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11 do's and don'ts for your first year in med school
You made it! After all of the UCAT or BMAT preparation, interviews and stress, you’re finally going to medical school. Congratulations! This is always an incredibly exciting time for both students and their families. It can be quite nerve-wracking and overwhelming at times, but do not panic. We have derived a list below of the 11 do's and don'ts for your first year in med school to help you out. Enjoy and good luck!
DO take time to find your learning style and practice it to perfection. Med school will throw huge amounts of content and learning at you to memorise and revise prior to exams. Whilst schools spoon-feed you information, university tends to leave you to find it out yourself. Be prepared for self-directed learning! Your revision methods up until now may not work best for you anymore. For example, during my A-Levels, I used to write detailed and neat notes on every topic from every resource I had, and then create further summary notes from my revision notes! But at university, there is much more content and much less time! I had to quickly adapt to some of the following. See what works for you:
Be open to trying new studying strategies. You may be surprised by the changes you make! Take the time to experiment and find your comfort zone, as you’ll need to have your most effective learning strategies perfected by Year 2.
DO make the most of Freshers’ week. And I don’t just mean partying! Freshers’ week/fortnight is the time to really get to know your fellow classmates, surroundings and local area, as well as the wider university community. You’re a fresh face on campus and everyone is waiting to welcome you!
DO get involved with societies! As many as possible actually. First year has the most relaxed timetable and free time compared to later years in the course, which means more time to do things other than medicine. Make the most of it while you can. Expand and develop your existing interests, plus explore new areas, try new things and create new hobbies. Perhaps learn a language. Perhaps also start early on building a CV that will look good for the speciality you may be interested in. Wednesday afternoons are generally kept free for sports and society participation. Commit to one or two and plan to continue them all year round; who knows what opportunities could come your way through society involvement!
DO make a financial plan. You’re finally independent and, for most, away from home, but with that comes great responsibility. Money management is possibly one of every student’s greatest struggles. It is very easy to spend your student loan instalment within the first few weeks of receiving it if you are not careful, leaving you eating Weetabix and dry toast for the latter third of the semester. To avoid eating those cardboard-tasting meals and having to reject every social occasion towards the end of the term, plan ahead from the beginning.
DO be a team player. Not only for PBLs (problem- based learning) and clinical placements but day-to-day. Being a doctor is all about working as part of a much larger multi-disciplinary team and healthcare service. So, as a medical student, get into the habit early of looking out for each other, listening to others’ opinions, taking viewpoints on board, and working well together. Whilst some friendly competition can be a good challenge to push you to work harder and be more successful, it is important that you don’t bring other medical students down in the process. Everyone is in the same boat and not everyone will have it together all the time. So, stick around for each other and pick each other up. You might need a helping hand on a bad day too.
DON’T overwork yourself! Do not buy every medical textbook, purchase the entire reading list and try to learn the entire medical curriculum in your first term. First year is the year to take your time to settle into medical school. The best resource? Older students. They can tell you which books you actually need and which you don’t, where to get them cheaper, and what topics need more preparation than others. They’ll also tell you when is best to take a step back and just enjoy the university experience. You have 4 more years ahead of you full of studying! Use your first year to settle in and take things at a gradual pace.
DON’T leave exam preparation to the final week, days or the night before test day! Whilst first year is all about finding your feet, getting comfortable and easing your way into medical school, it still requires effort and studying. Whilst the academic pressures are less than later years, it is necessary to get into a good studying routine from the beginning. The jump between A-Levels and university workload will be significant. To ensure that you cope, start exam preparation early. Study daily for a few hours throughout term, going over lectures, ensuring you understand all the content, and allowing yourself time to email any questions to lecturers.
DON’T feel pressure to get a job. Many students feel the need to get a part-time job as soon as possible to ease their debts and pay their bills (and fund their nights out!) But in first year, it isn’t the wisest idea and is generally not recommended. With a new location, new timetable and new workload, you have enough changing in your life already. Being at med school will take some getting used to. You don’t want your free time to be taken up by a job when you should be getting to know people and your unfamiliar environment and settling into your new life as a medical student. Try to be financially savvy instead, and plan to work part-time in later years if you still want to.
DON’T select a speciality. It is normal to be more interested in certain topics and specialities than others from an early stage. But it is important to remain open to all specialities/sub-specialities and not fully commit to one until having experienced and developed a deep and informed understanding of as many of them as possible. The clinical years of your course will be followed by two years of foundational training which are essential for experience and development. Only after then do you need to commit to training in one area of specialist interest and expertise. But in the first few years of university, keep your options open.
DON’T compare yourself to others. Do things the way YOU think best, at YOUR pace. This is YOUR med school journey and nobody else’s journey will affect yours so you don’t need to worry about others. You may start off medical school with flying colours, and many will, or it may take you time to settle in. But everyone’s individual med school journeys are leading to the same destination, graduating as a doctor and you are ALL going to get there. It’s like what one of my professors said in my very first lecture; he said, “are you stressed? Don’t be. If you tie a donkey to this building, it will also graduate as a doctor in 5 years!” So relax.
DON’T hesitate in getting help and support when you need it. Starting medical school is exciting but can understandably be a scary experience. So if you do find yourself stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or worried, there are lots of places you can go to for help and support. Try older students, friends, families, support staff and the university counselling service. They’ve been there for many, many years and will have seen hundreds of students feeling and saying the same things as you. At university, you’re never really alone. Amongst hundreds of fellow medical students, you’re NEVER the only one feeling the way you’re feeling or doing what you’re doing. So don’t hesitate if you need the help. You’re not the only one struggling, you’re never the only one stressed, you’re not the only one who didn’t do well in that exam, you’re not the only one lost on campus. And lots of people are available to help, support and guide you.