Top Tips on Starting Medical School
So you’ve finally made it! After all the hard work of researching universities, writing your personal statement, preparing for the dreaded UKCAT and BMAT, attending interviews, hoping for offers, studying hard for your exams and waiting anxiously for results, you’ve finally reached the point of medical school!
Here, two current medical students share their top tips on starting university.
Maria is studying at Barts and the London. Here are her top three tips:
1. Keep up to date with lectures and other teaching
I know this sounds quite logical but it’s useful to remember! It’s easy to come back from a busy day of lectures and convince yourself that you’ll review that boring lecture on nausea and vomiting in a week’s time, but the reality is this won’t happen!
One of the things I had underestimated about medical school was the amount of content you’ll cover at a relatively fast pace. You’ll finish the year and wonder how on earth you remembered so much for your exams!
To deal with the content, I would advise you to develop a strategy that works for you, whether that’s annotating lecture slides with the essential points of the lecture or making flashcards to test yourself. It’s a harsh truth but you’re unlikely to actually be able to revise and remember every single fact mentioned in lectures throughout the year, so it’s important to be able to prioritise the most important information and work from there.
2. Make a plan
When you’ve got lots of commitments – studying, society events to attend, part-time jobs, talks you want to go to, meetings with friends – planning becomes essential and can be really useful. I found a wall calendar helpful to plan out what I wanted to do on which date and how much time that left for studying and my other commitments.
As part of your plan, don’t forget about sleep! However cliché it may seem, sleep is essential to allow you to function effectively and stay awake during those dull lectures or long dissections! You might envy a friend who Whatsapps you at 3am saying they’re watching a brilliant episode of House, but they’ll regret it if they fall asleep halfway through PBL and get woken up by the tutor!
3. If you’re struggling, remember everyone else probably is too
There’s no denying that medical school is challenging. You have to learn and understand a huge amount of information about a range of topics which means studying throughout the year while juggling other commitments and activities. When the going gets tough, it’s often worth talking to your friends. You’ll probably find that they’re also complaining about why medical students need to learn the Krebs cycle (I still haven’t figured this out!) and they’re probably as overwhelmed as you are with the new content.
Don’t forget that there is lots of support out there for you if you need it from your medical school (they often have dedicated support staff) and your colleagues and even from some societies who can help you if you’re really struggling, so don’t be afraid to reach out.
Medical school is meant to be a challenge but also an enjoyable and rewarding degree where you’ll constantly be fascinated by the resilience of the human body, learn practical skills and be able to talk to patients from a range of backgrounds. After all, that’s partly why you chose to study medicine! It will be brilliant, so make the most of it.
Katie is studying at University College London (UCL). Here are her top three tips:
1. Keep an open mind and try new things
One of the biggest recommendations for starting medical school should be to go without any preconceived notions. Keep your mind open and try as many different things as you can, because first year is your best chance to get involved. Not only will you have the most free time, but there’ll be nights and events specifically for freshers.
Whether it’s sports teams, plays, comedy, having a part time job or volunteering – university will have so much to offer you and this is your chance to work out what you do and don’t like, and where your priorities lie. Don’t be put off joining the rowing team because you’re not sporty or the drama club because you’re not an overtly showy person – if you like the idea of it, give it a go!
Most universities will have a few weeks where you can try everything for free, so try out what interests you and see if it’s something you’d want to continue when the timetable gets tougher, when exams are looming or when you have very little free time. If you think it’ll fit around a tougher timetable and provide some stress relief, it’s perfect – but otherwise be careful, because it could prove a costly mistake that ends up taking time away from what you want to do. Keep your options open and relax – you have plenty of time to find what you love!
2. Get to know your surroundings and your course mates
For your first term, concentrate on getting into the swing of things with regards to looking after yourself in a new environment and getting stuck into the medical school lifestyle. First term friends will make every subsequent term easier, so if you can join sports or music teams, spend some time with your flatmates or get to know those in the year above you, do!
You can start working out what sort of timetable you want and what it involves outside of lectures; you can explore your city and work out the best places to get ice cream when you’re stressed. Think of your first term as laying the social and lifestyle groundwork you’ll need to cope with university as it intensifies.
3. Moving on to second term
Second term is about learning how to cope with the medical school work itself. It’ll be the lead up to end of year exams and will see the older years start to knuckle down as well – the dreaded post-Christmas slump will come and go, and from it will develop a new obsession with tutorials, studying and working out where on earth you’re going to live when you leave halls.
Try and get your accommodation for your second year sorted as early as you can – because if you have it locked down, then it’s one less thing to be worrying about as work intensifies. You also won’t get left in that awkward muddle of trying to find people to live with and a place to go when everyone else seems to have gotten themselves sorted.
Once exams are over, make the most of your last few days/weeks in halls where you can explore your city with your friends before heading home. Whether it’s summer balls or house parties, end of year dinners or award ceremonies, make the most of the end of the year with your exams behind you – and make some plans for that endless summer!