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5 Secrets for Surviving First Year of Med School

5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Starting First Year

From buying textbooks before you start med school to what the workload is really like, one current student dispels myths surrounding life at med school…

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1. What a great help older students can be

Make friends with older students! When it comes to med school, you are left in the dark with a lot of things and aren’t given an awful lot of direction as you’re left to discover a lot of things for yourself.

The greatest help to get through first year is definitely second year students. Just think, they’ve been through everything that you’re about to: they’ve had to figure out how to adjust, what to learn, they’ve already sat and passed that OSCE you’ll have to do at the end of the year.

Read 3 things you might not expect in your first year of med school>>

2. Understanding a little is better than learning everything

There is an awful lot of work, a lot to learn and all in such a short period of time in the first year of medical school. Everyone says this before you start, and you’re told this by every med student you meet, but now looking back it, I did not fully appreciate the volume of work until I was actually there myself.

One of the things that took me a while to adjust to is how different the learning is from A-Levels. You don’t have a specification, so you have to decide what you think is important to know, and what not so much.

You have to quickly get used to filtering out the bits of information you will learn and others that you’ll just have to leave. You can’t just simply memorise a bunch of things and hope it’ll be okay, you have to actually understand it and be able to apply your knowledge to a clinical context.

We always get told how breadth of knowledge is much better than depth – it’s better to know a little bit about a lot than a lot about a little bit.

Read how to make the most of the summer before med school>>


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3. Learning with others helps so much

If I haven’t emphasised it enough already, it is a LOT of work – one of our tutors told us that apparently you learn more new words in the first year of medical school than a foreign language student (if that gives you any kind of indication).

With the masses of work that needs to be completed it’s easy to put yourself into exam-mode right at the beginning of the year and get really stressed about the piles of unfinished work that are accumulating with every day.

One thing I wish I had accepted a bit more over that first year is the fact that everyone else is in exactly the same boat – we’re all trying to adjust and get used to this new totally independently way of learning.

Over the year, med students tend to naturally form groups that they work in – it not only helps all parties to understand all the content better, but best of all, it helps for you to actually get the work finished!

Me and my flatmate split our PBL workload between us, she does half and I do half and then we teach each other and it’s amazing how much time that has saved!

Learn how to deal with a med school workload>>

4. You don’t have to use textbooks

For school and college, I had a textbook for each subject which was written by the exam board – that was literally everything I had to learn and I would have never dreamed of consulting sources outside of what the examining body had written. For medical school it’s completely different!

There’s so many different textbooks you can use and quite a lot of them are too detailed and too complex. The first few weeks I’d spend about two hours trying to answer a single question in my PBL case, I’d spend ages leafing through various different textbooks and try to make sense of it all. But soon I realised…you don’t have to use textbooks! It’s not like school where there’s one that’ll have the answer to all anyway.

I quickly became a fan of YouTube. There’s actually so many brilliant online resources that are available to us, so don’t think you have to go down the tradition textbook route. In fact, a lot of the time a video will be a million times more understandable and so much simpler than any textbook you’ll find.

See more on how studying medicine differs to A-Levels>>

5. You don’t need to buy textbooks in advance

This one doesn’t apply to me because I didn’t buy any textbooks (and I still haven’t), but I thought I’d add it here because a handful of students do and I can imagine they’d come to regret it once starting first year.

Your medical school will provide you with a list of recommended textbooks, so if you go and buy a Grey’s Anatomy textbook beforehand you might feel slightly cheated when you don’t see it on the list.

Also, the medical school is able to provide you with a lot of online versions of the textbooks, so even if you want to use them you won’t have to purchase the expensive hard copy.

Words: Masumah Jannah

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