My Tips for New Medical Students
In just a few weeks now, new Medical Students will be taking up their places at Medical School. I remember my own excitement well. In my case, I had taken a gap year and so was very much looking forward to continuing with my life after it had almost been put on hold. Little did I know at the time that my first year would be full of hurdles, with me, quite literally, losing my state of mind and ending up in a psychiatric hospital.
I have just realised how negative that sounds! However, most people will end up having a far better time than I did. At the very least, it is unlikely you’ll end up as low as I did.
The experiences I had, however, did teach me a lot about what it means to be a Medical Student. I am now approaching my clinical years, and the advice clinical students and doctors have given me on Twitter has been invaluable. I therefore thought I’d make something similar, but for new Medical Students about to start their pre-clinical years.
These aren’t in any particular order, depending on when they came into my mind.
1) Don’t go out and buy loads of (dare I say any?) textbooks.
In the excitement of Medical School, you’ll likely go out and buy yourself huge chunky textbooks. These aren’t cheap at all and are not worth it in my opinion. You can get the textbooks for free from the library, and you don’t need to use them for anything other than reference. In fact, being brutally honest, I hardly ever used any of the textbooks that were on our recommended reading list. Instead, I used websites on the internet, lecture slides and notes provided to us by older students.
2) The older years will be invaluable in helping you out.
This is key. The older years will have done the same exams as you have, so make sure you’re friendly with them. Ask them if they can lend you their notes. It is unlikely that the content of the exams will have changed that much since they did them so the notes will be more tailored towards what you need. There is no textbook anymore that covers what and only what you need for your Medical Course. This is the biggest difference between A-Levels and Medical School.
3) Listen to the well-being talk in Freshers Week.
During Freshers Week, the last thing you’ll want to do is be in a lecture hall listening to introductions. However, there will likely be a well-being talk where you’ll be told who you can contact in times of trouble and so on. I remember sitting in mine, all happy (and almost arrogant) like: “Pfft, my life is sorted, I’m going to become a doctor, I don’t need this!” and not listening. Just a few months later, I ended up in the psychiatric ward with severe depression. It sounds like a joke but it isn’t – take it seriously. It could save your career and more importantly, your life.
4) Don’t stress about going to all events in Freshers Week.
Most people you’ll meet in Freshers Week you’ll never end up speaking to again. Don’t stress about going to all events if you don’t want to. Your Medical School may advertise some sort of Freshers Passport or Wristband for you to get to be able to go to all events. You don’t have to get this if you don’t want to and in hindsight, I wouldn’t have got it. It ended up being mainly a waste of money. You have five or six years at Medical School – in that time, you WILL end up meeting like minded people, and it’s unlikely they’ll come from Freshers.
5) Don’t worry if you don’t drink.
If you don’t drink, you can still have a brilliant time at Medical School. I personally don’t drink and it hasn’t affected my social life much. I don’t mind being around others who drink either, and am always welcome around them. They all understand why I don’t want to. If, however, you do end up feeling pressured by someone or some people to drink, don’t be afraid to raise it with the welfare officer.
6) Drink sensibly if you do.
Of all major incidents I can think of at Medical School, all of them have been fuelled by alcohol in some way. Medical Students seem to be notorious for drinking a lot too. You’re allowed to drink but make sure that you’re aware of your limits. You don’t want to lose control completely to the point that you end up doing something that could damage your career. The behaviour of Medical Students is more closely scrutinised compared to other students, so make sure you keep this fact in mind.
7) Avoid going out on pub crawls/other alcohol-fuelled events in scrubs or something else that can identify you as a Medical Student/future Doctor.
At a time where Jeremy Hunt is health secretary and where it is more important than ever to make sure the public are on our side, be wary of undermining confidence in the profession. Again, feel free to go to these events if they appeal to you – but be wary. The Daily Mail would love to get their hands on something like this.
8) In lectures, avoid sitting near the front or back and avoid wearing colours that stand out.
Some consultants or senior lectures simply love randomly picking at students to humiliate them in front of lots of people. To avoid this, sit near the middle of the lecture theatre and avoid wearing anything that makes you stand out. Otherwise it’s easy for the lecturer to go: “To the person wearing red with bright pink hair at the back – tell me, what could upper lobe diversions mean on the chest x-ray?”
9) You will ALWAYS feel behind in pre-clinical Medicine no matter how much work you do.
