexy Sub-Fusc”. All the native med students will be really lovely – like I got invited to afternoon tea at one of their houses! - so don’t be afraid to stick your antennae out! If you’re single you’re likely to score some dates too, cause English people secretly love Australians.

4. Societies
Oxford people are quirky. Or maybe English people are quirky. But whatever the reason, whatever your special interest is, you’ll find a society to cater to your needs. For me, this was the Quidditch Society. There I found people to play my favourite sport with, to play in the snow with, to go to the pub with, to knit with, to watch movies at the Odeon with, and to feed the ducks with. You’ll get a handbook with some of the popular societies to join, but if you can do some research before you leave the country, and possibly add them on Facebook, as this will help you network before you arrive!

5. Museums
Oxford has the Ashmolean, the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers, which are all excellent. And most importantly, free! The Ashmolean in particular is huge, and you could totally get lost in it for the better part of a day. There is also a small museum attached to the Town Hall that contains a bit of history about Oxford as well as some famous citizens…it’s small but it’s free, so if you have time to kill it’s probably worth a visit.

6. Parks
The University Parks are many of Oxford’s sporting societies train. It is also the home of many ducks and geese, who will love you if you throw bread at them. When it snows, it is the best place to build snowmen or have snowball fights. And when the bridges ice over, then you can use them as slippery-dips which is amazing fun. Also recommended: The Christ Church Meadow, which has DEER! And the Magdalen College grounds, which are lovely and sprawling and huge because they’re essentially at the fringe of the city. If the weather is good, I would recommend going punting (though I didn’t get around to it) on the river.

7. Shopping
Maybe it’s because students drown their sorrows in retail therapy when they need to give their livers a break, but the shopping in Oxford is quite good for a “small town”. In the city centre there’s a large Primarni (I mean…Primark), an H&M, a gigantic River Island, and a Marks and Spencer’s to name a few. You’ll find Lush (hipster toiletries), Thornton’s (candy!) and my personal favourite, Ann Summers, just exactly as you get in London (minus the crowds, even in the post-Christmas sales!) There are also a few nice independent shops, something which the big Oxford St of London doesn’t have a lot of. Most shops close at 6pm, so there is plenty of time for you to spend respectable hours at hospital and go shopping after! Most people want to pick up some varsity gear – go to the Varsity Shop because you’ll get a 10% discount with your Bod Card.

8. Eating out
As alluded to earlier, cooking in Ivy Lane isn’t easy. Fortunately there’s a lot of decent places around to eat that aren’t too expensive. Pub food is really good in Oxford – the King’s Arms (apparently they do a rabbit pie if you’re feeling adventurous), the White Horse (which I liked for the mulled wine), Turl St Kitchen (menu changes every day), and then there are some good ones on High St that I totally didn’t get around to trying. If you’re a comic book fan, you should go to Atomic Burger. If you’re a veggo, Magic Café is a moderate walk from the hospital and sells really cheap vegetarian/vegan food. I also went to the Wagamama off Cornmarket St a bit whenever I got cravings for noodles. Oh, and Sushi Yo is stupidly expensive, but keep your eye out for when they do 40% off promotions. And lastly, make sure that while you’re in England, you go for either “high tea” or “cream tea”!

9. General touristy stuff
Make sure you get a good view of Oxford either by climbing St Mary’s (expensive, but prettier) or St Michael’s (cheaper, but dirtier). Go for a “free” Footprints walking tour, which is run by quite knowledgeable guides (plus you’ll get discounts to Turl St Kitchen and Fudge Kitchen and a few other places I can’t remember). In the winter, the Botanic Gardens are probably not as pretty, but if you like plants they’re probably worth a visit. I didn’t go inside the Oxford Castle mound because I don’t like catacombs and personally thought it looked like a gigantic dung heap, but if you have time to kill and a pound to spare, it’s apparently quite good. BUT you must take some time to wander around the castle district, because there are lots of beautiful buildings, you can walk along the river, and if you come back at night there are some trendy bars and things north of the city.

If you do get bored of Oxford though, which I imagine can happen if you’re there for more than a month, invest in a UK student railcard. For 28 pounds you can get 1/3 off all your off-peak fares, including London tube tickets, so it earns itself back rather rapidly, especially if you do any weekend trips to Scotland or Wales or something (but book EARLY). Other people will write you guides as to what to do in London, so I won’t go into that here.

As far as getting around...
• You have to go to Debenhams on your first day to get an Oxford Key, which you can load with a monthly bus pass. Spend a bit more and get the 45-pound one, because it will let you get on any of the buses from any of the companies in Oxford. It’ll also earn itself back quite quickly as a simple return journey from the city centre is more than 3 pounds! I never had any problems with buses, though if you’re at Ivy Lane, it’s much faster to catch an 8 from Headington as opposed to a 13/X13 from the front of the JR.
• I wouldn’t recommend getting a bike just because the JR is on a hill…but if that floats your boat, sure!
• Cabs are fairly plentiful. To get to the hospital from the city centre shouldn’t cost you more than 12 pounds, so if you’re staying in college and want to attend an Osler Bop, don’t worry about the buses stopping after midnight.
• Walking from the city centre to the JR is about 30-40 minutes.

With life in general, you get out as much as you put in. The same goes for an Oxford elective. If you’re at the JR, you’re at a truly world-class tertiary medical centre. The doctors all love to help you learn, so just let them know if there’s anything specific you’re interested in. As we tend to arrive during winter, a not terribly popular time with most medical students on elective, you will probably not have a lot of colleagues. This means that although you may be short of someone to have lunch with, you will also get free run of the place. I floated between the three cardiology “firms” (fancy English word for teams): Electrophysiology, Intervention and Failure/Imaging/Structural. As with Sydney, most of the good stuff happens in the mornings, so get in early. But afternoons are often quite quiet so you will often be able to bail early and play in the snow or attend Quidditch training.

The way the ward rounds work in general is that the SHOs on each team will see each patient in the morning, and then discuss any tricky stuff with the registrar. Some days the consultants come in and round with everyone. If you want to practice phlebotomy, you need to flag this to your team as they won’t make you do anything resembling work. Same thing goes for scribing (which I’m used to doing back home). The CCU ward round, however, is done by the “consultant of the week”, so the style varies.

I think though, that the place I learnt the most was cardiology outpatients. Since the people were generally pretty well and hadn’t been bombarded by other students, they were happy to be examined and answer questions. Plus, since a lot of cardiologists do their own echoes, I was able to get a better understanding of how to read them. My favourite team overall was probably HF/Imaging/Structural because they had the most interesting patients (e.g. a lot of Infective Endocarditis), but it’s important to make sure you cycle all the teams to get a feel for each of them.

With the cath lab, what I did was make a list of all the procedures mentioned in the morning meetings, and worked at viewing one of each. For example, make sure you watch a few angiograms, stents, pacemaker insertions, valvuloplasties, and arrhythmia ablations (though maybe not a “LACA” as it is “like watching paint dry”). Also in the cath labs you can see TOEs (though watching one is probably enough for you to get a feel for how they work).

Places to get free food:
• SHO (aka JMO) teaching, on Wednesdays at 12:30.
• Journal Clubs (Fridays at 13:00 for Cardiology)
• Osler House has free tea, coffee and squash.
• Your ward will probably have cake or chocolate floating around – just watch people.
• Staffrooms, eg the cath lab tearoom, often have communal snacks.
• If you’re chirpy and smile a lot, consultants will usually buy you coffee.

February 2013

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