Advice for those starting medicine

Crow

Medical Student
Emeritus Staff
Hi all,

I’ve recently just completed my first year of medicine and thought I’d post a collection of my thoughts/reflections/advice for those starting medicine next year while they’re still reasonably fresh in my mind. This is partially riding off the back of the tragic loss of the article that pi wrote at the start of the year (R.I.P). Note that I am a graduate entry student, so it’s possible that undergraduate entry students may find their experience different to mine. Anyhow, here’s a collection of advice!

Don’t do pre-study to “prepare” during your holidays. You’ll waste a big chunk of time that should be spent relaxing and having fun, and you likely won’t learn things that will actually be useful to you, because at this stage you likely don’t know what is and isn’t worth learning. Then, when you actually get taught these things, they’ll be delivered to you in a fraction of the time you spent learning them yourself. In medicine, you should enjoy your holidays when you can get them. You’ll be at a huge risk of burning out if you don’t.

Don’t let medicine become your life. It’s really easy to get caught up in the medicine “bubble” – after all, you spend five days a week at university studying medicine, and then there is a continuous stream of social events run by the medical society, and then your medicine friends want to catch up outside of class, and….. it goes on. Of course you should enjoy yourself, go to social events and form close relationships with your peers. However, make sure you take time out for yourself and dedicate sufficient time to your non-medicine friends and family. Sometimes you just need to take a break from it all and having people that you can meet with and talk about things unrelated to medicine is invaluable. I personally ensure that I dedicate (at the absolute minimum) one day a week (usually a weekend day) to doing no study, I make a conscious effort to catch up with my non-medical friends just as much as my medicine friends, and I strive to maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine (all of the above can become very difficult to maintain during the exam period). You will thank yourself in the long run if you maintain methods to keep yourself sane, healthy and have different interests and hobbies in your life. Don’t sacrifice your non-medical interests while you have the time to pursue them.

Revolve your study around learning what you need to know to be a safe and competent doctor, and not merely so you can pass/smash your exams. This was a direct tip from pi which I’m really glad I took on board. Of course exams are important (and to some people, they are more important than others) but just because something isn’t going to be assessed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn it! This isn’t to say to completely ignore your medical school’s syllabus, either; those exist for a reason.

Don’t worry about what other people know. Particularly in the lead up to exams, but also more generally, you’ll likely hear your peers talking (flexing) about what they’ve studied, how much they’ve done in the lead up to exams, and probably things you’ve never heard of before. This is the nature of grouping a whole heap of high-achieving and highly motivated individuals together. You should focus on yourself and what you need to learn, rather than what other people are discussing. Of course if you’ve been formally taught something or every other person knows something and you don’t, then this is an indicator that you need to know it. However, there will always be someone that knows more than you, that has done more study than you, that got a better mark than you, etc. You need to become comfortable with this, your own approach to your learning and exam preparation, and learn to ignore other people who will just stress you out.

Use your peers! On the flipside to the above point: you don’t have to do everything by yourself. Form study groups, ask other students and staff for help, and don’t be afraid to ask “stupid questions”. The reality is that there are probably a whole heap of other students that were wondering the same thing and will be grateful for you asking the question for them. Don’t worry about trying to display some intelligent persona to others; medical school is about learning, not showing off how smart you are or are perceived to be. If you’re trying to look smart, this probably won’t be looked upon as favourably as you think it might.

You’ll only get out what you put in. If you’re afraid of failure or “looking dumb” and this holds you back from putting your hand up for things, then this will only hinder your learning. Medical school will involve a lot of things that force you out of your comfort zone, and you’ll be much better for it. Make the most of your learning opportunities when they present themselves! While this has already been very apparent to me as a pre-clinical student in PBL, clinical skills and communication skills sessions, I’ve no doubt it’ll become even more relevant in clinical years.

It takes time to figure out your learning style. This one challenged me a lot, as my medical school is very dependent on students learning things for themselves. There’s a lot of gaps in our teaching that we are expected to fill, and we often aren’t told about these gaps. I had to learn what the best way for me to learn independently was, and it frustrated me that I kept trying different things and they weren’t working. What I’ve learned from this is that there is no magical approach: you need to trial lots of different things, and this may take the better portion of a year (well it did for me, anyway). Ask others for tips and advice, but don’t rely on a certain study method that worked for someone else if it isn’t working for you. You will quickly discover that the learning style required in medicine is very different to what was required in high school (and for me, my undergraduate degree) where there is a hell of a lot more spoon-feeding and a lot less self-direction required.

There is always more to be done to prepare for exams. This is a feeling you need to get used to. There is such a huge amount of content you’ll need to learn in a relatively short space of time, and when any of it is assessable, it becomes pretty much impossible to know it all for your exams. While I can’t speak for other schools, my medical school also likes to assess a bunch of things that we haven’t been taught, were never told we should know, and what most people have never heard of before, presumably to separate out the highest scoring students from each other. In short, you’ll need to learn how to pick out the high yield topics from the lower yield topics for the purposes of exam preparation, and this is a skill that can take some time (I haven’t got it down pat myself, yet).

