Life as a second year medical student at Imperial

July 17, 2019 - Keerthi Muthukumar

So you’ve made the life-changing decision to attend medical school. What does this really mean?

For most of us in the UK, deciding to study medicine means a 5 or 6 year commitment to biochemistry, anatomy and physiology lectures, ward placements, sitting in on clinics, and a whole host of other new experiences we’d never before encountered when we signed up to this degree.

Every medical school provides a unique adventure - and indeed, each student attending a medical school will also have an equally unique journey - but at the end of these years, we’ll all (hopefully) be graduating the same. With that said, here’s what my last two years have been like studying medicine at Imperial College London...

First Year

The course here is described as ‘Integrated’, with the first two years predominantly pre-clinical, and material in year one mainly being taught through lectures, practicals, tutorials, problem-based learning, and dissection (quite a rarity in the UK now).

First year really eases you into the degree, and leaves plenty of opportunity for arguably the most crucial step to surviving medical school: making friends. Throughout this totally new and unfamiliar journey, the one fact that bring us some solace is that we’re all as equally lost as each other, and in it together. There’s ample freedom to do this through pursuing an existing interest, or picking up something completely new with a plethora of societies at your disposal - sports, performing arts, culture, volunteering or educational… just take your pick.

For me, this involved trying my hand at rowing by dabbling in Medics Boat Club, and devoting the entirety of my second term to rehearsing for a Bollywood dance in Indian Society’s annual cultural show. Third term and the run-up to exams was mainly dealing with the substantial collateral damage on my degree in the first two.

Second Year


Placements

This year definitely turned it up a notch academically: the content was copious and relentless, with our exams coming almost a term earlier than the year before. At the end of the first term, we had the opportunity to be let loose on the wards for a clinical placement - mine was in respiratory medicine in St Mary’s Hospital (where the royal babies are born!).

The brief experience was surreal and unpredictably taxing - both physically and mentally. These three weeks involved:

  • Getting in everyone’s way during ward-rounds
  • Stressing about what to wear (swapping my usual lectures’ uniform of jeans and a jumper, for professional attire suitable for both stuffy teaching rooms and freezing cold wards is an underrated burden)
  • Forgetting anything remotely related to the lungs when the consultant decides to pick on us with ‘rapid fire questioning’
  • Being asked medical questions by patients that I most definitely was not qualified to answer
  • “Hello there, my name is Keerthi and I’m a second year medical student” becoming my catchphrase

However, after spending the first two years inspecting white blood cells under a microscope, reciting the krebs cycle and learning the mechanism of action of too many drugs, the experience was an incredibly valuable reminder of how all of this theory will one day translate into clinical practice, as well as an opportunity to test our communication skills by talking to real patients and taking histories.


Social life

Second year definitely does not have to be less sociable or lively than first year, though I definitely felt more settled. Moving into a house of six, trying to “adult”, pay bills and clean our own kitchen for the first time is a maturing experience. This year also brings the opportunity to be a part of committees for societies, senior members of sports teams, and other positions of leadership, which brings with it responsibility and growth. Being Social Secretary for Indian Society was an experience more enriching than I could ever have hoped for: I immersed myself entirely, and learnt so much from being more involved in such a vibrant community.


My overall reflection

Having just completed my second year of medicine here at Imperial, I’m truly amazed by what an absolute whirlwind these last two years have been. I’ve never laughed so much, nor cried so much; nor have I ever learnt more in the space of two years - both about the human body, and about myself. Imposter Syndrome still hits hard, and there are many days where I’ve felt totally out-of-my-depth, isolated, but surrounded by hundreds of fellow students who all seem to know what they’re doing - real medical students. At the same time, I’ve never felt such a feeling of belonging in a community, and unbelievably fortunate to be around so many wonderful and inspiring people.

Medical school grows you, moulds you, and prepares you for the rocky journey ahead. It’s varied, stimulating, gratifying, and truly challenges you in a way that no other degree will.

If you're looking for more insights into what it is like to be a medical school student, check out a day in the life of a medical school student.



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