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Author: Hamzah R.

4th Year Medical Student

Medical School Ranking
Medical school might be around the corner for some of you and you’re probably ready to embark on your next adventure, probably the most significant of your academic life. Gone will be the days of sitting in tedious English literature and Geography lessons. Now is the time to focus on something you really want to do.
I’m going to run through 5 key things you should know before starting Medical School, a lot of which I wish I could’ve asked before I began, which will hopefully put you at ease and prepare you for the 5 or 6 years to come.

1. Medical School requires hard work, but it is manageable

A burning question I had before beginning Medical School was ‘How does it compare to GCSE & A Level?’ The simple answer, it depends. I know you’re probably thinking, pointless answer. Don’t worry; I’ll take you through it in more detail.

Different sectors of medical school

Medical School has so many different sectors, some of which I would say are easier than A-Level, others a little harder. On balance, though, if you managed to get through A-Levels, you will honestly be fine in Medical School. Just be sure to maintain a solid level of effort.

Time management is key

That doesn’t mean you need to work stupid amounts. Just be disciplined and try to plan your week out. Time management is key. Incorporate days where you work hard, and others where you do nothing at all. For me, I have rarely ever worked on a Saturday; it’s just a day that I like to take off to spend time with family and friends (the latter outside of COVID, of course).
There are, of course, exceptions to this. If you have an exam looming, you may want to put in a couple of hours’ work on your usual day off, but don’t overdo it.

2. You may not be the smartest person in the year anymore

I’m not sure about you, but when I was at high school and college, many people were always harping on the fact that they had barely done any work and that they were going to fail XYZ. Then there were others who would ace exams, having barely touched a book.
One thing you need to understand about Medical School is, that you may not be the smartest kid on the block anymore. You are going to be surrounded by intelligent people who are hopefully as ambitious and hard-working as you. This is fine, but it can lead to a lot of insecurity.

Don’t start chasing your tail

I had friends who would always ask me how much detail I had gone into on every case/topic. Try not to fall into this trap. There will always be that guy/girl who has gone way over the top on a certain topic, sometimes just to sound smart in a tutorial session. Forget it.
As I’ve said above, stay disciplined, work hard, and go into the level of detail that you think is required. Medical School’s have ILOs (intended learning outcomes), a bit like a syllabus you’ll have seen from the various A-Level exam boards. Admittedly, it can be quite vague, but don’t go thinking you need to know incredibly niche details about the cardiovascular system that only a cardiologist would know; you’ll end up chasing your tail. Focus on the key principles, and you will do just fine.

3. The grading system is markedly different to school and college

I can’t speak for all Medical Schools here, so this section will use the University of Manchester as an example.
From previous years, you’ll be used to the conventional grading system A*-E. In Medical School, this is very different. At Manchester, we have the following, listed highest to lowest:
  • Distinction – Very rare, only a few people will achieve this grade
  • Honours – Reasonably uncommon, but hard workers can achieve this
  • Satisfactory – The most common grade by far
  • Low Pass – You’ve still achieved a grade that won’t make you re-sit, but you’ve just scraped it
  • Unsatisfactory (fail) – You will need to re-sit that exam
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Satisfactory grade is a good thing

The key thing to understand here, is that satisfactory grades are actually a good thing; it means you have an adequate level of knowledge to pass through that component of Medical School.
You might be used to getting A* after A*, but realistically speaking, if you have this mentality when it comes to distinctions, you will end up disappointed. You’ll soon realise that you shouldn’t be so harsh on yourself.

4. Don’t worry if you don’t know which speciality you want to go into

Another thing that can grasp onto the mind of a Medical student, particularly in the earlier years, is ‘What speciality do I want to do when I graduate?’
This pressure can be worsened by family and friends, who constantly ask you and expect you to know the answer just because you’ve started Medical School and are going to be a doctor.
Yes, there will be some students who are adamant that they want to become a cardiologist. But most of you don’t need to worry about this. It’s fine if you don’t have a clue yet.

The common pathway

Let me take you down a basic path of the common pathway of your projected career to help this make a little more sense:
  • Complete A Levels
  • Medical School (5-6 years)
  • Graduate – You are now a ‘junior doctor’
  • Complete 2 years as a junior doctor – Foundation years 1 & 2 (FY1 & FY2)
At this point, assuming you’ve taken no gap years after A-Levels or graduation, you will be around 25 years old. Only at this point will you need to know what you want to do. The key thing is, by this point, you will have pretty much learnt about and, more importantly, experienced the majority of medical specialities. This experience is something that will definitely help you to decide what you want to do.

Opportunities provided by medical schools

Medical School is littered with opportunities to help you decide on your career path. I’ve been to several events where you have 10 or more stands with high-grade doctors from a particular speciality. You can go up to them and ask them anything you want to about their speciality. No matter how daft you think, your question might be. This may be to do with what the job involves day to day, work-life balance, pay, or anything else.

5. Make sure you enjoy your university years

This might sound like a cliché, but I’m going to talk about it anyway. I’ll bet everyone has been told that the university years will be the best years of their life; to me, this is definitely true.
It generally signals a fresh start, as many of you will have been in touch with the same people throughout school and college. Take this as an opportunity to get to know new people, explore the area and experience your first days as a true adult. It seriously flies by, believe me.
You will also realise that there really is nobody to remind you to study anymore, which may also have been partially true during college when it refers to teachers. This time, unless you live at your parents’ house during university, you will have nobody there at 5 pm to remind you to study.

Final words

As I’ve mentioned a few times, the key to managing this is discipline. Plan your study time, integrate break times, incorporate time to socialise and do hobbies. If you keep to a good level of time management, you will do well academically while maintaining good mental health and hopefully avoiding burnout.
Hopefully, the above points have made it easier for you to prepare for Medical School. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me an email, and I’ll be more than happy to answer.
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