This will be the first in a series of posts where I write an in-depth profile of each dental school in the UK.
You can of course simply visit the websites from each dental school to find out a lot of the information that will be included in these posts, but the unique edge these will have is that they are written by me (a dental student) with contributions from current dental students in each post from their respective dental schools.
If you rely solely on what the official dental school websites show/tell you, I don’t think you’d get a proper feel for the school – they are great resources, but so generic and official.
I also have plans to follow on from this series and write features on dental schools across the globe, perhaps starting with some in the US and Europe. But that is a long-term plan for now. Baby steps Ali, baby steps…
Barts and The London School Dental School will be the first because its where I’m studying, so is a convenient school to begin with!
I’ll try not to make this specific post biased but that might be a little unavoidable so you can choose to take this with a pinch of salt.
Here is a link to the dental school’s official website.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SCHOOL
I wanted to start with a brief detail of the history since I think it’s really quite interesting. Barts and The London is unique in that unlike many dental schools around the world, which are named after the city they’re based in (how original), it has a story to it…
The Dental School first opened at The Royal London in 1911 when it was within the Out Patients Department, then, there was a purpose-built Dental Institute opened in 1964. But The Royal London had been established well before that date as an institution for medical teaching. The Royal London Hospital College was the first school to ever be granted a charter for medical teaching, back in 1785. That explains one half of the name.
The other half of the name describes The Medical College of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, which is the oldest remaining hospital in the United Kingdom (founded way back in 1123).
So these two long-standing London institutions merged in 1995; The Royal London Hospital Medical College merged with St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College to become known as “St Bartholomew’s and The Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry”.
That’s a whopping great long name^, so they then shortened it to be what it’s known as today: Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
To make things just a tad bit more complicated, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry also merged with Queen Mary University of London (previously known as Queen Mary and Westfield College).
So, for any prospective dental applicants choosing this dental school, you will be applying to QMUL as it is known via the UCAS website.
I feel like I’ve lost most of you reading this already…perhaps the initial rant about historical origins was unnecessary.
Interestingly, depending on what year they graduated when I’ve met alumni of my dental school, they know it differently. Those veteran dentists who qualified before 1995 still proudly remember their days training at The Royal London Dental School.
I have to admit, if you ask me, I’d tell you I’m training at The Royal London Dental School. I prefer this name and I feel I am more accurate that if I were to call it “Barts” (which it is commonly known as) since all of the dental teaching is here, St Bartholomew’s Hospital is used for the medical teaching.
I should stress, that despite there being a long history to this great school, it is by no means dated. Quite the opposite actually, in Spring 2014 the School of Dentistry moved into brand new premises: The Royal London Dental Hospital. It’s a state of the art Hospital that houses the most modern and technologically advanced equipment in the UK.
The Royal London Dental School is located in Whitechapel, East London.
Whitechapel is an interesting area – although I’ve spent most of my life in and around London, I can’t say that I’d ever spent time in Whitechapel before I started studying here. That’s not because it isn’t a nice area, it’s just that I’m more familiar with West London as its the side of the city where I live.
Anyone who is considering applying to Barts and The London and reading this should note that Whitechapel has a great diversity with its local population – in particular, there is a large Bengali population. In fact, it’s almost immediately evident that there are lots of native Bangladeshi people as soon as you exit the Whitechapel London Underground tube station with the daily market stalls lining the street.
There is dental relevance to this because many people in the local area chew paan and can often come in to receive treatment by dental students at the Royal London Dental Hospital. In our Dental Public Health teaching, we study the oral health data for the local area (Tower Hamlets Borough) and these findings are translated accurately into the clinics.
Paan is a preparation combining betel leaf with areca nut and sometimes also with tobacco. It is chewed for its stimulant and psychoactive effects. After chewing it is either spat out or swallowed but its use is correlated with oral cancers. This is worth knowing before the interview as it is something you can mention should they ask you to talk about what’s unique about studying at Barts and The London.
Another thing worth knowing is that Whitechapel is in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where there is a relatively high incidence of tuberculosis so it is recommended that students get the BCG vaccine. I hope I have not scared any prospective dental students with this fact, I don’t write this to scare you, only for transparency and again, this information could serve you well in an interview as it shows you have done some research.
