It’s hard enough starting university, leaving home, maybe even moving to a different city or country, but starting a medical degree can feel all the more overwhelming. Aside from getting to grips with university life, you will be exposed to a whole new language of medical terminology, you will be bombarded with lectures on professionalism and your responsibilities as a medical student and you will be introduced to a completely different way of learning.
You won’t know where to start and one look at a medical curriculum will make you question whether medicine was a good idea after all. However – don’t worry! There’s plenty of time to learn everything. It’s amazing how quickly you will adjust and how much you will learn in one year. So be patient and take everything one step at a time.
I still remember my very first day of PBL. The student on my left was laying out a range of coloured pens in front of his freshly bought medical textbook, the student in front had already completed a degree in anatomy, while the student on my right had done some preparatory work and was confidently rattling out all the bones of the human body.
Everyone seemed to be so much more intelligent than me, so much more prepared and confident, and I felt incredibly intimidated. It only took a few more days before I realised that they too were as scared as I was, and their confident demeanour was only masking their own worries and insecurities.
Remember that it’s natural for people to want to impress on their first day, but ultimately, everyone is in the same boat and everyone is as capable as each other.
As soon as you reveal that you are a medical student, people (and family in particular) will expect you to know what specialty you want to specialise in, what the cause of their elbow pain is and what your opinion is on their recent visit to the GP.
At first it can be rather amusing but can become quite frustrating. Just be patient and explain that your guess is as good as theirs at this stage of your training!
This applies to all students but medics in particular since they can have very different timetables than other university students and their course can start a few weeks earlier.
There is always pressure to make friends from your very first day and to socialise every day of the week. The friends people make at freshers week are not necessarily the friends they stick with a few months down the line.
So take a step back, relax and take your time when building relationships with people. Everyone is eager to impress during the first few weeks so be patient and try to get to know people slowly, talk to students from different backgrounds and don’t rush into creating a friend group from day one.
Whether advised by senior medical students, lecturers or sponsors, resist the urge to buy every single medical textbook available. Sponsors in particular often take advantage of you on your first days at medical school and will make it sound like you can’t live without this book or that subscription.
Take your time to find out what your style of learning is and develop your study strategies. Borrow books from the library and test them out for a few days before deciding to purchase anything and remember that there are plenty of free online resources that you will use time and time again.
Whatever your experience, your first day as a medical student will be a memorable one which you will hopefully look back on with fondness. It’s as exciting as it’s terrifying. The key message is don’t panic. You’ll get into the swing of things before you know it.
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