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What's it Really Like to Study Medicine at University of Malaya

6 min read

I’m a third-year medical student at the University of Malaya. I’ll walk you through my experience so far.

This article is based on my two years reading medicine in UM.

I wrote this article because – even in 2018 – there hasn’t been any posts about studying medicine in my uni. I would’ve loved to read one when I first started. I’m scratching my own itch.

In this article, I’ll cover how we are taught, our schedules, my advise for freshers and so on.

Overview of How We Are Taught

The University of Malaya Medical Programme (UMMP) is divided into 5 Stages.

  1. Pre-Clinical Years (Stage 1 & 2) is where you learn the basic knowledge and skills required to become a doctor.
  2. Clinical Years (Stage 3.1, 3.2 & 3.3) is where you undertake various postings (Surgery, Pediatrics, etc.) at hospitals applying the knowledge you acquired earlier.

In the early years, you’ll go through 11 blocks. Each block will cover different sets of topics according to the different body systems. (eg; Cardiology, Neurology, etc.)

We’ll learn throughout the first 2 years in various ways:


Most of the time, you’ll learn through lectures. They last about 1 hour and covers subjects such as Anatomy and Physiology.

During online learning, lectures are recorded so you can watch them at your own time. There are corresponding live sessions with the lecturers where you can ask them questions regarding the topic.

Theme Sessions

Theme sessions are practical sessions or seminar-style sessions. It’s a hands-on approach to learning and will last 1.5 hours to 3 hours. Theme sessions were replaced with seminar recordings and videos for online learning.

Anatomy Theme Sessions

Anatomy is taught by pro-sections at UM with an emphasis on surface anatomy. Surface anatomy is how internal structures relate to what you can see on the body’s surface. We’ll be given an introductory lecture before we proceed with our practical sessions at the dissection hall. You’ll be taught in small groups, with a tutor facilitating your learning. They run for 1.5 hours. In these sessions, you’ll learn by observing pro-sections, anatomy models and handouts.

Histology Theme Sessions

During Histology practicals, we look at slides on a microscope. Similar to anatomy, we’ll be given a lecture beforehand. During these sessions, you’ll be identifying and labelling cells.

Physiology Theme Sessions

Physiology practicals are sessions where you conduct experiments to help you understand physiology concepts better.


In seminars, speakers from different specialities provide their perspectives on a topic. Imagine a neurosurgeon, an oncologist and palliative care specialist discussing brain cancers from their viewpoints.

Problem Based Learning (PBL)

PBLs are small group learning sessions (about 8) where you investigate and work through a scenario with a tutor facilitating you. You’ll learn the theory side of it beforehand. You’ll learn how to take a history, the mechanism of the disease, and how to diagnose and manage patients. For example, you might be given a scenario of a patient with asthma, and you’ll be asked to discuss the mechanism of asthma, how to manage the patient among many. It’s an effective way to apply what you’ve learnt in lectures.

Clinical Days

Clinical Days are my personal favourite, because this is where you learn and apply your knowledge. Once a week, you’ll be learning by the bedside with your PBL group. You’ll learn to communicate with patients, practice clinical examinations and procedural skills. These sessions run for 2 hours. During online learning, we learnt through videos.

PBL 10 before COVID hit us

A friend of mine posted a detailed post on this. You can read it here.

Typical timetable

The timetable will change every week according to topics relevant to your PBL case.

Here’s my first-year timetable. On this particular week, the PBL case was a patient with symptoms indicating rheumatic heart disease.

And here’s my second year. This week’s case was a patient with spinal cord injury after a motorcycle accident (trauma).

Student life

There’s plenty of societies and extra-curricular activities to join in UM. Residential colleges and clubs will organise their own events, varying from charity runs to volunteering. Intercollegiate sports, arts and theatre festivals are hosted every year and are prominent.

Your residential college provides accommodation. You do have the option to live off-campus, but this isn’t common for freshers to do. Your residential college will be walking distance to the faculty and teaching hospital.

UM is located in the middle of KL, so there are plenty of shops, restaurants, shopping malls in a short distance. UM also has good public transport links, with buses linking to train stations scheduled in regular intervals.

What I wished I knew when I started

Focus on the big picture

When studying, don’t get caught up in the details. Focus on the fundamentals. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can add the finer details. Learn for understanding.

Tim Urban explains this;

“If you don’t fully get it, it’s like a tree in your head with no trunk – and without a trunk, when you learn something new about the topic – a new branch or leaf of the tree – there’s nothing for it to hang onto, so it just falls away. By [developing understanding], I build a tree trunk in my head, and from then on, all new information can hold on, which makes that topic forever more interesting and productive to learn about.”

A common pitfall amongst medical students is focusing on niche details. Look at the big picture first.

Make it stick

The best way to learn is via active recall and spaced repetition. Active recall means testing yourself, while spaced repetition is spacing out your learning over a period of time. Stop note-taking, highlighting, re-reading and cramming. They are short-term techniques and are inefficient. I learn with flashcards on Anki.

Stand on the shoulders of giants

Learn from your seniors. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You could try to pound your head against the wall trying to solve your problems or you can cheat by asking for help. Your choice.

Perfectly balanced, as all things should be

Fit studying in your life, not otherwise. Don’t neglect your passions, hobbies and friends once you enter medical school. On your deathbed, would you be proud of your examination results or your time spent on hobbies, friends and family? Again, your choice.


Learn new stuff. Play sports you’ve never played before. Organise events with strangers. Volunteer. Skills such as teamwork, problem solving and leadership will serve you well in your career.

The Work Equation

You don’t have to study all the time.

Work done = Intensity x time spent

If increase the intensity of your work, you can reduce the time spent. You’ll have more time to do what you enjoy. Instead of spending more time studying, improve the quality of time spent. It is more productive to work when your attention and energy levels are highest. Working longer hours robs your energy and attention span. Practice deep work.

Eat your pancake every day.

Picture this:

You’re given a pancake every day. You can eat it daily, or you can eat all of it on weekends.

Which one is easier? Eating 7 pancakes at once or eating them every day?

Studying is similar. The key to doing well is consistency. It’s hard to cram all your learning at once. Being consistent will reduce your anxiety and stress when exam seasons starts. It’s better to study for 20 minutes every day than spending an all-nighter once a week.

You can’t build muscle by lifting heavy weights once a week. You build gains by lifting consistently.

Eat your pancake every day.

Don’t believe the hype.

Don’t believe the hype. It’s not that bad.

Everyone loves to brag about their stress levels and their busy life. Medics are no exception to this, wearing their ‘I am a medic, therefore I am busy’ medals 24/7.

Before I entered medical school, I was told stories of how difficult medical school is, but it was quite chill and enjoyable.

It’s better to approach it with the mindset of ‘I can do this’ rather than ‘this will be tough’. Simple shifts will lead to a happier, stress-free, productive, and memorable experience. It’s all hype.


Tweet me or email me at [email protected]. I’ll be happy to answer.

P.S. This is exactly how you’ll get your exam results. No kidding.

What’s next?

Check out my favourite medical school resources.

Read this book on how to succeed in medical school.

This is how I studied for exams.

Here are some recommended videos for new medical students

Disclaimer: I’m sharing my rough thoughts. I encourage readers to leave comments sharing their own experiences. This article does not reflect the opinion of the university.

Medical School


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