East London is the younger, cooler, edgier side of the city. But London as a city, in general, is one of the most exciting, vibrant and diverse in the world!
It’s the perfect place to be a student, and you’ll be in the area for at least 5 years. If you’re not from London or haven’t spent a lot of time in this city, I’d definitely come and check it out at least! If you end up moving to London to study dentistry, you’ll have plenty of opportunities across the five years to try and explore every little nook and cranny of this city.
The dental school is a stone’s throw away from Brick Lane, Shoreditch, Spitalfields and not far from Stratford, where the London 2012 Olympics was hosted and where you can find a huge Westfield mall. The closest big park is probably Victoria Park, it’s an awesome space – especially in the warmer summer months.
Whitechapel is well connected; it has an Overground station as well as being on the District and Hammersmith & City Lines. And things will get better in the next couple of years because there is going to be a Crossrail station for Whitechapel opening in September 2018.
Recently completed works on Whitechapel road have also made it a lot safer for cyclists. I think this is worth mentioning because lots of students cycle into university and they can use the CS2 (cycle superhighway 2) cycle lane directly to the dental hospital. When the weather is nice, I often choose to cycle from West London to the Dental Institute – you may think I am crazy to choose to commute on a bicycle in London, but it has now become a great cycling city with dedicated cycle lanes and specific traffic lights for cyclists.
As a city, London is one of the biggest and best in the world. There’s always so much going on that you’ll never get bored – and there’s something for everyone. There really is no need to go into details about London because I’m sure you can believe me when I say its amazing. I plan to write a separate post about student life in London anyway so I’ll go into details there.
THE DENTAL HOSPITAL
The new Royal London Dental Hospital where I am fortunate enough to train in only recently opened in June 2014.
So it has now been open for a few years; all the fittings are pretty much still brand new but everything has now been established and become very familiar.
The first time I saw it myself was when I came for my interview in February 2015 and I remember being so impressed with how modern it all was.
To be honest, the amazing dental hospital was one of the primary reasons why I decided to choose to come and study at the Royal London. I wanted to train using the best dental facilities and clearly, they were offered at Barts and The London.
I think the dental facilities at the school you choose is a hugely important factor that weighs on the decision because you need to feel comfortable with your surroundings as you’ll be working in the dental hospital so much of the time.
I’ve copied the text purple below straight from the university’s website:
It’s a fantastic facility that can provide care for ~70,000 patient appointments which will take place at the hospital each year.
Occupying an area equivalent to almost three football pitches, the new dental hospital includes:
- 111 dental operatories with high-tech digital operation and lighting
- 22 self-contained rooms for complex consultations and treatments
- State-of-the-art facial scanning equipment
- Cutting-edge digital imaging technology
- Sophisticated interactive teaching equipment including 72 technologically advanced patient simulation centres
- 32 operating microscopes to enhance operative capability
- Superb laboratory facilities with CAD (Computer Aided Design) and CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) technology
In addition to the dental hospital, Barts and The London dental students also treat patients at a number of other clinics in different London locations but also at outreach clinics in Southend-on-Sea.
In London, there is the Barkantine outreach clinic in Canary Wharf and the Sir Ludwig Guttmann clinic in the Olympic Park at Stratford.
Students in the 4th year travel to Southend-on-Sea once a week where they get to do lots of interesting/complex treatments. I cannot speak from personal experience at this stage, but supposedly the time spent at Southend-on-Sea is a great learning experience. Although it is still a primary care setting, most of the patients present with quite complex cases that allow the students to carry out some more challenging and interesting dental treatments.
This is a very dorky comment to make, but the Whitechapel campus library is a beautiful converted church. It has such a nice vibe and is a really great place to study in. It still has stained glass windows, but instead of having a religious theme, each stain glass window pane has a scientific theme.
The computers all across both campuses (the Whitechapel and Mile End campuses) are new, super wide screen with touch screen capabilities.
One of the main buildings is the Garrod Building, which for both dental and medical students. Inside there is: a large lecture theatre, a large computer suite, numerous small teaching seminar rooms, a multi-purpose room called The Old Library and a cafe (called Beigel Bunnies) that sells the usual treats, coffees and beigels.
