So this post is a bit of a personal one, to say the past year has been a smooth journey would be far from the truth. This post initially started as my first day of Medical School which soon became my first week of Medical School and now it’ll finally be posted as my first year of Medical School, I honestly don’t know where the time has gone. It has been an interesting year to say the least.
I remember being bombarded with introductory talks during my first week, every day that week was a 9-5 and please bear in mind this was also fresher’s week. I’ll never forget those who were falling asleep during these talks being called out by one of our lecturers and I think at that moment it was just starting to dawn on all of us new students what we were getting ourselves into. I didn’t really have any expectations of Medical School, I had no idea what it would be like and I think it was because I never allowed myself to get attached to the prospect of being a medical student so that I wouldn’t be too disappointed if I didn’t get in but I also think this perspective affected me in the long run.
Our course structure began with us learning the basics in the first half of the year called Platform for Clinical Science which covered Anatomy, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Genetics, Imaging, Immunology, Micro-anatomy, Numeracy, Pharmacology, Physiology, Psychology and Social Sciences. This would be described as the worst part of the year for many as we got thrown into the deep end from the get-go and the level of knowledge we had to attain was extremely high. Case Based Learning took place in the other half of the year, this involved each case group being given a scenario from which they would derive learning outcomes. During the week they would read around these learning outcomes as well as research before presenting what they’ve learnt to each other in the next session. Each case lasted 2 weeks and was made up of 3 sessions and covered a particular topic area either the Musculoskeletal system, Contraception and UTI, Upper Gastrointestinal Tract, Cardiovascular System, Respiratory System and Cognitive Health. Alongside the group case sessions we also had lectures, placements, clincal skills sessions and anatomy sessions related to the particular case.
At the start of the year I dreaded lectures, especially those that started at 9am. I particularly struggled with note taking as I was hand writing my notes so it was very hard to keep up and as soon as i’d missed some important points I would get discouraged and just give up. With such a large year group sitting at the back of the lecture theatre was probably the worst decision I could have ever made as it is so easy to get distracted or just zone out but as the year progressed I switched to taking notes on my laptop and sitting right at the front and my life changed. I strongly recommend recording lectures as you can consolidate your knowledge by re-listening to them and filling gaps in your notes.
I’ll move on to a more interesting aspect of medical school, human dissection. I’ll admit this took me by surprise and nothing could have prepared me for it. It is incredibly important for you to research what is offered by different universities as I had never realised my medical school offered full body human dissection. Meeting the cadaver was a weird experience to say the least and this happened on our 2nd day, I felt scared as it was my first time seeing a dead body in such close proximity, I was also a bit excited as I would get to see the human body like never before, witness the intricate detail and gain a greater sense of appreciation for the individual and medicine as a whole; however I could not ignore the feeling of guilt. Dissection is a perplexing process and you’re constantly plagued with the fear of becoming desensitised but I’m grateful for the premature exposure as it prompts unanticipated negative experiences as well as positive outcomes which shape your Medicine journey. Dissection is emotionally taxing but it is a great representation of Medicine and encourages us to overcome our fears and learn how to deal with them quickly as well as develop an in-depth understanding of the human body. I was privileged to have done my Literature Review (one of our assignments) on Cadaver Dissection and find it particularly interesting.
Medical Students also had 3 hour long tutorials, these are the worst especially when they are at the end of a 9-5 day and you’re extremely tired and lacking motivation. Tutorials are like group work, so a class of about 30 or more are split into smaller groups and work together to answer a booklet full of questions using textbooks and the internet. One thing I do wish I’d done was spoken up more, I’m very quiet when working with other people and prefer to just listen but at the same time this meant I’d left some of the sessions without understanding certain parts and had been too shy to ask questions. Medical school is difficult as everybody is smart in their own right but some still feel the need to compete but you have to consent with acknowledging the fact that you may not be the smartest but it does not make you any less qualified and you don’t lose anything by helping or supporting those around you.
During my first year we had weekly clinical skills sessions which I really enjoyed as we had to wear placement clothes and had the opportunity of being really hands-on and going over essential skill e.g. how to use an AED, practising injections, using an ECG, different types of examinations and manual handling. We also got the opportunity to practise our consultation skills with actors and actresses continuously throughout the year which was amazing as over time we were able to see our progress and how much more comfortable we became when in those situations.
As my medical schools teaching style is integrated, we began weekly placements in January; this involved 2 and a half hour sessions in General Practises, Physiotherapy Units and Hospital Wards. As someone who had never done any medical work experience I was extremely excited to just see how everyone worked together to provide a high level of care. I got to meet some amazing doctors and also while on placement at the GP surgery we got to go on home visits on our own in pairs, this was so shocking to me at first and also a bit nerve-wracking as you never really knew the type of people you were going to meet. Some of my friends had bad encounters as they faced racist remarks which is unfortunately one of the fears ethnic minority students face. But overall, placements were an eye opening experience and the early patient contact really gives you a taste of your future.
We had January exams and May/ June exams. When I tell people they are Single-Best Answer Exams (SBA’s) people automatically assume they’re multiple choice exams and therefore easy but do not be deceived. Single-best answer means that there may be more than one correct answer in the options given but you have to use your knowledge to decide which is most correct therefore making it difficult. Our exams are 3 hours long and made up of 120 SBA’s and you need 50% to pass. I think the most difficult concept to grasp is the fact that you are so used to doing extremely well academically before medical school e.g. getting 80-90% in exams but this changes drastically to around 50-70% in medical school and can be difficult to cope with.
In terms of the workload, I would say it remained consistently high throughout the year. Initially you’re bound to be shocked with amount of pre-reading you’re assigned to do, sometimes you’re assigned about 30 pages or more pre-reading to do for just one session. Our pre-reading involved reading from various textbooks as well as watching some YouTube videos so it was very important to manage our time wisely. As Medics, we had a lot less free time than those on other courses as the majority of our days were 9-5’s, this meant that a lot of our friends tend to be medics on our course just because we end up spending so much time together. It is important to have a good group of friends as they will make your 5 year journey a lot easier, I was privileged to have met some amazing friends at the start of the course and we’ve grown closer throughout the year. Although a lot of our conversations are medical which low-key puts other people off, when it comes to exams having a group of friends to revise with sometimes is great as you can identify gaps in your knowledge and a lot of the time you can your different techniques when it comes to learning particular things e.g. to learn the Cranial Nerves we learnt a song. Despite the lack of free time, we still had time to join societies and my Medical School also set up the Afro-Caribbean Medics Association (ACMA) which enabled first years to interact with medics from different year groups as well as Black Doctors from local hospitals and specialities. ACMA also matches students up with doctors already in a field they’re interested in and has been a great source of advice for us first years.
This past year has been a roller coaster of emotions, some days i’d be elated to be studying my dream course and on other days I’d be down and feeling as though I didn’t deserve to be there but at the end of it all I know I wouldn’t rather do anything else and I get to genuinely enjoy learning about Medicine. I’ve learnt so much which may make it into another blog post but I hope that this post has given an insight to the thoughts and experience of a first year medical student.