My thoughts on the UERM Biochemistry bridging program

So there’s one personal detail about me out the window: I am going to study Medicine at the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, Inc (UERMMMCi). The academic year will formally begin in a week; that is, on August 8, 2016. Coming from a pre-med program that does not include a few units in Biochemistry in its curriculum, I decided to spend two weeks of my remaining free time to take the Bridging Program for Biochemistry under UERM.

Before deciding to take this program, I searched for informative reviews to know if it was really helpful, but I didn’t find much. So, I will try to answer the very questions I had regarding this, just like any other interested incoming first year medical student in the Philippines out there:

What exactly is the UERM Biochemistry Bridging Program?

It is a two-week refresher/starter course  provided by the Biochemistry Department of the College of Medicine of UERM for incoming first year medical students. Take note that even if you’re not going to UERM to study Medicine, you can still enroll in their course. I met one in the program who is going to FEU-NRMF for his medical studies. Usually, it takes place a few weeks just before the start of classes. In our batch, it was scheduled from July 18-29, 2016. It provides an overview or an introduction to the topics that are going to be tackled in the Biochemistry classes themselves as well as the basics (e.g., functional groups and important chemical reactions). It aims to fill the gap between the students’ lack of confidence to take on Biochemistry due to insufficient or complete lack of background and the level of difficulty of Medical Biochemistry itself (Hence, it’s called a bridging program). The program has been annually conducted for 7 years now.

How much does the program cost?

The enrollment fee for the course costed 7,000Php. It’s a heavy amount to pay (As if you haven’t shelled enough money for your education), but I’ll have you know that there are other Biochemistry bridging courses out there (usually provided by review centers in Manila) that cost MORE, ranging from 10,000Php to 13,000Php.

Aside from the price, what makes it better than the bridging courses in established review centers?

For both UERM and non-UERM students, it will be the wiser move to take it in no other than in UERM because everyone is ensured that s/he is going to be taught what s/he needs to know. Some of the lecturers are going to be professors of the UERM students for the entire year. Though the non-UERM students are not going to meet the lecturers after the bridging program, the fact remains that they are going to learn from ACTUAL PRACTICING PHYSICIANS WHO HAVE ESTABLISHED THEIR REPUTATION IN THE COMMUNITY OF MEDICAL BIOCHEMISTRY EDUCATORS. Most of the lecturers are past presidents of the Philippine Association of Academic Biochemists, and one of them is also the Dean of St. Louis University College of Medicine. Your learning materials are the brainchildren of these legends. Also, the venue of the program is conducive to learning and there are good-quality facilities to aid the teachers in teaching and the students in learning. We had our program at the Anatomy Amphitheater which looks like a movie house inside; with air conditioning units, bright lighting, a sound system, two overhead projectors, and comfortable chairs beside of which you can pull out a writing surface. In one review center, I saw that the students of their bridging program were cramped up in a small classroom where they had to sit beside each other elbow to elbow, were not provided with Powerpoint presentations, but were charged with more. And by the way, we were told that UERM has the highest score among the top medical schools in the Philippines when it comes to the performance in Biochemistry in the Physician Licensure Exams.  The bridging program in UERM may be the most affordable but its caliber is nowhere near compromised. You will be in good hands.

Does everyone need to take the course?

No. For this academic year, 450-500 applicants were accepted, but only 40 of us took the course. If you don’t have a strong background in Biochemistry, then it’s advisable to join. But if you were able to take Biochemistry in your pre-med anyway, you still don’t feel like going to school, you don’t want to spend another 7,000Php on top of more than a hundred thousand Pesos’ worth of tuition fee, or all of the above, then by all means you can self-review or not fuss about it altogether. I had classmates who took up Biochemistry in their pre-med, though. Taking the program gives some structure in reviewing compared with self-studying (unless you can really commit even when no one’s watching), and it will give you a clue on what you need to know. It also primes the mind to be school-ready. A number of people I met during the program graduated with degrees in Biology, Education, Sports Science, Physical Therapy, Biology, Medical Technology, Clinical Pharmacy, Nutrition and Dietetics, and Psychology. Your decision depends on your self-evaluation and judgment.

Are the slots limited?

Not at all! The Bridging Program is open to every first year med student who is in need of a leg-up in Medical Biochemistry. Just make sure that you enroll before the start of the bridging program.You can neither enroll in the middle of the program nor pay on a lecture-to-lecture basis. The Biochemistry Department needs to have a head count of the officially enrolled students so that they could provide each student with handouts.

So… How was it?

We went to UERM for two consecutive weeks from Monday ’til Friday, and the lectures for each day ran from 8:00am to 12:00nn. On the first day, long brown envelopes were distributed by the department to each student, containing the necessary handouts, Powerpoint presentations, a black ballpen, and stapled pieces of long bond paper for note taking. It also had a brochure that contains the schedule of our lectures per day with the topics that will be covered along with the names of the lecturers. We were welcomed by the head of the Biochemistry Department and some of the members of the faculty. One of them asked us to introduce ourselves one by one, stating our name, pre-med program, and the school we graduated from. Afterwards, we answered a pre-test regarding the topic for that day before the lecture proper. The lecture was then followed by a post-test. The same thing happened for the coming days, pre-test, lecture, post-test. In between the lectures, we were given 20 to 25-minute breaks. The lecturers also helped us get to know one another more by having us do a few activities and exercises with a group. Learning was definitely not passive and the professors encouraged questions.

Each lecturer brought his/her own style in teaching his/her assigned topic included in the program. Collectively speaking, they are overall knowledgeable, warm, and are able to bring themselves to the level of the students’ thinking to make the concepts understandable. Motivation and career advice were given to us on the side.They do not seek to intimidate the students. My respect for this department solidified further because of the vastness of the information that they know by heart!

On the last day, evaluation forms were given so that they could further improve their program for the next generation of medical students to come. That shows that they do care about the feedback of the students who enrolled, are serious about their main objective, and are more focused on that rather on mere money-making.

Would you recommend the UERM Biochemistry Bridging Program?

Definitely! But I think I should clarify that taking the bridging program won’t make Biochemistry “easy”. It’s going to be a tall order for students who took and did not take the course alike. Biochemistry is known to be a “terror” in medical studies, and it produces the most number of fatalities at the end of the year. Rather, the bridging course gives you more confidence in yourself to face Medical Biochemistry as a subject. You will have been taught what you ought to know. Social-wise, it helped me meet some of my blockmates as well as people who belong to other sections, which will make my adjustment in medical school less difficult if not easier. I can proudly say that the Bridging Program was worth the money, and even more.

I hope that this post helps future medical students get a lowdown on this bridging course. God bless us all on our journey to becoming competent and compassionate doctors!

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