The Old Library is the room where we have our exams in, but interestingly it is also a room you may become familiar with early on as it is where they hold the interviews for dental applicants.
DENTAL RESEARCH FOCUS
All dental schools in the UK have fantastic research centres where staff and students work on new research that is so important for the advanced development of this wonderful profession.
One of the most exciting things about dentistry as a pathway is that it is rapidly evolving and this is all down to the research that happens all over the world. Barts is no different, in fact here we have many different research groups here – many of the non-clinical centres are based in The Blizard Building, Whitechapel.
Particularly impressive is the research groups that work on Dental Materials (based in Mile End), Oral Cancers, Tooth Development and The Molecular Biology of the periodontal pathogen, Porphyromonas gingivitis to name just a few.
In 2005, The Blizard Building was opened (by Princess Anne). It’s on the same campus as the dental school in Whitechapel. It was a multi-million-pound project to build a huge research facility and the building itself actually won the hugely prestigious architectural RIBA National Award in 2006.
It’s a dorky building, which was actually designed to be a cell and has all the main organelles you’d find in a cell. There are Golgi Apparatus, Microfilaments hanging from the ceilings, Ribosomes and the Nucleus Cafe (which does a great, cheap lunch menu).
So many major advances in the research areas of cell biology, genomics, immunology, neuroscience, trauma, primary care and public health have happened in the Blizard Building, it’s hugely impressive!
And as dental students, we get to know these research staff very well as they teach us! In fact, there’s always opportunities for students to get involved with their research groups and many have done just that to everyone’s benefit.
I will aim to mention the research aspect for each similar post I make to this one about other dental schools in the UK.
E-LEARNING ONLINE PORTAL
Every university had a different online system that all staff and students have access to.
I think it is a hugely important aspect worth considering since you will need to use it pretty much every day.
The Online Learning Environment for Queen Mary University of London is called QMPlus – I think its excellent. And again, I am comparing it with the online portal I was using during my first degree at Imperial College, which was nowhere near as good as QMPlus.
Anyone not yet at university might not know what I’m talking about – basically, the online portal is where you get access to:
- Your Academic timetable
- All Lecture Notes
- Any Online Tutorials you might need to watch/complete
- Lecture Recordings – you can watch back all lectures (audio and visual) – especially useful when revising for exams!
- Submission portals for essays and other assignments
There are multi-faith prayer rooms at both the Whitechapel campus and also at the main QM campus at Mile End. This is a great facility since there is a significant number of religious dental students at Barts and The London, especially Muslim students.
The BLSA building is the student union building. Similar to all university union buildings, it is multi-purpose. During the day there is:
- A great restaurant/bar/cafe (The Griff Inn)
- Social spaces including a microwave, sofas, pool tables, table tennis etc
- Study spaces with computers, desks etc
- Locker rooms
- Multi-Faith Prayer Room
- Multi-purpose studios (for dance, yoga etc)
Then at night, on the ground floor is The Griff Inn is the students union bar which hosts the usual weekly Wednesday sports nights (tables) and all sorts of other social events on different evenings.
According to the website, there were ~600 applicants in 2016 and 140 offers were given. Every university always gives out more offers than there are spaces because in reality applicants don’t accept all offers.
Barts and The London is a relatively small dental school – on average there are ~70 students in each year.
That means that in 2016, there were 8-9 applicants fighting for each spot at Barts and The London to study dentistry!
Compare this with King’s, the other dental school in London where I think there are roughly 115-180 students per year (I need to check my facts and update this).
It is a huge advantage having a relatively small cohort because you really get to know everyone else on the course, as well as having a closer connection with the teaching staff. There’s a real sense of community amongst the students across all years and staff.
In each year group, the students are split into tutor groups and these groups remain the same through the full 5 years. Each tutor group has an assigned academic and clinical tutor and there are 8/9 students in each group. And each student has a clinical partner assigned to them at the start of the course and you remain clinical partners throughout the full duration of your time at the dental school. Since we spend a lot of time with our tutor groups, you become very close friends with those people especially!