Exam results don’t define your knowledge or capabilities. This goes without saying, but you’re here to become a doctor, not to beat everyone else. It does not matter if you are average or below average in certain areas, and it’ll often reflect something completely unrelated to your knowledge in that area. Now is a really good time to separate your self-worth from your grades. Your grades do not indicate how clever you are, or your skill as a doctor. Also, try your best not to get caught up in conversations about your exam results with other people; if they are asking what mark you got in an exam, it’s presumably to be competitive or show off, rather than because they actually care about how you went. Steer clear of these people if you can, or take my approach and ensure you don’t ask them what mark they got after they ask you (because this is usually the real reason they asked: so they can flex their score on you).

Compile a useful bank of resources. Lots of people make the mistake of studying the same thing in four different textbooks because they think it will help them know it better. This isn’t true. If you’ve read one good textbook on a topic then you’ve probably read everything you were going to in another textbook. Pick the one that works best for you. You shouldn’t need too many resources once you’ve found the ones that work best for you. Some of my favourites:

Physiology:
  • Marieb Anatomy & Physiology: Great for understanding the basics of pretty much any body system, and good to rely back on for foundation before you learn in more detail.
  • Guyton & Hall – for more advanced physiology.
Pathology:

Robbin’s Basic Pathology is the only textbook I look at, but my school has an excellent pathology lecturer so that helps a lot.

Anatomy:
  • Rohen’s Colour Atlas: the best anatomy textbook out there with labelled cadaver images.
  • Acland’s Anatomy: if you get access to these through your medical school, make the most of it. The videos are well paced and take you through cadavers for pretty much anything you’ll ever need to know for anatomy.
Pharmacology:
  • The Australian Medicines Handbook (AMH) site is amazing and you should rarely need more than what it provides.
  • Rang & Dale’s Pharmacology is my go-to if I want anything that goes into more detail than the AMH, though I usually don’t.
Talley and O’Connor is obviously a must and is outstanding for anything related to clinical examination or history taking, and from what I’m told it’s used not just in medical school, but for preparing for postgraduate exams as well.

BMJ Best Practice and UpToDate: both excellent resources for understanding the epidemiology/aetiology/pathophysiology/treatment/complications of pretty much any disease you can think of, based on updated guidelines.

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Enjoy yourself! This year has been the best year of my life. I’ve had so much fun and absolutely love what I’m studying. Remember that you won’t be a student forever, so make the most of your time as a student while you have it!

I might add more to this as it comes to mind, but for now: hope this can be of good use to those just embarking on their medicine journey! 😊
 
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Hey,
Thankyou very much for sharing this advice. I am a freshman as well and have been feeling the same stuff, a lot of difficult things like managing my schedule, being healthy, catch up with old friends and stuff, but ever since i began to do everything step by step, ive been feeling great.
One of the things i've discovered is that a balance between studying and freetime is important. Like the yin and yang principle but in med life version, i don't think that anyone can handle a medical career without any time to relax and enjoy the other things in life.. Letsss gooo
 

Crow

Medical Student
Emeritus Staff
Reflections from second year

So, that was the fastest year of my university life! Feels like I only just started the degree and now I'm halfway through (pending I passed my exams....). While it's fresh in my mind, I'll give out a few extra ?tips? ?smattering of random thoughts? from this year.

It's ok if you're still figuring out the best way to learn. I genuinely think it took me until the middle of this year (so, 18 months of the degree after I had already completed an undergraduate degree) to get into the "rhythm" that best works for me. It takes practice to figure out which resources you should use (or that you best "vibe" with) for the information you are seeking out, and how to filter out blocks of information and select the bits that are most relevant to you at the level you are at. Perhaps I was just behind the 8 ball, but if you are struggling to develop that particular skill, I can only say that it comes with time, and there's no need to panic if you haven't got your learning approach completely sorted in the first year.

It's normal to feel out of your depth. It goes without saying, but you will be constantly challenged in this degree and you'll regularly have to do things out of your comfort zone - but this is when you will learn the most. Rather than shying away from situations and learning opportunities that make you uncomfortable, do your best to face each opportunity with a "nothing to lose" approach - it's way better to learn now as a student rather than shy away from opportunities and then being incompetent at certain skills you are meant to have further down the line!

I've naturally learnt a lot over the past couple of years but I am into the hospital next year and certainly feel (while very excited) completely unprepared for that next step. It seems like there is so much more I should know before I actually interact with real patients! Imposter syndrome is very real in this field. If you're feeling it, you're definitely not alone! You're probably the odd one out if you don't feel out of your depth on the regular. Embrace it.

