The last 4 years of medical school have not been easy and as I begin my intercalated year, I have begun to reflect on my time at medical school so far. Although I have had some fun, memorable experiences that I wouldn’t change for the world, there are definitely some things that I would change, and some advice I would give myself just to help me along at every step of the way.
First year: Sleeping Beauty
My first year was the best year of medical school. This was probably because I didn’t act like a medical student at all. I was the only black student on my course, so naturally I decided to make friends with students from other courses, who I decided were “more like me”. Whilst this gave me a sense of comfort and made me feel more at home, I found that I had no friends on my course. I had friends elsewhere so this wasn’t always a problem for me. By tricking myself into believing I started lectures at midday like my friends, I found that I was often the one asleep in the lecture after my 3rdnight out of the week. Make the most of your first year. Go out if that’s your kind of thing, but remember that while your mates are sleeping at 10 am, you have an anatomy session. Labels stick, and 4 years on, I’m still known as “The Girl Who Sleeps In Lectures”.
Looking back I don’t regret having friends on other courses, it meant the conversation didn’t revolve around “Grey’s anatomy” everyday. However, it’s important to get to know other medics. Whether you like it or not, medicine is a challenging course, and you will have a different lifestyle to everyone else; no one understands that more than other medics. It’s also really hard to practise a respiratory examination on yourself so even if you don’t really “click” with the people on your course, its wise to keep them around.
Second year: “Work twice as hard”
The phrase, “work twice as hard” has been embedded in me all my life. I’ve almost come to see it as a family mantra. My parents always highlighted the fact that as ethnic minorities, we would have to work twice as hard to be seen as equals to our white colleagues; and even then there was a glass ceiling that we would probably spend our whole lives trying to break through. This worked out well for me during secondary school, I worked twice as hard as everyone else and I was one of the smartest people in my year. After sleeping my way through first year, I decided second year was time to bring that mantra back and shake off my new label.
Second year was arguably the hardest year of medical school so far and unfortunately my old secondary school tricks proved fruitless. Yes I worked twice, maybe even three times as hard, but I still found myself in the middle of the year. I had never been average in my life and even after killing myself for these exams, I didn’t come out on top. Even though I passed, I couldn’t celebrate. So instead of enjoying myself, I spent my time trying to figure out where I went wrong.
I’ve now realised that everyone in medical school was the smartest in secondary school, so I wasn’t that special. I still believe we have to work twice as hard as everyone else, and this was especially true for me being the only black person on my course with an embarrassing reputation for sleeping. However, if I could go back I wouldn’t beat myself up about not passing with merit or being in the top 10%. Being a medical student is such a huge achievement, and as cliché as it sounds, we should be proud of ourselves for each year we get through.
Third year: Finding my place
Third year is when I really started getting into my stride. The course was suddenly much more interesting and I found my strength in clinical medicine. Consistent hard work and a genuine interest meant that I went from the middle, to the top of my year group. With all my friends being busy with dissertations, I decided to make some medic friends and found that, surprisingly; some of them were “more like me”. There’s not much I would change about this year, (other than making the term a bit shorter) however one mistake I made was focussing too much on my written exams rather than the OSCE’s, which were weighted more heavily. My advice is to make sure you know the weighting of each exam. This doesn’t mean you should only revise for one, but it’s good to know which one deserves a bit more of your attention.
Fourth year: Finals? I don’t know her
Finally we’ve come to fourth year, when I sat my final exams. Funnily enough I didn’t realise they were my finals until about a week ago, at the time I just thought they were important. Note to self: make sure you know what exams you’re revising for. Despite this I worked hard, and did relatively well. Finals are no joke. These exams were extremely difficult and I still get flashbacks to the all nighters I pulled in the library. Although it was stressful at the time those all nighters were worth it, and I don’t think I could’ve worked any harder even if I did realise they were my finals.
At the end of my fourth year I went on my elective, which has been the highlight of my degree so far. Early planning and saving meant I was able to have an amazing time full of unforgettable memories. Even if you can’t afford to go abroad, use this as an opportunity to do a speciality you really enjoy and make the most of your time there.
Medical school has been a rocky journey and I won’t lie, there have been times when I wanted to give up. But I’m glad I didn’t. Its so easy to lose sight of why you applied in the first place when you have huge exams looming over your head, but once you get into your stride not even finals will discourage you. As I enter my fifth year I hope to take all of the lessons I’ve learned with me, and finally shake off that label.
Written By Ife Williams