The people here are all so nice and friendly, this includes everyone: the clinical skills and prosthetics lab staff, the nurses, the receptionists, the clinical tutors and researchers. Not only are they all lovely but there’s very much an open door policy meaning that you should never feel like you cannot go and talk to any member of staff. There’s sort of a horizontal hierarchy in that even the most senior tutors are warm and welcoming. In fact, it’s not uncommon to pop into the local pub (Good Sams) on a Friday and see students having a casual drink with some of the members of staff.
I can confidently say I know the name of every other student in my year, and know them personally to varying extents. Not only that, you get to know many of the students in years above and below your own.
THE NEW BDS CURRICULUM
In 2012, the five-year course leading to a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) qualification was redesigned to allow a modern curriculum.
I won’t go into details about the new curriculum here as you can read all about it on the dental school’s official website.
The current final year dental students started in 2012, the year that the new curriculum was introduced so they were in an unfortunate position of being the guinea pigs. Since it was first introduced five years ago, the students and staff have worked together to improve and refine the system so anyone who joins the dental school now will benefit from a modern curriculum that is well organised with established teaching & timetabling.
The renewed curriculum has five themes that run through all 5 years of the course, with some themes having a greater presence in the early years. The themes are:
- Basic Clinical Sciences
- Clinical Practice
- Professionalism, Teamwork and Social Responsibility (PTSR)
- Evidence-Based Dentistry (EBD), Dental Public Health, Global Health and Research
- Academic Advising and Graduate Attributes
The whole idea of this structured curriculum with the themes shown above is to allow us not to simply qualify as dentists who can practically do all the different things we should be able to do (eg. a root canal treatment, take an X-Ray, fill a cavity, extract a tooth, make a bridge etc) but to help us to become excellent health care professionals who use the best possible practicing techniques and communicate with patients, nurses etc in effective and professional ways. If it was simply about training dentists to be able to carry out the practical tasks then the course would be a lot shorter than 5 years!
I also have plans to write specific posts where I will discuss what each year of the BDS course is like, the feature will be called: “Dental School: What happens in BDSX?” – this will give you a good idea from a student’s perspective about what each year of the course is like.
SPORTS AND OTHER ACTIVITIES
Barts and The London offers plenty of sports. The dental school and medical school are joint sports teams and we compete against Queen Mary in our varsity.
All the popular sports you’d expect are on offer at Barts to any dental students, there are competitive teams and also social teams in all of these sports. They include: Rugby, Football, Rowing, Hockey, Netball, Tennis, Rowing, Cricket, Badminton, Basketball, Running, Swimming and Water Polo etc.
Being joint with the medical school, joining a sports team for Barts is a great way to not only get to know other dental students who do the same sport who are in other year groups but also a good way to socialise with medical students! The sports teams usually have a table at Sports Nights every Wednesday during term times so not only is there sport to be involved in but also the social side 🙂
The extra-curricular facilities are not simply limited to sports, pretty much any society you can imagine exists, and if it doesn’t you can create it!
Not only that, since Barts and The London is a part of Queen Mary, you aren’t exclusively limited to joining a Barts sports team or society, you can join the QM group instead if you wish. There might be different motivations including QM is more competitive, or its a good way to get to know students at the same university who are not dental students!
Many of the dental students in my year are an active member of at least one sports team/society! There are also plenty of dental societies including Dentalks (who invite speakers to come in and give talks on dental topics of interest) etc.
All sports teams and societies are started by students, run by students and are for students!
And at Barts (as well as pretty much every other UK dental school), we have Wednesday afternoons free from academic/clinical commitments allowing us to do other things.
You can find all the entry requirements on the official website.
But I wanted to add some clarification to the 50:50 weighting that is applied to UKCAT: academic results. Basically, this just means that each applicant will be assessed on these two criteria, and each is equally important.
This means that the strongest applicants will have a high UKCAT score and excellent academics (eg. straight As). Unfortunately, it means that Barts and The London do value the UKCAT score, as opposed to some other dental schools that do not use a 50:50 weighting.
For this reason, if you have achieved a low UKCAT score, and know that your academics are also quite borderline then you may want to reconsider your university options for your own benefit. I hope this makes sense!
Now that I’ve decided to include mention of rankings for this feature, I guess I’ll have to do the same when reviewing all the other UK dental schools. But I don’t think anyone should focus on the ranking of a dental school so don’t consider this too much. Also, there are a number of different rankings you might view, and each has a different table – so you’d have a different impression based on whichever you looked at!
