Before First Year: What You Should Know

Last updated: 3/10/2020

As is the experience of most medical students, nothing quite prepares you for medical school. No matter how many articles you read, vlogs you watch or people you speak to, all the advice in the world won’t stick unless you go through it yourself and find it to be true. Regardless, here are some things we think you should know before your first year that, if you do keep in mind, will make your experience less daunting and put you in the position to make the most of first year. 

5/6 years is a LONG time

The cliché that medical students run in packs is true for the most part and this is due to the sheer amount of contact hours medical students are forced to spend together over 5-6 years. Having friends who study other courses can be refreshing and exposes us to other interests but the reality is that after 3-4 years, most of them will graduate. At this point, you will probably be grateful for the friends you’ve made in medical school who are stuck with you for the remainder of your time in tertiary education. On top of that, studying with friends in medical school is one of those things that make the long nights more enjoyable than burdensome. Not to mention it takes the stress off, knowing someone else is just as behind as you are.

Try your best to participate in social events, meet new people, introduce yourself during lectures, labs, etc. and start the way you intend on carrying out the next 5-6 years of your life - you shouldn’t (have to) do it alone. 

An hourglass

There’s more to medicine than just the curriculum

For some of you, spending the long hours in lectures, extra reading and catching up on last week’s labs are just about enough medicine as you can think to handle. But there’s so much more to medicine than the curriculum. Most medical schools will have a separate union society you can join, specialty-based societies that host conferences and events you can attend and even medic-specific sports teams that you can get yourself involved with. Whatever you find interesting, take initiative of your own experience and expose yourself to more than what’s right in front of you.

A woman holding a hand up to chin with arms folded

Shoot Your Shot

Societies in university work differently to ones in high school in that you don’t necessarily need a set amount of experience in a society to run for a position in the general committee*. If there’s an AGM coming up for a society you’re interested in, there’s no harm in running and if elected, it’s a good way to develop some leadership skills early in your medical career. More than that, it’s an opportunity to show commitment to specialty and build on your portfolio for future job applications. 

Likewise, if you meet a professor/visiting speaker you like or attend a lecture on a topic you find interesting, there’s no harm in reaching out to the lecturer and asking about research/work opportunities. Keep in mind, the worst they can do is not get back to you. 

*some societies will require a year or two worth of time dedicated on the general committee before you can run for executive committee positions

A dark hitting the bullseye

Think About Your Future

Of course, it’s always a good idea to keep an open mind when you first start medical school but it’s also a good idea to keep your future in mind and try to figure out what you might want to do. The earlier you decide, the more you can do to lead you in that direction. For example, if you find you enjoy research, you might want to apply for the Academic Foundation Programme (AFP) and you will have more time to meet its requirements as you progress through medical school. 

This applies to other specialties such as surgery where some criteria required for the portfolio section in applying for Core Surgical Training (CST) after Foundation Programme can be fulfilled by achievements or participation in projects during medical school. 

A question mark floating above a hand.

Prioritise Your Exams Over Perfecting Clinical Skills/Knowledge (for now) 

This one might seem counterintuitive and ideally, the perfect medical student would do both. In reality, there is so much information being thrown at you already that trying to spend extra time on clinical skills you won’t be practicing for real until at least second or third year, isn’t a tactical use of your time. 

At this point, you should trust that when the time comes for you to need to know how to carry out simple procedures, you will be trained to an appropriate level in your later years of medical school but the foundations of physiology and anatomy probably aren’t going to be covered in as much detail as they are right now. This is likely to be what you are tested on and it’s more important to focus on getting on to the next stage of your training as best you can, rather than on honing skills you will forget by the time you actually need them. 

An exam script marked with "A" grade

Do Something Else

After everything that’s been said, it might seem like you have no time for anything else but for the sake of sanity if anything, you should try to participate in at least one thing outside of medicine. Join the hummus society, get a gym membership, or start a new sport; whatever appeals to you. Develop that hobby or skill you think you don’t have time for because chances are, there’ll be even less time later.

A basketball, a football and a rugby ball.


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