This is it; you’ve met your offer requirements and you’re now on your way to being a first year medical student! First year is an exciting time – if you take this as an opportunity to get involved and really make the most of your experience, you’ll, be able to not just settle down into your new university, but possibly even boost your CV in multiple ways. I’m starting my second year at UCL, and for me, a lot of the first year was trial and error as I struggled to understand what I could realistically do with my time. Below are some tips and personal advice on taking advantage of the opportunities available to you as a first year medical student:
To begin with, volunteering is a great way to give back to the community and helps you to understand patients better by having a bit of practice early on. It’s also something that is encouraged to build a well-rounded CV, and is a really rewarding use of time.
For my first year, I volunteered in the paediatric wards of the local hospital playing with the children admitted there and it was one of my favourite parts of the week! Other forms of volunteering may be available to you, such as going to primary schools to teach children about healthcare, mentoring sixth-formers about a career in medicine, and spending time with elderly patients in care homes. Think of specialties or special interests you may have at this stage and volunteer within these fields in order to get an insider’s perspective of what such work would really be like.
2. Talk to your lecturers
With lectures often containing up to 300 people, it can sometimes feel like you’re just a number but this doesn’t have to be the case! Approach lecturers at the end of lectures or email them – you can tell them you found their lecture or specialty interesting, ask for research opportunities, or even request to shadow them for a day. Most importantly, ask when you don’t understand something. Lecturers are there to help you learn after all. The worst that could happen is to not receive a response, so it’s always worth reaching out. A student I know obtained a summer placement after their first year just by emailing a lecturer for some more information about a special interest, so talking to your lecturers really could pay off!
3. Go to talks and events
The generic advice here is to go to talks and events in order to discover or build on your areas of interest. Doing this also shows clear preparation and initiative on your future personal statements/CVs. Think outside the box – look on medical organisation websites, network on Facebook and Twitter, and RSVP to events aimed at medical students and trainees as these will also help you branch out and meet professionals who may be able to mentor you along your medical journey. Not everything you do has to be for your CV; for many medical students moving to a different city for university, you may find interest in medical-related galleries and exhibitions. An example of this one is the Body World’s Exhibition in London, or the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.
4. Go online
There are so many opportunities available to medical students online depending on what you’re interested in. If you have ideas on what you might want to specialise in, go to the Royal College of (insert speciality of interest) and see if they have student or trainee competitions you can enter. Essay competitions are a great start – see our compilation of student essay competitions here. Try submitting some articles for the university paper or looking for opportunities to participate in focus groups to feedback on your experience in medical school or in the hospital. Being able to have an impact on what’s happening with regards to your education is not only rewarding but is a really valuable quality to have when it comes to applying for jobs or other programmes within Medicine.
5. You're not "just a first year"
The most common excuse I hear from peers when letting go of opportunities to apply for committee positions or enter competitions in first year was the fear that a first year’s application would not be taken as seriously. That is absolutely not true. Many of my classmates this year were academic representatives and served as the voice of the entire cohort when feeding back to the department on what we wanted to see more or less of in our syllabus. Others have had amazing achievements in art, academic publications, and sports and it really does go to show that first years are just as valuable as asset as all the other years. So if you really want to pursue something, don’t let rank or seniority get in the way of that – unless you apply, you have no chance of success at all.
Having said all this, make sure you have fun and enjoy the first year of your degree! Getting into medicine is something that we’ve all worked exceptionally hard for and now you’re here, make sure you take time to soak in the experience of being a medic fresher!
By Anjana Lakshmi Narasimhan