17 January, 2018
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Starting med school can be pretty daunting. New people, new routines, new structures. Not to mention the HUGE amount of work you can expect to do between now and the day that you retire. It’s that first day of school all over again. So here are six things I wish I’d known in my first few weeks of med school, to help you get by.
Med school is hard, BUT it is achievable and immensely rewarding
Mention med school to anyone, and they will tell you how incredibly hard it is. How it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Until your intern year of course. As a very lazy student during my four years of undergrad study, this was pretty terrifying. And med school IS hard. You will struggle, but that’s ok. Sometimes it will be almost too much, but that’s ok. Because, most importantly, it’s not TOO hard. It’s doable. You can do it. And more than that, it’s rewarding and fun. There will be moments where you cannot believe that you’re actually finally here! And there will be moments where you’re reminded why you wanted to study med in the first place – which makes all of the hard work worth it.
Find your passion
Whether you’re getting into medicine to help people, to follow in somebody’s footsteps, to save lives, or simply for the money, you need to find what motivates you. It doesn’t have to be the same as everyone else, and it will change over time, but you need to have something that you’re aiming for. Having that goal in mind can be the driving force when studying is hard, or you’re stuck at home preparing for exams while your friends are out partying. Whatever it is, stick it in big letters on your wall and remind yourself why you’re really here.
3. You have to adapt
You do not need to know all of the things all of the time
Before my first exams at med school, someone showed me a sign, supposedly posted to the door of a med school exam room. The sign said: “You are not studying to pass an exam… You are studying for the day when you are the only thing between the patient and the grave”. To be honest, this was not inspiring. It was terrifying and far too much pressure to place on someone while studying. Please, do not ever let yourself fall into the trap of thinking this. Med school is about making you a SAFE intern – not the world’s best doctor. And you will NEVER be the only person between a patient and the grave. Especially not as a first-year med student! So take a deep breath and prioritize. You do not need to remember the minutiae – every gene loci of a particular disease, the exact mechanism of every drug discussed. That is too much pressure for anyone. Work out what you need to know to be safe, and what you need to know to pass an exam, and what you need to know because you find it interesting and inspiring. Then focus on those things.
Lectures, tutorials, practicals, group discussions, flashcards, readings. You will be swamped with book-based learning in your first year of medical school. But there are only so many times you can fall asleep while reading the same paragraph over and over again while trying to make sense of neuroanatomy. It gets easier when you start seeing patients though. They provide you with “a hook to hang the hat on” as a GP described it to me. Each time you encounter a patient with a particular disorder or condition, it brings that condition to life. You remember what it actually looks like, how it feels, how it’s managed, far more vividly than a textbook could describe. I still remember each and every symptom and sign my first patient with liver failure had. More than that though, patients teach you how to be a good doctor. How to talk to someone and take a history, how to examine thoroughly but comfortably, how to empathize and how to heal. They’re also full of great stories – so take the time to learn from your patients.
Keep doing what you love
This has been the piece of advice I’ve heard most often from any doctor I’ve spoken to. Do not give up your life for med school. Make the time to do what you love – be it music, reading, socializing, dancing, writing. You need these things even more than you need study. They will keep you sane and balanced, and ultimately help you succeed – in the study and when working as a doctor. Med school ends – in four short years. Make sure you still have a life that you love when it’s all over. If you want to look at your options & where you could potentially study, PostgradAustralia is a great platform that allows you to explore, compare, and apply for different medical specialties around Australia.
BONUS: HAVE FUN
This is probably the most important thing you can know heading to med school. Get involved, take the time to appreciate where you are. Appreciate the learning. Laugh where you can and bond with fellow students over the misery that is a pathology tute last thing on a Friday afternoon. Meet people and go on adventures. Enjoy med school while it lasts!