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  • Writer's pictureJessica Beresford

The Challenges of Med School.. And How to Cope

Though the application process is arguably one of the hardest parts of the med school experience, it is by no means plain sailing after that! Being aware of the challenges of med school early can help you talk about them confidently in interviews and be well prepared to manage them as a student. Here’s what stood out to me during the 5 years:

  1. Time management - Whilst this comes easily to some people, it certainly doesn’t for others (myself included). Between lectures, skills sessions, anatomy demos, trying to make friends, attempting new sports, eating, sleeping, and generally just sustaining a happy lifestyle, there tends to be little time left to play with. It can feel super overwhelming at times, but definitely gets easier with experience. The best way to deal with this is getting an organizing system like Notion, Evernote or a physical planner that stores calendar, to do lists, notes etc. Even taking an hour on a sunday to plan out the upcoming week can be a lifesaver. Also, working out realistic study goals is key - there is ALWAYS more to know but never the time to do it, so block out a set time for this and then let yourself use the rest for fun and friends.  Don’t forget to plan in time for doing nothing - it’s tempting to burn the candle at every end but you’ll end up feeling worse for wear pretty quickly. You also have to remember that the demands on you and your study may be very different from flatmates on other courses - you  may feel the need to try and keep up with their going out/ social batteries but it’s totally okay (and likely) that you’ll need more down time. 

  1. Content mass - The amount you have to learn over the 5 years is no joke. You’ll likely feel bombarded, but rest assured that the concepts themselves are pretty manageable. My top tip is work smart and hard, but don’t run yourself into the ground trying to know everything. Find a method of retaining information that is efficient, ie writing up lecture notes before and adding to during, and finding resources that condense information like Zero to Finals, Geeky Medics, Teach me Anatomy. Processing information into manageable chunks is key - I found it useful to make a one page poster on each lecture/topic and then by exams I had an easy guide. It’s super important to pick out key concepts and have them ready for exams, as trying to cram entire semesters is an absolute killer. Little and often is definitely the way forward (I wish I had stuck to this more so I didn’t panic every exam period). It’s also useful to work out early what style your exams are and how best to prepare for these - is it lecture based or is there a content map to follow. 

  1. Small fish big pond - It’s likely you’re used to getting pretty good marks in tests, and being towards the top of classes. Once you get to med school, this is only the case for a very select few people who are extremely gifted and/or dedicated to medicine. Average pass marks range from 50-65%, and you are surrounded by equally intelligent people. It can feel like a bit of a shock, and that you’re falling behind, but it helps to remind myself what an achievement it is to even be studying medicine, and comparing yourself to a cohort of extremely intellectual peers isn’t a realistic outlook. You will learn that being average is more than okay, and each step forward is something to be proud of. 

  1. Dealing with unmatched enthusiasm on placement - This was a bit of a tough pill to swallow (pardon the pun) - you bound onto your first placements hoping to be greeted with a similar enthusiasm but this often isn’t the case. Lots of placements will be far away, busy, and have lots of canceled or nonexistent teaching. There will be times when you feel out of place, in the way or generally uncomfortable, but it’s important to remember you deserve to be there just as much as everyone else, and there will be people who want to teach you. If a placement is really rubbish, also remember it will pass - the beauty of switching every 4-6 weeks means there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If you are having problems, make sure to report them early and have a discussion with your placement organizer so they can help you out. The best thing to do is find a friendly F1,F2 and be direct about what you want to learn. It’s hard for someone to teach you if you go onto a ward without any idea what you want to know.

  1. Financing - This often goes a bit under the radar in terms of what the med schools tell you - essentially the first three years you get the same student loan as other students. Depending on your financial situation, this may or may not be sufficient to cover rent and living costs, but most uni’s will have some form of fund you can apply for if you are struggling. There are also travel bursaries for when you are on placement - make sure to be aware of any extra funding you are eligible for as it can really make a difference. Although most med schools advise against it, lots of people have part time jobs to support themselves, for example Healthcare Assistant Work or tutoring which can both be very flexible. Things can get tight in 4th and 5th year as you have an NHS bursary of £1000 and a reduced student loan - leaving you with overall about 2/3rds of what you’d normally have. Obviously this varies depending on personal situations but it’s worth accounting for when working out finances. Make sure to budget and plan ahead so you don’t come unstuck. 

All in all, it is tough but there are so many moments that’ll remind you why you’re doing it - whether that’s being there for a patient when they’ve got no-one else, getting questions right on ward round, or finding a specialty that makes your heart sing. You don’t have to be positive all the time, but you can always feel proud of what you’re doing. 

Jess Beresford, 5th Year  Medic 

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