My first day of medical school can be likened to the first day, of my first year of high school. My lab coat was as oversized as my school blazer (although I don't think I’ll be growing into it), the campus was far too large and I was on high alert trying to understand all my new classmates and how I fit in to the whole picture. Only this time I was well aware that a large chunk of these people were in the top 1% of academic genius high school graduates in the country.
Intimidating as it all seemed, I jumped out of bed that first morning buzzing with enthusiasm for the next big turning point in my 17 year existence. On the bus ride to uni I tasked myself with creating a list of things I was likely to learn that first week, deciding in for myself that rationally we were going to have to cover a tiny bit of excruciatingly dry basic sciences, but surely we’d spend the large majority of our time learning procedural skills like IV cannulation and studying anatomy by cadaveric dissection! Of course, as reality would have it, I was instantly proven wrong and we started our dream course with a full day of the ten stages of the Krebs Cycle!
Prepared as I evidently was not, here are a few things I would have liked to know going in to my first week of medical school.
1. You have to learn to walk before you can run!
Upon reflection I set my sights unrealistically high on the kinds of skills I would be acquiring and practicing as soon as I started at Uni. Maybe I spent too much time day-dreaming about being a character on Grey’s Anatomy over the summer; but I know a great deal of medical students, brimming with enthusiasm and expectation for their career as a doctor, experienced a similar reality check. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you wont be performing operations, or even taking patients’ blood, from day one. Instead, the days are filled with basic anatomy, physiology and a whole lot of biochemistry in the form of lectures and tutorials. It can be dry, and it’s common for students to question whether they made the right choice. However, if you’re anything like me small excitements like taking blood pressure manually and listening to an interesting patient’s story will tide you over until your clinical years- that’s when you really get to run.
2. Your university experience will be different
Everyone has heard about the negative aspects of the medical school experience; having twice as many compulsory classes as your high school friends, studying for an exam every six weeks and the sacrifices you have to make in your social life. Although I don't deny you’ll be in class, or studying in the library for a greater number of hours than the average first year university student, an outsider’s perception of the amount of work you have to put in can be deceiving. The fact is most weeks are more than manageable, and medical students have as much a propensity for parties as the next person. As a bonus, seeing your classmates regularly and constantly is a rarity at uni and makes med one of the easiest courses in which to make a group of close friends!
3. You might feel lost in the beginning
As with any big start in a new environment, medical school can be a bit of a shock to the system in the beginning. The little fish, big pond analogy becomes incredibly real when your lecturer begins shooting questions to the audience and other people are jumping to respond before you’ve understood what you’re being asked. A lot of people will tell you you’re amongst the “cream of the crop” or that they're impressed by how clever you are, and still you might feel as though you aren't quite sure whether you fit this pre-assumed mold. Though it certainly seems at the time that everybody else is adapting a lot more quickly than you, we’ve pretty much all been there and done that. There’s no harm in taking time to find your feet!
4. You will meet amazing people
After my first few days at the university, I came home totally elated that the people I had met were some of the most humble and easy-going despite their long list of accolades, and warning’s I had heard about cockiness or bullying. The culture of medicine is really one that fosters and rewards passing knowledge on to your colleagues. In the hospitals this means consultants actively teach and support their registrars, who pass do the same for their residents, who are looking after the interns- with everyone working towards best patient care! This whole concept of sharing information, and giving back by teaching trickles down into medical school and the older students are more than willing to volunteer their time to teach you. You’ll also have a unique opportunity to meet expert scientists and clinicians that are giants in their fields, and fellow likeminded peers who understand both your aspirations and struggles.
In my first week of medical school I discovered the exceptional boredom only biochemistry lectures can inflict upon you, the correct way to wear the earpieces of a stethoscope and how many minutes it took to run from the carpark to the classroom. I found role-models in my seniors and lifelong friends in my peers, I was introduced to the library that stayed open the latest (“for when exam time rolls around”) and which shop sold the cheapest snacks. Cheesy as it sounds, I experienced my first taste of the joy and true privilege of being in medicine, and remember that week as a great one.
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