But for what it’s worth, Bart’s and The London (Queen Mary) has been ranked near the top, or at the top of most ranking tables for the past few years! It’s easy to see why from my point of view – and it definitely helps now (since 2014) as we have a brand new fully kitted dental hospital to train in!
I want to avoid being biased at this point but it will be difficult because I strongly feel that Barts and The London is one of the best dental schools in the UK.
I could go into detail about why I think it’s a great dental school but that wouldn’t be fair on the rest when I write other features because I wouldn’t be able to make a direct comparison personally.
DENTSOC SOCIAL CALENDAR EVENTS
Each dental school has their own social calendar, with specific events that happen annually.
The key events at Barts and The London are:
- Fresher’s Themed Social in the Students Union during Freshers Fortnight
- This year the theme was to dress as your favourite Cartoon Network cartoon, last year it was Emergency Services (police, fireman etc)
- Christmas Party
- The Student-Staff Quiz
- Dental Beer Race Pub-crawl
- Dental Dinner
- Barts v.s. Kings London Dental Schools Joint Social
- End of Exams Party
The interview style adopted by Barts and The London is a more traditional interview.
All invited applicants will come to The Garrod Building for a half day, which starts with applicants watching a short video of a dental scenario. The year I interviewed, it was a video showing a really unprofessional and rude dentist who wasn’t listening to his patients’ concerns.
The applicants are then called in for their interview, sat across a table from two or three people (either two staff members or two members of staff and a student). During the interview, you will spend time discussing the video scenario, and asked questions. The interviewers will have a copy of your Personal Statement in front of them so you should also expect questions directly related to what you’ve mentioned on it.
The interviews will vary in length, typically lasting between 10-30 minutes.
All of the interviewers are super friendly so please don’t be too nervous!
In fact, you’ll probably end up getting to know the people who interview you very well as they are all usually key members of the teaching staff who you are exposed to regularly whilst on the course.
After the interview, there is typically a tour of the dental hospital led by a current student then the day is over – in total it will probably last ~3 hours.
QUEEN MARY – MILE END CAMPUS
As I mentioned, Barts and The London is the school of medicine and dentistry which is a part of Queen Mary, University of London. It is the largest campus university in London and is definitely worth knowing about – because although as a dental student you spend most of your time at the Whitechapel campus, we also have the privilege of full access to all the facilities at Mile End.
Geographically, Mile End and Whitechapel are very close to each other. You could walk from one campus to the other in 15 minutes or it’s just two stops away if you jump on the tube – although I think it’s quicker if you stay on for just one stop and walk to the Mile End campus from Stepney Green tube station. Mile End is a little further East from the centre of London than Whitechapel is.
Since the Mile End campus is the main university site, it accommodates so many more courses and therefore thousands more students than the Whitechapel campus accommodates. So all the facilities at Mile End are a lot larger.
This year I am doing an advanced Spanish language scholarship, and I have evening classes every Tuesday 6-8pm at the Mile End campus. One great thing about it is that I’m the only dental student in the class, everyone else studies vastly different subjects like: physics, English literature, history, politics etc – so it’s nice to get exposed to and get to know people on other courses. Otherwise, it’s easy to get stuck in the dentistry bubble and forget about all other students from different courses.
There is some dental teaching at the Mile End campus in years 1 and 2 – there are large labs we use for anatomy teaching and its also where we do dental materials practicals etc. So you do spend some time at the main QM campus, just not that often.
We have our graduation ceremony in The Great Hall at People’s Palace – an iconic East London venue. It’s a fantastic hall that has a capacity for 770 people.
St Paul’s Cathedral, an iconic landmark in central London. I am excited to have a part of my graduation ceremony here – it will make the moment when I become a bachelor of dental surgery all the more special. As dental students, we will be joining all our fellow medical graduates to have what is known as the Rites of Passage ceremony in St Paul’s.
This is by no means a complete review of Barts and The London but it should hopefully help give you a taste for what this great dental school is like.
Hopefully, this has encouraged any potential applicants reading this post to seriously consider applying to Barts and The London as one of your four possible dental school choices. It’s an excellent dental school – slightly biased opinion from me but its truly a great place to be!