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First Year Case Study: Freya

Want to know what medicine is like in your first year at Oxbridge? Here, Freya describes her first year at Cambridge – and what to expect!


If you’re reading this, you’ve probably just found out that you’re going to be spending the next six years studying Medicine at Oxford or Cambridge – congratulations! Three years ago, I was in exactly the same position – I’d just opened my A-level results and couldn’t quite believe that all the hard work had paid off.

I’d earned a place at Cambridge and was so excited; I’d heard so much about what an amazing place it was, and how many brilliant opportunities were on offer there. However, once the initial shock wore off, I started to think a little more about the realities of studying Medicine at such a prestigious university. In this post, I hope to assuage some of the worries you might have about starting to study Medicine at Cambridge!

Don’t worry too much about the reading list

Most colleges will send out a list of recommended textbooks and medical literature soon after Results Day. While it’s a good idea to get into the mindset of studying before you get to university (simply because you’ve had so much time off since the end of exams!) there’s really no need to spend every waking hour poring over dense texts.

Pick and choose from the reading list – some books won’t interest you at all, but others may prove incredibly engaging and could provide a good talking point for your first supervision or tutorial. Avoid buying lots of books from the reading list – see if your local council or university library stocks them, or search for them online before dipping into your savings!

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer

Oxbridge terms start a couple of weeks later than those of most universities, which can make for a few lonely days once all your friends are away enjoying Freshers’ weeks. Make the most of this, and definitely don’t feel like you have to spend the time ‘getting ahead’ on your course material – Oxbridge terms are intense, and it’s a good idea to start Michaelmas feeling refreshed! These last two weeks of the holiday might be a great time to visit friends at other universities, or simply to start packing and getting excited about starting student life!

Don’t be intimidated by your peers

You’ll probably be introduced to the other medics at your college within the first couple of days of Freshers’ Week. While most people will find these introductions fairly awkward and daunting, you’re all likely to have formed a very strong bond by the end of the second week of long days and never-ending essays!

However, it’s well-known that Medicine can attract highly competitive students, some of whom will be very keen to show off their detailed notes on metabolism, and their brand new copy of Grey’s. Don’t be disheartened by this – even if other students have done more pre-reading, you’ll all be back on a level playing field very soon. If people could learn everything on their own, there would be no need for universities!

Start as you mean to go on

Freshers’ Weeks at Oxbridge aren’t quite as ‘big’ as those at other universities, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had! Without trying to sound like an ancient fourth year (which I am), it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough rest in the days before lectures start.

If you’re exhausted during the first few days of term, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to catch up, and you’ll find yourself falling behind on note-taking and essay-writing. Don’t start the year by procrastinating – although you might feel like you have a lot of spare time in the first couple of weeks, the workload will increase throughout Michaelmas and if you’ve been putting things off from early on, you’ll only end up giving yourself more work to do over the Christmas vacation.

Ask for help if you need it

It can take a while to become accustomed to university life, both from an academic and a personal perspective. Luckily, Oxbridge colleges tend to have fantastic pastoral care networks, and your Director of Studies will always be willing to help with any concerns you might have about lectures or supervision/tutorial work.

However, you must be proactive and actively seek advice if and when you need it! One of the most important skills you’ll need as a doctor is to know your limits, and as a medical student, you must develop this trait. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help if you’re struggling with anything.

Above all else, enjoy your first term at university: the next six years are likely to be some of the best of your life, and they’ll fly by – take opportunities, ask questions and have fun!

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