Back to reality: starting second year of medical school.

As many of you may know, I am a Cardiff medical student, and 2 weeks ago I sat down in my very first 9am class of 2nd year. I am sat today in the comfort of my room after just completing my first case of year 2 and wanted to spend a little bit of time reflecting on the past year at medical school and looking on into the future.

I also at the end of this post am going to share a few hints and tips (or dos and donts) for the freshers who may naively make the same mistakes I did, well fear not freshers because I am going to set things straight!

Reflecting upon first year…

My first year of medical school went by in the blink of an eye, it honestly feels like it was just yesterday when naive young me sat in this huge lecture theatre to be told I was “the 1%” who made it through the interview stages and got my place on this very seat to study medicine. Its actually quite crazy that it was a whole year ago.

I remember starting first term last year and suddenly feeling the immense weight of all the work being thrown onto my shoulders, I was not expecting anything they threw at me and quite frankly trying to stay afloat was very difficult. I would spend endless hours each night trying and horrifically failing to memorise all the processes and molecules involved in the krebs cycle, and I remember sitting in my room at gone midnight thinking to myself that I made a huge mistake choosing medicine. I honestly was so wrong, but in the moment everything just got to much.

Christmas rolled around and I welcomed the 3 weeks off to study for my first ever exams. I remember returning in January and sitting 2 HUGE exam papers, and somehow managing to scrape a pass in one of them (we wont talk about the other one…), That was a very proud moment for me.

I then began second term very positively, CBL kicked in and everything was going super well, I did some research projects as part of my course on some very current issues, joined a choir and even had some evenings off every now and then. But soon summer exams crept up on me and I felt like I was drowning again. I remember quite clearly sitting at my desk some evenings and staring at pages of notes I had written with no clue as to when I had even learnt any of this material, let alone having to understand it all. Lets just say I must have got my act together (not sure how) and I did manage to pass second year with a very respectable 67% average in my exams (and I was ranked in the top 25% of my year!), so it wasn’t all that bad!

Year 1 was the best and worst year of my life, I cried (A lot), laughed (even more than a lot) and shared some of the happiest memories with some amazing friends that I had made. Looking back now yes of course I would have done things differently, but my older and wiser self knows where I went wrong. Overall year 1 was the making of me as an adult, and as a medical student, and I wouldnt change it (even with all the bad times).

My advice to freshers

Coming into medical school is such a huge life change, most of you will be leaving home to a new and exciting (but also very big and scary) place, and a lot of you will have to learn how to adjust to university teaching and work, I just wanted to share a few of my tips with you all so you dont fall into the same traps as I did.

  1. DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS: all the way through college as prospective medical students you are used to comparing yourself to everyone else, because thats what applying to medicine does to you. To ensure you are applying to the correct medical schools for you hours upon hours have probably been spent (even if you wont admit it) scouring the student room looking at how well everyone else did on the UKCAT, and how many more A*s they have at GCSE. In medicine it is very easy to do the same thing, but I promise you that it is not healthy at all. back in school it was very likely that you were used to being the top of the class, now you have entered medical school nearly everyone who is in your year is also used to being the same thing. Everything strives for their own personal goals and that is absolutely fine, but dont start comparing the amount of work you do to someone else or comparing scores on tests with other people as it is not productive nor good for your mental wellbeing. I would say strive to better yourself rather than compare yourself, set your own personal goals to beat and dont get disheartened when your score isnt at the top of the year, because it will happen, just know that a pass is a pass and you will still be that doctor you dreamed of being one day.
  2. Dont buy every textbook: It is so easy to fill your bookshelf up with beautiful (and expensive) medical textbooks before you start university, but dont buy every single book from the list. I would personally reccomend you try out the books before you buy them and see which ones you will use and which ones you dont like, everyone has different preferences and trust me spending £40+ on a textbook which you will use twice is just not worth it.
  3. Take time for YOU! its super easy when starting medical school to go mad and study all the time, and you may feel like the amount of work is never-ending, but it is so so important that you take time for yourself to go to societies, chill with friends and have that film night you have been talking about for 3 weeks. Medicine is a stressful, time consuming and complex degree, and it is so easy to get carried away and hold your breath under the sea of work hanging over you, but please dont forget to come up for air once in a while. Enjoy these years, as in a couple of years time you will be on placement and it is highly likely you will have less and less time for yourself as the years go on.
  4. Chat to your lecturers: A lot of students will just passively sit in a lecture and when they dont understand something will easily brush over it. But your lecturers are there to teach you and often a lot of them would love for you to ask the questions and get the explanations, dont be afraid to approach them in person or via email to discuss any confusion you may be feeling. It is much better to get it sorted straight away than to be confused 2 days before the exam unsure where to turn.
  5. Revise smart: this is by far one of the most important points I will make. Coming from A-levels or a past degree, you will be very used to how to revise to pass the exams to get you into medicine, but remember now your here, your learning information to utilise during your vocation, and with such a large volume of information to take in it is important that you learn how to revise smart. Often for many people their old study buddy (past papers) no longer exists, and it is important that you take the mock exams during your first year as a time to practice different revision methods for when it counts, I can say for 99% of people how they revised previously is unlikely to work for medicine, so start early. A key point is also that you are never ever going to be able to know everything in such great detail as you may be used to with A-levels, hence you need to learn to revise smart and prioritise things which you have covered a lot and in more detail, look at it this way, it is much more likely that the topic you spent a whole week on is going to be examined on than the 1 slide during a random lecture in first week, so get prioritizing and make sure you know what is more likely to appear.

There are so many things I could say here, But above are my key staples of advice for every fresher out there.

Looking forward

Having completed my first 2 weeks of year 2 I am feeling very excited about this year to come, I have clinical exams coming at the end of this year plus my first chance to experience finals as a second year. I am still getting used to introducing myself though, I keep walking into clinical skills saying “hello my name is Natalie and I am a fir… sorry second year medical student”, that will just never ring right with me, how did I get from GCSE results day to here?

Looking ahead I cannot wait to get stuck in!


Nat x




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