Phase 1

Phase 1 refers to the initial two years of the UNSW medical program.

MedSoc runs several events to engage and enrich the lives of Phase 1 students, not limited to:

  • Medcamp: not to be missed, there is only one opportunity to go and people will be talking about it past graduation. Held on one of the first few weekends of Foundations, this is a great opportunity to meet your peers and have lots of fun whilst doing it.
  • Mentoring: first year medical students are paired up with older medical students to guide their way through the transition from high school to university, providing useful hints and tips on surviving. Individual Phase 1 mentoring is also available.
  • And much more!


The focus of Phase 1 is acquiring basic scientific knowledge in the key medical science disciplines – anatomy, histology, physiology, pathology, microbiology – and learning basic history-taking and examination skills. The emphasis is not on diagnosing or treating problems but on practicing the skills necessary to do so by recognising the normal and the abnormal. Hospital tutorials take place once per fortnight for 2 hours, with on-campus clinical and communication tutorials for 3 hours in the alternate week. A typical week in the first 7 weeks of each term would have 6-8 hours of lectures, 4-6 hours of practicals, 2-3 hours of clinical/communication tutorials, 4 hours of scenario group sessions and 1-2 hours of specialized tutorials (anything from ethics to pathology). The final week is usually the exam only, leaving 2-3 days for exam preparation.

It contains 8 teaching periods, including:

  • Foundations [MFAC1501] – An introduction into concepts in medicine and easing the transition of high school students into teaching and learning at university.
  • Beginnings, Growth and Development A + B [MFAC1521 and 1522] – Conception, pregnancy and birth; childhood growth and development; puberty, adolescence, sexuality and relationships; nutrition, growth, and body image
  • Health Maintenance A + B [MFAC1523 and 1524] – Homeostasis, sustenance, and equilibrium; education, health promotion, and disease prevention; host defence; lifestyle factors that risk health
  • Ageing and Endings A + B [MFAC1525 and 1526] – Menopause; the ageing process; degenerative disease; death, dying and palliative care
  • Society and Health [MFAC1527] – Society, culture and genes; socioeconomic determinants of health; health delivery systems; health and human rights

First years should enrol in:

  • Teaching Period 1: Foundations [MFAC1501]
  • Teaching Period 2: Beginnings, Growth and Development A  [MFAC1521]

Each 8-week term is based around 3-4 ‘scenarios’- each scenario examines one of the course themes and teases apart various aspects of it based on an introductory story which is developed in tutorial classes (scenario groups). For example, a scenario on heart disease might start with a skit about a middle-aged male smoker with chest pain and a suspected heart attack- to understand what has happened, you might be taught the anatomy, histology and physiology of the cardiovascular system, the prevalence of heart disease and its risk factors, how to examine the cardiovascular system including listening to heart sounds, the pathology of heart attacks and their clinical complications, some basic treatment and the ethical issues surrounding heart transplants. Each of these things is taught over a series of lectures, tutorials, clinical tutorials and science practical classes, and integrated with discussion, homework tasks and learning activities in the scenario group sessions which happen twice per week.

Foundations is the first course in first year, which is designed to ease new students into the structure and assessment style of the medical program. Clinical tutorials commence in the first or second week to acclimatise you to the hospital environment, while the on-campus theory is focused on providing a broad introduction into each of the main medical and clinical science disciplines. Foundations represents a good opportunity for students who didn’t do chemistry or biology in the HSC to catch up the necessary information- this isn’t to say that you would be able to catch up everything, or that most of Foundations is a repetition of those subjects. Many students also find foundations as a good opportunity to meet fellow students who you’ll be spending the next 6 years with, and to generally settle into university life.

In addition, Foundations, is assessed using a pass-fail examination. Assessments are the same kinds of tasks are completed but the marks will not be counted towards passing or failing Phase 1 (as opposed to the subsequent 7 courses) – it must still be satisfactorily completed to move onto the next course.

Each term in Phase 1 is assessed in 3 parts: an individual assignment, a group project (with a few other members of the scenario group) and an end of course exam.

The written tasks are usually due around Week 6 or 7, and the exam is usually on the Thursday of Week 8. Each of the written tasks assesses 2 focus capabilities from the list of 8, as well as 3 “generic” capabilities (communication, self-directed learning and reflection). Each capability is graded as either Fail, P- (roughly a pass conceded or low Pass), P (high Pass or a Credit) or a P+ (Distinction or High Distinction), plus an overall grade on the same scale.

Each end of course exam has 4 sections: a multiple choice section consisting of 40 MCQs and 3 short answer questions. If you fail 2 or more exams in a year, you will need to repeat that year as well as sitting the usual supplementary exam for failing an exam.

By the end of Phase 1, you should have balanced your assignments so that each capability has at least 1, preferably 2 results. At the beginning of your 3rd year, you will need to write a 3500 word reflective essay (the Phase 1 Portfolio) about your learning and development in each of the 8 capabilities over Phase 1. The Portfolio is a barrier exam; that is, you must get a grade of P- or higher to continue to Phase 2.

A progressive practical barrier exam consisting of 3 exams are held at the end of year 1, after TP2 in year 2 and at the end of year 2. This will examine the material provided in the practical classes across the disciplines of anatomy/embryology, microbiology/biochemistry/genetics, histology/histopathology, and physiology/pharmacology. An overall pass is required in each of the disciplines to move onto phase 2.

In addition, after the final Phase 1 course, there are 2 other barrier assessments: a clinical skills exam (OSCE – Objective Structured Clinical Examination) covering history taking and basic examination skills on actors, and a large multiple choice theory exam. All 2 exams cover material from all 8 courses; material from Foundations is not directly examined but most of it appears in the other courses, from where it could be examined.