The wonderful world of medical school

Congratulations! You’ve made it through the nightmare application process and nabbed your place in med school. So, what can you expect next? Medicine isn’t like other degrees: forget sleeping until lunchtime and nursing hangovers in lectures. You’ll need to be on the ball from day one of your course, and keep your focus for the rest of your career. That’s not to say studying medicine can’t be fun. And for the work you put in, you’ll be richly rewarded. Here are a few insights to help prepare new medics for the journey ahead. 

Medical school students

Studying medicine is hard work

This is one of the toughest career paths you can choose. Studying medicine is a full time job; you’ll be at med school all day, every day, including many nights and weekends. You’ll have to cut back on any part-time work and consider quitting completely by your third year. It’s also academically gruelling, both in terms of volume of work and how difficult that work is. Of course, most medics thrive off the intellectual challenges they face during their degree. You’ll feel like a boss when you finally get your head around that tricky concept or crack that complex diagnosis.

It might take a long time to settle in

Medical school is daunting. Your carefree days of spoon-fed, familiar information are over. You’ll encounter strange new concepts, and learn through problem-solving instead. But don’t panic if you feel out of your depth. It’s normal for the transition from A level to med school to take some time. While some hit the ground running in their first year, many medics take two or three years to feel at home. It doesn’t mean you won’t catch up or that you haven’t got what it takes to practice.

You can use what you learn for the rest of your career

Unlike other courses, the topics you’ll grapple with in medical school will be part of your job. From day one, you’ll start building professional knowledge that will make you a finer doctor. What better incentive to explore your subject matter further? And, as with any vocational training, you’ll be well adapted to your work environment and have a proven track record as soon as you’re qualified, which should make finding your preferred employment straight-forward.

Failure is part of the journey

It’s highly unlikely you’ll be top of the class any more. And you certainly won’t be top of every class. You’ll need to accept that average is actually okay. If you try to get As in everything, or if you let every exam fail send you to a dark place, you’ll be putting your health at risk. Every doctor failed during medical school, and those failures have absolutely no bearing on their competence as medical professionals today. That’s why you’ll find loads of support from your peers and tutors if you find yourself struggling.

It won’t all be hard work

Medics know how important a work-life balance is. They appreciate having friends on other courses and the tension-reducing powers of uni societies. Your university will have a MedSoc to organise activities that fit around a medic’s busy schedule. Sign up during Freshers’ Week to start bonding with your peers, take part in sporting events, and take advantage of deals on local restaurants and clubs. For students of medicine, MedSoc is one of the best ways to stay sane.

It takes a long time to qualify

It takes at least a decade to become a fully-qualified doctor. You’ll be allowed to practice medicine after five years, but much of this time will be spent studying on the job. When you graduate, you’ll have to complete a paid two-year foundation training programme. Set you sights on becoming a GP? Then you’ll need to factor in a further three years of study. And then there’s brain surgery, which is likely to keep you studying for even longer than this. Of course, you never really finish learning no matter which discipline you choose – medicine moves on and you’ll need to keep up.

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