Course overview and structure

Course overview

The College of Medicine and Dentistry at James Cook University (JCU) offers a six-year full time undergraduate degree in medicine and surgery (MBBS). The course aims to produce graduates of the highest academic standards, who can progress to medical practice and to further studies in medical specialties. The course places special emphasis on rural, remote and Indigenous health and tropical medicine and the health of under-served populations.

The course is based at the Townsville campus for the first three years. Year 4 is delivered at Cairns and Townsville, with approximately half of the time spent in classroom based activities and half spent in hospitals and health services, including an eight week rural placement.

In Years 5 and 6 over half the year relocates for the entire two years to other MB BS Clinical School  sites such as Cairns, Mackay and Darwin.(Approximate road distance from Townsville:  Mackay and Cairns about 400km and Darwin 1800 km)  In Years 5 and 6, students spend most of their learning time in hospitals and health services.

The Program’s primary aim is to graduate students who can be interns in any accredited Australia hospital. It also focuses on the health of underserved populations, particularly on rural, remote, Indigenous and tropical health.

Integration: the building blocks of the medical program are taught together. Anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and psychology, are taught at the same time, so that students understand the relationships between them and how they are applied in medical practice.

Systems-based: the integrated material is presented in relation to human body systems, such as respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal etc.

Clinically oriented: Where possible, material is presented in a way that links it to clinical health care. This ensures relevance to medicine and is also more interesting.

An example of the above is the Year 2 subject Cardiovascular Medicine (CVM).In CVM students learn about anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, prevention, common CV conditions and basic CV history and examination taking.


Communication, Clinical, Critical Reasoning and Information Management Skills:  includes a range of thinking and manual skills.

The Health of Rural and Remote, Indigenous and Tropical Communities: examples of community and population health that are important to the region James Cook University serves. This domain includes understanding health needs, illness prevention, health promotion and epidemiology.

Ethics, Personal and Professional Development: includes demonstration of the attitudes and behaviours necessary for competent medical practice.

The health of Australian Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples

The teaching about the health of Australia’s two groups of indigenous peoples is of increasing importance in Australia as the nation attempts to Close the Gap between the health of its Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait islander peoples and the rest of the population.

James Cook University’s medical program  is committed to delivering high quality medical education that will go some way to developing student knowledge, skills and attitudes in this field and in creating an interest among our graduates in working in this field. The integrated curriculum is an investment in the future of not only the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, but the training of a more competent medical workforce and an improvement in the importance of the health status of all Australians.

Module structure

In a typical week for Years 1, 2 and 3, each one of the four modules will have the following sections. The Integrative Session is shared by up to four modules. 

Module structure

Clinical Skills:  One aspect of the JCU course we are proud of is the large amount and quality of clinical experience students get both in classes and while working in health care settings.

This begins with the Clinical Skills program from Year 1 when students start to learn the skills required by medical practitioners including medical history taking and physical examination, practical skills such as vital signs, injections and suturing and communication skills. Clinical Skills are taught in small-group sessions.

Volunteer patients:  The College is blessed with a wonderful and large group of highly trained volunteers who act as simulated patients and who are part of the fabric of our medical program. Students will learn both through examining each other, and our volunteers. They are also given the privilege of learning through the care of patients in hospital and health service settings.

Clinical practice involves peer examination

All students become involved in practising clinical examinations on other students. This has been a traditional way for medical students to gain experience. This never involves intimate examinations.

Students may ‘opt-out’ of being examined in ways they find embarrassing or culturally uncomfortable.

However, students must be prepared to participate  in these teaching activities and to be examined by other students in ways that are acceptable to them, such as an eye or hand examination.

Wearing traditional dress

Some students like to wear traditional dress. This really adds to diversity and life of the College which welcomes this.

Those who wear traditional dress should be aware that there are times when parts of this dress need to be removed.  An example is when a student needs to bare their arms in order to scrub for work in the operating theatre. Another is when a student who wears woven wrist bands needs to remove them for hand washing. The College will make reasonable adjustments to enable these students to undertake these activities. However, hand washing must never be compromised.

Undertaking intimate examinations and learning about other genders

Students must be prepared to participate fully in all aspects of teaching, including learning about intimate health problems of other genders and undertaking intimate examinations. Most learning will occur in small groups that include male and female students or staff. This is done in an environment of confidentiality and respect.


It is well known that the public value highly qualities of integrity, honesty and caring in doctors, as well as clinical knowledge and skills. For this reason, students are not only assessed on their health knowledge and skills, but also on their professional behaviour. It is possible for a student who passes assessment on knowledge to fail because they have behaved dishonestly, unreliably and without regard to the wellbeing of patients and other staff. Accordingly, assessment in the course involves knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes.

Assessment is integrated. This means the module areas are assessed together, not in separate exams.

Assessment may be formative – tasks designed to help students and staff work out how the student is getting on. In formative assessment the marks do not count in the final result.

Some tasks are hurdles where students are required to complete the work to a satisfactory standard.

Other assessment is summative – tasks designed to help students and staff work out how the student is learning. Marks in summative assessment count in the final result. The following gives an overview of the type of assessment.

Types of Assessment

Exams: Exams are held at the end of the first and second study periods in Years 1, 2 and 3. Exams are a combination of written papers using cases, multiple choice questions and practicals. In the practicals, students complete activities such as taking a history and examining patients, demonstrating practical skills such as taking a blood pressure or using a microscope and analysing information.

Midyear examinations assess work from study period one, while end of year examinations assess work from both study period one and two although practical exams for the whole of the year are held at the end of study period 2. The following are examples of the type of assessment used:

Quizzes: Students are given a series of short tests during the study period in the multiple choice format to assist students in early identification of their strengths and areas for improvement.

Written assignments:  Students produce assignments on a variety of medical, health and science related topics. As students become more senior, assessment includes more clinical case studies and presentations related to clinical care and community-based health issues.

Oral presentations:  Students deliver talks to other students and staff or to clinical staff.

Professional Development Portfolios:  Students are required to produce a portfolio of work, achievements, study plans and their reflections.

Marks for the Professionalism Portfolio contributes to the final result.

Group Assessments:  Students undertake a number of group presentations both in regular classes and in special events.

Assessment on Placement:  Students attend placements and produce reports or submit reflective writing tasks. While these are formative tasks, they are coursework requirements.

Clinical Skills Hurdles:  As part of the teaching of Clinical Skills, students are required to attend and pass a number of clinical skills hurdles that test the competency of a student against a given criteria.