Assessment is not always an accurate reflection of your knowledge or competence. I just want to reinforce that university exams will likely never correlate perfectly with how much you've learned or how well you understand a topic. Certainly at my medical school, many questions are made to be deliberately convoluted or challenging to interpret - this is likely because the school is required to have an appropriate distribution of performance among the cohort and this is an easy way to make sure students get things wrong. Your assessment pieces will likely include things you've never been taught about and were never told you are expected to know.

Additionally, you will very likely be assessed on a variety of things that are incredibly superfluous and have no clinical relevance. Just take these things as they come and don't take them as a reflection on yourself.

Rather than beat yourself up over a few extra lost marks on an exam or a poor performance in an OSCE station, simply take it as an opportunity to recognise where some deficiencies in your learning might be. You will never be taught everything you need to know in practice (this simply isn't possible in the time frame of medical school) and so it's up to you to fill in the gaps. Again, the ability to recognise when something is worth learning about and when it was simply a superfluous exam question with no clinical value comes with time. I'm still figuring that part out.

Make an active effort to revise content on the regular. Whether this be via regular group study (which I strongly recommend), purchasing a question bank or just testing yourself on a different concept that you've learned each night, I have to (hypocritically) recommend you make an active attempt to keep things fresh in your mind. The structure of my degree essentially means that most of what we learned in first year is not revisited at all in second year. It is easy to have a "I would recall this if I needed to" approach but just like anything in life, without repeated exposure things will quickly fall out of your memory. Luckily enough, the understanding always comes easier the second, third, fourth time over.

Having just been through a very busy/stressful month where I essentially revised 2 years of content because I didn't take my own advice, I can only highlight that it will be way better for your learning and way better for your mental health if you take small bites along the way rather than leaving it all to the death. Of course this is always easier said than done and I know very well that life gets in the way sometimes, but if you can follow that advice, I promise it will be worth it!

I also can't underline enough how helpful it is to find yourself a good study group that you get along with well and that will motivate you to keep on top of things. I've had a group for the past few months who I met up with regularly and it really held me accountable for my own learning and gave me plenty of new perspectives on topics that I previously didn't understand that well. This was particularly helpful for OSCE preparation - the more times you practice performing a physical exam or taking a history, the more proficient you will become and the more confident you will be when you have assessment in your OSCEs, and more importantly, when you start interacting with real patients on placement. This was particularly relevant to my cohort, as we had next to no teaching on virtually all of the physical examinations and the clinical reasoning skills that were assessed in the OSCE and this forms the bread and butter of the career!

Enjoy yourself! Another repeated point, because it's so important. You only get to be a student for so long - you may as well have a blast while you can.

2 years down, 2 years to go! How time just flies.
 

vngsk

Member
Thank you so much for taking the time to jot these down!! I'll be starting year 1 med next year and not gonna lie, I'm pretty nervous lol. Thanks a bunch for the tips! ☺
 
Thank you so much for these tips! I am currently tossing up about whether I should get XXXX or not. Do others have opinions on this, particularly for first year?
 
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LMG!

MBBS IV
Administrator
Thank you so much for these tips! I am currently tossing up about whether I should get XXXX or not. Do others have opinions on this, particularly for first year?

Hey there. We have a very strict policy banning the discussion of, or recommendations for and against, paid services.

I didn’t realise there was discussion in the original post so I’ll fix that now, too.

Apologies for the confusion.
 

LMG!

MBBS IV
Administrator
I was wondering whether grades in medicine affect anything after graduation. Does it affect specialisation prospects?
For Victorian universities, where Z scores are used to determine internship locations within that state, there is some impact from grades. But other states use a preferencing and ballot system that doesn’t rely on grades.

And specialisation prospects are not affected anywhere as far as I can tell. You can look at current requirements (ie research, additional courses, CV, etc) for the various professional colleges on their websites I believe. None of them include Med school grades in the equation.
 

garmonbozia

Membered Value
Valued Member
For Victorian universities, where Z scores are used to determine internship locations within that state, there is some impact from grades. But other states use a preferencing and ballot system that doesn’t rely on grades.

And specialisation prospects are not affected anywhere as far as I can tell. You can look at current requirements (ie research, additional courses, CV, etc) for the various professional colleges on their websites I believe. None of them include Med school grades in the equation.
Some specialty colleges give CV points for exceptional academic performance in medical school like coming first in course or winning prizes, e.g. CICM: https://www.cicm.org.au/CICM_Media/...ured-Scored-Curriculum-Vitae-2021-Scoring.pdf
 

chinaski

Regular Member
Probably the more salient take-home point is that in the context of specialisation, your performance at med school is fairly irrelevant relative to other (more heavily weighted) selection criteria. Exceptional performance and winning prizes as a student does not guarantee you a meaningful advantage over the competition in those college applications wherein points are assigned for the same, and conversely, people get into training programmes largely in the absence of any such performance being factored into their admission (ie the majority of graduates don't come first or win prizes in med school). You're not going to miss out on a programme on account of not having been the dux of your graduating med school year.
 
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