Author: Sunthus A.
4th Year Medical Student
What is it like at Medical School?
Medical School- a mystical place where naïve bright-eyed teenagers are transformed into hard working profession clinicians.
It can be daunting, disorientating or even discomforting, but starting Medical School above all else is an incredibly exciting experience. Having personally decided to pursue a medical degree a little late, it was the promise of meeting new people every day that ultimately enticed me to apply and I can confidently say that I do not regret it.
Reflecting on my years at Medical School so far, as delightful and rewarding as it has been, there are definitely a few things I wish I had known before starting.
Shock to the system
First and foremost, it is a palpable shock to the system when starting Medical School and in danger of further perpetuating an overused metaphor;
“It very much is like being a big fish from a small pond, which has now had to be relocated to a much larger enclosure with nearly twice as many other fish.”
Study time and leisure time
It can be difficult starting a high demanding degree as a first-year student and trying to have a healthy work-life balance. Many fall victim to the ‘partytoomuch’ syndrome, usually resulting in a mountain of assignments and bucket-loads of stress.
Something I think that would help this transition would be to be prepared from the onset and ensure that you can break down workloads into bite-sized chunks. I also found that timetabling and assigning appropriately timed short breaks in between studying really helped with productivity and focus, ultimately allowing for much more guilt-free leisure time.
In addition to that, I feel that it is key that when deciding to apply for Medicine, ensure that you have checked the different styles of teaching that different Universities offer.
In general, higher education learning is much more independent in comparison to what is taught in schools, and this can sometimes take some getting used to.
Every medical school teaches differently
Moreover, different Medical Schools have their own way of delivering material, all of which are effective, but it comes down to a personal preference.
For example, some courses are purely lecture based, whereas others incorporate a Problem Based Learning approach, which focuses more on group discussions and case studies. It is really important that before deciding where to apply, that you have read about and even tried to contact some current students who can give you some well sought-after insight.
It’s a very social environment
Another thing I wish I had known before starting is that Medicine is very people orientated and that although this is very rewarding, it can also be draining.
Personally, the prospect of being exposed to a whole cohort of patients is a sure positive and actually serves to recharge my social battery. However I am well aware that it perhaps doesn’t serve this purpose for others and can have the opposite effect.
Developing your own stress-coping mechanism
Therefore, it is imperative that you are able to appreciate and adopt healthy coping mechanisms in your daily living. Not only to help reduce stress but also help you relax outside of Medicine.
This could be anything from building endurance when running to crocheting a new jumper to volunteering for the local English department. It really doesn’t matter as long as it is something you enjoy and destress with.
Medical School has also taught me that it is important to not be afraid and to seek help if and when it’s needed, rather than letting problems or worries fester.
Something I feel that is not discussed nearly enough is how you can sometimes experience Imposter Syndrome whilst at Medical School, feeling of not quite belonging here.
Through talking with different medical students from different backgrounds, attending various Universities across the UK, I have concluded that this is the consensus, which in itself is relieving. Starting a content-heavy University course that is constantly having new discoveries and developments every day worldwide, it would be alarming if there were ever a time that you felt you knew enough.
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Not knowing everything is normal
It can be debilitating and in no way am I undermining that, but instead I would urge you to try and appreciate that it is a normal feeling and to instead use this as a motivator.
A motivator in the sense of allowing the gaps in your knowledge to drive you, to urge you to appease your hunger for more answers and theories and to help further your understanding of the world around you. Above all else, you must become comfortable with not knowing everything but not allowing this to hinder your learning.
Befriend senior students
Furthermore, I cannot emphasize how important it is to befriend senior students. Not only will this help widen your friendship circles, but it will also provide you with a strong support system.
Getting to know new people, in general, can embellish your whole University experience, and in this case, more advanced students have already been through what you are currently experiencing and are likely to have good insight.
You might find that they have some pearls of wisdom to bestow upon you or a drop box link to helpful revision resources that they can forward that would really improve your revision technique. Personally, advice and reassurance from my seniors has really helped me to pave my way in medical school and has been a big help.
There are plenty of opportunities to meet students from other years at medical school, and this is something I strongly recommend you get involved with, not only in your first year.
Medical School is exciting
In conclusion, Medical School is a really exciting place to be and with the current climate of a worldwide pandemic, joining the front line as a key worker appears even more enticing.
At times it can be scary, a place of uncertainty and mistakes, but it must be understood that this is the place to make mistakes. This is the place to forget what nerve supplies the bicep muscle or to forget to ask a patient about their alcohol intake when clerking them, or to forget the location of the ECG lead V1.
This is what Medical school is designed for, and here is where you are taught the correct way of providing good quality medical care for your future patients. So, if you have taken anything away from this, please remember that although it can be challenging at times, Medical School is an incredibly rewarding and exciting experience, one from which you will learn a lot!
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