Published on 29th October 2019 by lauram

Medical school stress

Medicine is tough. There’s no denying it – the content is challenging, the contact hours can be seemingly never-ending, and the degree itself is one of the longest out there! Add to this the general stresses of university life, – relationships, living away from home for the first time, budgeting – and you’d suddenly start to wonder why anyone would choose this degree. I’ve made it through two-and-a-bit years, and (most days!) I genuinely can’t think of anything I’d rather be studying, despite the medical school stress.

Getting into medicine isn’t easy, and the chances are, you were at or near the top of your class for most of high school and sixth form. However, once you get to medical school, everyone is in the same position. On one hand, this serves to create an amazing atmosphere, where everyone is truly passionate about the subject, and wants to be the best they can be. On the other, it can come as quite a shock to be thrown into a room with hundreds of other people who are ‘just like you’.

Medicine also has a reputation for attracting fairly competitive students. There have been plenty of moments when I’ve beaten myself up about only getting 60% on an essay. The most useful piece of advice I was given before university was to realise that ‘this isn’t high school’. 60% (at Cambridge, anyway) isn’t a C, it’s a 2:1, and that’s not to be sniffed at.

The style of learning at medical school is different to anything you’ll have experienced before. There are no mark schemes and no syllabus – it takes some getting used to, and there’ll almost certainly be people on your course who are dealing with the transition better than you. If you feel like you’re floundering, you’re definitely not alone, and there are plenty of ways to help deal with the medical school stress.

1. Take a step back

Try and put your worries into perspective. While you’re sat in your bedroom, struggling to comprehend even the first slide of a lecture handout, knowing that you’ve still got three essays and a literature review due in by the end of that week, medicine can seem like the worst decision you’ve ever made.

In reality, panicking about a situation is the worst thing that you can do, and will only exacerbate your stress. Take a few moments to think about the bigger picture – one day, you’ll probably have forgotten you ever even wrote those essays…

2. Plan your time

All of the above being said, it is important to try and avoid being in a situation where you simply don’t have time to finish a piece of work. This is a big source of medical school stress. I’ve made myself a study timetable for the last two years and it’s been an absolute lifesaver.

Make sure you write down all of your deadlines and be realistic about how long something is going to take you. You could try looking at your upcoming deadlines to make a workload to-do list, with immediate priorities being completed first.

3. Get enough sleep

It’s easy, especially in first year, to get caught up in the excitement of university life, and to think it’s a good idea to go out every other night. It’s also easy to think that ‘pulling an all-nighter’ is the answer to an essay crisis.

While late nights tend to come with the territory at university, it’s important to take your health seriously. It’s really not worth making yourself ill through complete exhaustion. Your health, both physical and mental, should always come first, so don’t be afraid to take a break or to seek out help if you need it. 

4. Don’t neglect the rest of your life

I think we’ve established that medicine is a pretty time-consuming degree. Nevertheless, it’s important to make time for other things: playing a musical instrument, going to hockey practice, simply sitting around with friends. Achieving a work-life balance is one of the hardest things about medical school, but I would argue that it is essential to enjoying your time there.

5. Talk to people

We’re all in the same boat. Talk your problems through with friends, people in higher years and parents. The chances are, they’ll have been through something similar, even if they haven’t experienced medical school stress! An external opinion can often offer a whole new perspective.

If you’re really struggling, there are plenty of resources available – personal tutors and university counsellors are trained to deal with situations like yours, and they’ll be honoured to offer you advice. A lot of people enjoy offering advice, so don’t be afraid to ask them for it. Remember that you are not alone!

Getting into Medicine is a massive achievement in itself, never forget that. It took hours of work experience, months of volunteering, and weeks of gruelling exams to earn that acceptance letter, but you did it. Medical school is just another challenge – you can do this too!

Words: Freya Smith

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