No matter how hard you work, you will always feel as though you could do more. It’s the nature of Medicine – we don’t understand everything, and most things that they explain to you could be followed up with a ‘Why?’. Don’t worry about that – you don’t need to know the answers to absolutely everything and everyone will be feeling the same way as you do.
10) But try to keep on top of your lectures.
It is impossible to cram for Medical School. There is simply too much information. Therefore, it is much better for you to do a little but often. In my experience, it is difficult to go through all lectures that you had on one day so instead, try to do as many as you can and then use the weekend to catch up on the ones you weren’t able to go over.
11) You don’t have to go to all lectures – but don’t take the mick.
Even my tutor said to us that we don’t have to go to all lectures if we don’t want to. We all learn in different ways so if you feel as though you’re very behind and need some time to catch up, don’t be afraid to miss a lecture or two. Similarly, if you have a very important cricket match or something, I wouldn’t necessarily worry too much about missing a lecture. However, make sure you don’t take the mick. Professionalism is important in Medicine so make sure you record any absences or get the required permission.
12) Help each other out!
At Medical School, some people are so competitive with one another that they point blank refuse to help each other out. This is utter crap in my opinion – we are all training to be part of a profession where we care for people. If we can’t care for each other, how in the world can we hope to care for our patients? If someone refuses to help you – and you will meet many during your time at Medical School – don’t be afraid to avoid them. Those types of friendships are toxic anyway.
13) Take advantage of any clinical opportunities!
You went into Medical School (presumably) because the clinical stuff seemed rather cool. It can be a bit underwhelming when you first begin and realise that you have hardly any clinical stuff to do. Indeed, most of it at the start is just learning theory and revising things so it doesn’t seem all that exciting. However, there will be societies where you’ll be able to get some clinical experience done. If you have the drive, join these. It can help keep you motivated.
14) Join societies or clubs. You NEED to have a life outside of Medicine.
In school, if you end up fed up and tired of all the Biology lessons, you simply have to put up with it for an hour or so before heading to Physics. Now, however, you will only be studying Medicine. OK, admittedly, there are quite a few topics within pre-clinical Medicine too but they’re not as diverse. It is therefore vital that you have some sort of life outside of Medicine – otherwise you’l end up feeling burnt out. The best way to do this is by joining societies or clubs.
15) For early clinical placements, not much is expected of you.
You will almost certainly have some sort of early patient contact. The doctors will not expect you to have a thorough knowledge of things, so don’t worry too much about it. The main focus of these placements will be for you to simply get an idea of what it’s like to take a history and talk to patients. Just don’t be rude or do anything else stupid – I was surprised by how unemphatic some other Medical Students were.
16) If you ARE quizzed outside of your comfort zone, speak up.
If a Doctor or someone else asks you something which you have not been taught yet, don’t be afraid to say so. Some can be dicks and not care, but most I’ve met so far are quite nice. More importantly – if you are asked to perform a procedure on a patient which you have not been taught before, make sure you say so. There have been horror stories at my Medical School of Medical Students not doing this and ending up hurting patients. Of course, these are rare, but you don’t want this to happen.
17) Don’t compare yourself to others.
At school, you were probably used to being one of the top students. When you put all those students into a room, it can be a bit of a culture shift. Statistically, half of you will be below average for the year. Does this mean you’re not worthy of being in Medical School? Absolutely not. Remember that even if you come bottom of the year but pass, you are deemed competent to become a doctor. That is the ultimate objective and years down the line, no one will ever ask what position you came in.
18) If you really need help, make sure to ask sooner rather than later.
Your tutors are there to help you. If you feel as though they are useless, there will likely be other support networks available within your Medical School. Ask for help from these people sooner rather than later. The sooner you do, the more help you’ll get and the quicker they can help you deal with things before they escalate.
19) You don’t need to score 90%+ anymore, so focus on actually covering ALL content instead of worrying about detail.
In A-Levels, you’ll be used to seeing your UMS marks often over 90 or even into 100 for some of you. Sometimes raw marks translate to roughly the same percentage too. However, at Medical School, you’ll only need about 50% to pass your exams (although it will vary between different Medical Schools). You don’t need to know everything in perfect detail so worry about that only after you’ve covered all content.
20) Have fun!
Most ‘top tips’ end with this and I’m going to do the same. Yes, Medical School has provided me with lots of hurdles but despite that, I would never do anything different. It is interesting and fun – so enjoy it.