The Most Surprising Things I Found About Studying Medicine
No matter what degree you apply for, the jump to becoming a university student can be overwhelming. Particularly with Medicine, the contrast between being an A-Level student and being a medical student is so stark it really can take a while to find your feet. Perhaps the biggest changes medical students have to adjust to is the newfound independence, accountability and lack of support at university.
During A-Levels, you’re in a class with a maximum of maybe 20 students who you know pretty well and who you share other classes with. Your teachers know your name, they monitor your progress and behaviour and notice any differences.
They may even have a parents’ evening where they inform your parents of their concerns. They care about you, and are also largely responsible for looking out for your general wellbeing and your education.
Fast forward to being in medical school and suddenly you’re sharing a lecture hall with over 400 students and a lecturer that’s talking at you for over an hour. You may have the occasional fortnightly tutorial or workshop, but you don’t necessarily have consistency with the tutor; they are selected depending on the topic you’re studying.
2. It can be difficult getting used to a different system
Having said this, most medical schools have a system of giving each student a personal tutor who is there for you to confide in. They should be your port of call if you need advice or have any concerns, and they can be extremely helpful.
It’s really easy to get lost in medical school, and the truth is, the majority of students are. That motivation you had during A-Levels can easily disappear when you realise it’s okay if you don’t attend any lectures or if you copy the answers for a tutorial worksheet from someone in your group.
You’re not given any homework that you have to hand in, and the deadlines in a course like medicine are minimal compared to all other degrees. You only really have the handful of exams and OSCEs in January and at the end of the year. Whilst this is often celebrated, the downside to having fewer assessments and deadlines means you can’t track your own academic progress.
With other courses, you calculate how many 2.1s or firsts you’re getting as the year progresses, and you set personal targets for yourself that motivate you to work harder and achieve more. This doesn’t occur as much in Medicine, and can therefore be a disadvantage.
In Medicine, you are entirely responsible for yourself, and you have to have that motivation within you to go to your lectures or catch up on them online, to go to your dissections or to have a stab at the worksheets yourself even if the answers are easily accessible.
It’s so easy to fall into a routine of not doing anything throughout the year and cramming as much as possible during exam season. And even then, it’s easy to just aim for the pass – to tell yourself you simply need that 50% to get into the next year, and anything above is a bonus.
But at the end of the day, you spent two hard years drowning in revision and personal statement drafts and interviews and UKCAT preparation for this – so make it count!
Becoming more independent and proactive is something essential if you want to not only survive in medicine, but also thrive. It’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people who can also motivate and inspire you, as well as be your support network when times are rough.
You need to have people (be they fellow students, friends, or even family) that will notice when you haven’t been doing much revision or attending many lectures or lessons, and will help you through it.
In the same way, though you are not responsible for other students, it’s good to be that person for them too. Medical school can be an overwhelming, lonely and a tough adjustment, so it’s a good idea to stick together.