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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Freedman

Medical School Curriculums

A lot of words (and letters!) get thrown around in relation to Medicine curriculums - but what is the real difference between a CBL and a PBL course? What would suit you better, integrated or traditional? How do you choose between a 5-year course and a 6-year course? Which course structure suits your learning style best?

Let’s dive into it.

The main curriculum styles in the UK are:

  1. Traditional

  2. Integrated

  3. CBL

  4. PBL

  5. EBL


Divided into ‘pre-clinical’ and ‘clinical’ years, with a clear separation between the two. You will begin by studying medical sciences (pre-clinical) before moving into hospital and community placements( clinical). This course tends to involve a subject-based approach with a high number of lectures and tutorials and little to no patient contact in the early years. this allows you to focus on the science, anatomy, research and evidence that underpins medical practice.

Examples: Oxford, Cambridge.

Who does this suit? Students who enjoy learning facts and academic skills, offering a solid foundation and an opportunity to gain confidence before entering clinical work. Tutorials involved in these courses are often intensive and allow for vast amounts of learning and exploring.


As it sounds, in these courses there is less of a clear divide between the pre-clinical and clinical stages and more of a seamless transition. Teaching methods can vary from lectures to problem-based learning to practical skills sessions. Frequently, these courses take a systems approach, taking one bodily system at a time and considering all relevant parts - from anatomy to pathology to pharmacology. These courses encourage early patient contact and emphasise self-directed learning opportunities.

Examples: Brighton and Sussex, King’s College London, Newcastle, Leeds

Who does this suit? Students who enjoy a fairly hands-on learning approach and are looking for early patient interactions.

PBL, CBL and EBL courses tend to have originated from integrated courses (with very blurred lines between the different course types). It can be hard to categorise a university course strictly into one box, since it may overlap between a few types of learning.

PBL (Problem Based Learning)

Problem-based learning presents students with a problem, to which they must form their own questions. Students will work in groups to explore and research these points, involving a large amount of self-directed learning and minimal tutor facilitation. Learning objectives are created by the students themselves. Group work allows for improvements in communication, teamwork and problem-solving skills - all skills required when working in healthcare. Pure PBL is not very common and most courses are more blended with the provision of lectures, seminars, tutorials etc.

Examples: Bart’s and the London, Hull York, Keele, UEA

Who does this suit? Students who enjoy taking charge of their own learning, using initiative and working in small groups. This suits those who are effective communicators, listeners, self motivated and those who have good time management skills.

CBL (Case Based Learning)

Using virtual cases, this course uses group work to consider the knowledge and skills required to work through areas of the curriculum. There tends to be more guidance from supervisors and more focus on learning in clinical environments than PBL. Group work around cases is reinforced with interlinked learning opportunities - including seminars, lectures, dissection, patient-focused learning and clinical skills practice. Each case (which may be spread over two weeks for example) will conclude with a wrap-up session, reviewing what has been learnt and how it will apply to future practice.

Examples: Cardiff, Liverpool

Many of the qualities that suit a PBL course also suit a CBL course.

EBL (Enquiry Based Learning)

This poses questions, problems or scenarios that are facilitated by a tutor. The emphasis is on the student learning, rather than a teacher, teaching. Students are encouraged to self-identify and research the issues and questions that arise. It is very similar to and includes PBL. It is often used as part of a course, such as in research projects.

Examples: Birmingham


Why are some courses six years and some five years?

Six-year courses can either be an extended medical degree or those that include a compulsory intercalation.

An extended medical degree involves a one year foundation course before beginning - aimed at students who may not have studied chemistry or those who need assistance to be better prepared for the undergraduate medical degree.

An intercalating degree is a chance to explore another related topic, gain skills in research and academia and take a step away from clinical practice. Some universities have this included in the course (and compulsory) whilst others will give you the chance to apply for this as an optional extra. It will mean you finish your studies with two degrees!

Don’t be afraid to drop me an email or reach out on Instagram if you have any further questions!


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