After a long year of hard work, I can thankfully say that I have passed the first year of medical school and I am now in the stage of enjoying the long summer ahead of me.
In the past couple of weeks as I have been anxiously waiting for my results I have spent some time thinking about the way I had approached my first year of medical school and whether I would have done anything differently. During this time, I have managed to draw up a list of points/advice that stood out to me the most. Although these points are personal to me, I believe most of them can be either quite relatable or hopefully even perceptive for those wanting to get an insight as to what medical school entails.
Firstly, I want to start at the beginning. When the 26th of September 2016 came around, I could not have been more nervous to start university. I felt two forms of pressure looming over my head: firstly, I was about to properly begin my journey into a medical career (doctor in training) and secondly, I was starting university. For me, university characterized growing up, independence, meeting new people and adapting to a new way of learning. All of which was nerve-wracking.
During the first week of induction we were given multiple talks on what to expect and what was expected of us in the next year and the following 5 years after that. But more importantly it was a chance to get to know the other students. As someone who commutes to university every day I found this challenging as most of the students had already formed their circles due to living in the same accommodation. But eventually, after a few weeks of gradually pushing myself out of my comfort zone and therefore getting to know people, I got to meet a great group of friends.
Although this concept of finding friends may sound really silly, one thing I have learnt during A-Levels is that surrounding yourself with the right individuals really helps throughout your studies. Being in contact with someone who is experiencing what you are going through acts as a great support system, not only for the progression of your studies but also your mental wellbeing. Therefore, I would recommend spending some time getting to know people so that you can build this support network.
Adapting to a new way of learning:
As I was in the process of conquering the above, I was also trying to find and adapt to a new style of learning. When looking back at A-Level and GCSEs, there was only one predominant way of learning and that was to take handwritten notes from the lessons given by the teachers. However, at university there is no longer a teacher who is patiently waiting for all the class to note down what is being taught but rather a professor who needs to teach all their content within their allocated time slots. Hence you can see an issue that will arise, do you prioritise trying to note everything being said or do you spend the time trying to understand what is being said?
In the ideal world, it would be great to note down and understand everything being taught. However, this is not always possible, especially when new concepts arise which can take quite some time to get your head around. Therefore, during the first month or so I spent some time experimenting with different methods of learning. Initially, I began taking notes down on lined paper – the traditional pen to paper method. Then I moved onto printing the lectures out and annotating them. Finally, I moved onto the method of annotating my slides through my laptop and then typing up my notes. This was the style of learning I eventually adopted as it was the one I was most comfortable with.
However, remember that every individual learns differently. Hence I would highly recommend going through and experimenting with different methods of learning in order to find one which is most suitable for you. Although it is a process that requires time, patience and reflection, spending this time within the first month whilst the content is quite light acts as great preparation for the bulkier content that will come as the year progresses.
Revising for medical school exams can be quite stressful. Before the Easter break began, I sat down and assembled all my typed notes into booklets, which were organised according to module. It was at this point that I realised the amount of content that I had to revise within the next month or so. It was also at this point that I realised I had approached my revision wrong.
From the start of the year I was trying to learn content for the sake of exams, a system I guess is ingrained into us due to the fact that this was the way to pass GCSEs and A-Levels, however it should be different for your degree. As this quote perfectly states: ‘you do not study to pass the test. You study to prepare for the day when you are the only thing between a patient and the grave.’ It was something I had not told myself from the beginning, therefore I found that during my revision period I could not remember what I was revising as there was no context to set the facts. However, once I spent some time making links between the topics and putting some clinical background to it, it all began to make a lot more sense.
As a result, my lesson for next year will be to regularly spend time throughout the year to go back and consolidate my knowledge along the way. Whether this is through putting the knowledge into context or through making links between the topics, in the long run it would save me time during the revision period, which is a stage that should focus on acting as a prompt of what you have learnt rather than enlightening yourself with new facts to remember – as one of my friends put it “there is vision and then there is re-vision” – ideally you want to be revising.
“What are your outside interests and hobbies?” – this is a question medical school interviews always pose and are very interested in. Honestly, after experiencing first year I can understand why.
At UCL the course is traditional i.e. you spend most of your time in lectures and the library in your first and second year, which can become tedious, overwhelming and to put it straight, boring. Hence it is vital to give yourself some time off, whether this is through joining societies, doing a sport or even volunteering.
Alternatively, what I also found really useful is to attend talks/conferences on medical related topics, for e.g. I attended medical leadership and medical innovation talks. Or even shadowing whenever you can – this year I was fortunate enough to organise a placement to shadow a heart surgeon for one day.
All of the above activities genuinely made the year much more engaging. It gives your brain a break from all the studying and personally for me, they acted as great spurs of motivation as they reminded me of the reasons why I chose to study Medicine in the first place, which made going back into the lecture theatre much more interesting and less monotonous.
Overall, the first year of medical school has been great fun. Since the start of my medical degree, I feel that I have grown more as an individual in comparison to the previous 18 years of my life. Now that I have experienced it, my advice to anyone going into first year is: use this year to properly settle in. This is the year to build a solid foundation for your training. Experiment with different learning styles and methods of trying to strike a work-life balance, and then stop, reflect and adapt your approach so that you can end the year successfully.