1. You won’t have any free time
This is something many people worry about. The truth is that there is always time to do extracurricular activities. Most medical schools even have separate 'medic' sports teams to fit around the busy schedule and exam seasons, and members of these teams are likely to understand the pressures you’re under.
Whether it’s baking, jazz, or ice hockey, there will be time if you plan your work accordingly. It’s important to realise that extracurricular activities are a really important part of medical school and will help you to achieve the elusive work- life balance!
- Make a timetable - if you know what needs to be done, you can schedule in activities that you want to do. Time-tabling can be not just for work, but for leisure too – it gives you something to look forward to.
- Find activities you enjoy. Often, it’s easy to stay in your comfort zone and just go to university and back, but getting involved in university life is actually not only beneficial to your CV, but also expands your horizons. The more experiences you have, the more well-rounded of a person you become.
2. Everyone is smarter than you
Impostor syndrome is a very common feeling that many students feel in medical school. When you go from a place where you felt quite comfortable, and was maybe even the top of your class, to a place where you’re surrounded by people with many achievements, it’s easy to feel lost.
The thing to remember is that everyone is in the same boat. Gone are the days when you’re in competition with the people around you. We’re all in the same boat and it’s important to help each other. Topics that you find easy may not be same ones that others find easy; what’s important is to respect that, and help one another.
- Talk to people about it! The easiest way to bust a myth about the people around you is by asking them to find out if it’s true. By starting up a conversation about how people are finding the content and the workload, you can gauge how you’re doing in the cohort and make new friends.
- Work with other people. Try forming study groups so that those who feel confident with a topic can explain it to everyone else, and that way each person’s strength becomes that of the whole group.
- Remind yourself that you deserve to be here. Yes, medical school is hard, but you belong as much as the people around you do - everyone really has worked hard to be here.
For more, take a look at our article on Dear Medical Students, You Are Not Stupid.
3. You need to know exactly what specialty you want to do after medical school
Most people don’t actually know what they want to specialise in when they enter into medical school. In fact, sometimes it’s good to go in with an open mind so that you can experience a variety of specialties before finding and committing to a career you love. Your clinical years will be spent rotating to different hospitals and specialties - this is when you'll really get to experience life in a particular specialty and see if this is really what you want to do.
Some students don't realise this, but you actually don’t need to specialise right after you graduate. If you work in the NHS, you will spend two years as a foundation year doctor going through various rotations - who knows, you may change your mind during one of these rotations and realise it was what you wanted to do all along.
- Try a variety of things! Speak to healthcare professionals and try to arrange to shadow or have a placement with them. There’s no harm in getting a bit of experience and finding out if you might enjoy the career that you’re observing.
- Go to seminars. Many medical schools and student medical societies host a talks by doctors from a variety of specialties to give their medical students a taste of these careers. There are also a lot of talks hosted by hospitals and other organisations such as the Royal Society of Medicine, which lists them on their website - go to them and see what you enjoy.
- Take your time - medical school is long, and foundation years give you two more years to decide. You have a long time to figure out what you want to do - enjoy the years while they last.
4. You need to know a lot before medical school
When you first get to medical school, it can be intimidating as the people around you all have specific skill sets and different work experiences and so it’s hard to know what you’re meant to know and what you’ll be taught.
The truth is that all schools cover most topics from the basics which means that it won’t matter too much how much you know. A good example of this is CPR. Many people have covered CPR in first aid courses; however, by covering CPR again in clinical skills classes, it’ll refresh the memory of those who have done it before and help those who haven’t.
- It’s always good to look through your old notes when you learn new content that's related to it. This gives you a solid base so that learning new things isn’t as intimidating, and it increases your understanding overall.
- As hard as it seems, try not to compare your journey with that of others. Some students will have done multiple degrees before coming to medical school, but there will still be concepts that they won’t be familiar with; which just goes to show that everyone is moving at their own pace and that it’s a good idea to help each other.
5. You will have to tough it out alone
Sometimes it feels like you’re alone and that there really is no support or help for you, especially if you are living alone for the first time. However, support is available for students who are struggling. For extenuating circumstances, special arrangements like extra time during exams or deadline extensions can be arranged.
Even for those who aren’t struggling severely but find the workload very intense, most medical schools have support systems which help students to organise their studying by helping them make timetables and even offering extra classes.
Mentoring is also very common in medical schools, either by students in the year above, healthcare professionals, or academic staff, and these are a really good way to find out exactly what you’re struggling with and how to solve it.
- Ask people for help - familiarise yourself with the support system and find out what services the university provides so that if you ever need it, you know where to find it. Take some time to look on the website, or pay attention to welfare talks at the start of the year, and actually find out what you have access to and what resources you can tap on.
- Look out for yourself and other people as much as you can. Medical school is hard, it can be frustrating and so looking after your mental health is really important.
By Anjana Lakshmi Narasimhan