So you’ve survived the educational system, kept your school grades up, your volunteering hours filled and have stretched yourself to near breaking point. It will all be worth it, you tell yourself, once I get into medical school- and it is. But medical school will stretch you to your breaking point again and again and again (once at the end of each year, usually) and it will be 2 years before you get anywhere near a patient.
I’d heard all about the heavy workload before I started, but the one thing I definitely hadn’t expected was the blow medical school dealt to my ego and self-confidence. As a medic, you are surrounded by 350 people who have all scored 4 A*s at A level, are probably head of their youth club back home and maybe even play the piano to grade 8. You go from being at the top of the class to being completely average overnight- and it is a difficult pill to swallow. It also means you have to work twice-as hard as you ever did at school if you want to become the best of the best.
The second shock is the lack of guidance, as demonstrated by the fact that there is no homework and you do not have to attend lectures if you don’t want to; you are only at university because you want to be. No homework sounds great at first but you will miss having teachers to nag you into revision. In the first few months I wandered from one lecture to another retaining information if I could, but not really knowing if I had, because no one was testing me to check. Mock exams fixed that though and I quickly realised something had to change or I was going to be getting out of medical school a lot sooner than anticipated…
So, without further ado, allow me to share the lessons I had to learn the hard way (and should make 1st year smoother for you than it was for me):
Top Tips to surviving medical school
1) Don’t compare yourself to others: I know it sounds cliché and you will be tempted, but don’t. Everybody studies differently and what works for the guy living in the library might not work for you; you will not fail if you don’t eat, live and breathe your textbooks.
2) Go over lectures slides before/after the lecture: Even if you don’t understand a word the first, second, third time, when you read it for the fourth just before exams you’ll find things miraculously become clear. Its a matter of familiarising yourself with the material.
3) Study little and often: to continue from my last tip, regular mini-revision sessions mean you avoid cramming at the last minute at the end of the year.
4) Set yourself targets- for the hour/day/week. It helps you keep track of what you have to do and by when so that you use your time wisely.
5) Take a break: after you meet your targets, take a proper break. That way you’re less likely to burn yourself out.
6) Revise with friends: your classmates are no longer your competition. It allows you to compensate one another’s deficiencies and highlights things you might have missed. Keep the study groups small though as too many of you will make it into a social rather than a study date.
7) Do other things: Contrary to what you’ve been told, life isn’t just about medicine. 1st year is the ‘lightest’ of all medical years so use this time to really get involved with the happenings around your university. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about, set up a club, join a play- the list is endless! You don’t want you best memories of university being an empty checkout line at the library.
First year of any university course is a huge learning curve, more so in medicine because of just how demanding it is. The person you become in university will remain for the rest of your life so work on becoming not just an awesome doctor but an awesome, well-rounded person too.
The In’s And Out’s Of Medical School: Surviving 1st Year was written by a Tavistock Tutor