General Top Tips for Freshers

This is the first article in our Freshers series! Check out more in the coming weeks.


Congratulations you made it! All those hours perfecting that personal statement, nervously sitting the dreaded UKCAT, and sweating through the interview have been worth it – you’re now a medical student! Starting university is an exciting new challenge; one that is entirely different to the sheltered environments of school and sixth form.

However, before you sling your shiny new stethoscope around your neck and stagger bleary eyed into your first 9am lecture, you’ll want to read these top ten tips to help you make the most of the beginning of a fabulous five years (six if you intercalate!) at medical school…

1. Nerves are normal – everyone else is just as petrified as you!

University can be daunting, a new city, meeting and living with new (and interesting!) people, having to find your way around campus and all that’s even before you’ve opened Gray’s Anatomy. Rest assured though, there will be approximately another 250 medic freshers all anxiously looking for the medical lecture theatre, library, union and bar…the list goes on, but once that first week is over, you’ll wonder what you were worried about!

2. A smile goes a long way.

Yep, I know, your mum and dad will have said this ad nauseum, but it really does help! Making friends with other medics, including the older years is much easier with a smile. Medics in the years above are a fountain of useful information about exams, revision tips, and some may even pass on their first year notes to a friendly first year medic.

3. Learn as you go along.

Medical school is different to A-levels and GCSEs. Learning material is delivered in a variety of ways depending on which school you’re at, but the common methods include lectures, e-learning, lab and dissection room based practicals. Making notes or recording during lectures is a good idea, but remember to convert these to more revision friendly formats at the end of the day. Leaving note making until revision and exam time is a recipe for disaster, I’m speaking from experience here! Trying to cram anatomy and physiology into 2 nights before your first exam is a no-no. Break these subjects such as these and pharmacology, biochemistry etc. into bite sized chunks and assimilate the knowledge gradually over the course of the term.

4. Medicine is not a competition.

Ok, so you had to fight your way into medical school with an ace personal statement, a line of perfect A grade A-levels, a polished interview and, of course endure the inevitable competitive chit-chat before interviews and on online forums, but now you’re in, don’t waste time and effort comparing yourself to others. Medicine is fantastically fun and difficult, often at the same time. The diverse range of students studying medicine mean that there will be a huge range of talent, and unlike school, you may not be the best at everything. Find out how you learn and your strengths (and weaknesses!) will become apparent. Don’t waste time and energy comparing yourself to your peers; learning is a symbiotic process, so find out who can explain the Krebs cycle before the physiology exam!

5. The answer isn’t always in the textbook.

Once beloved of students in general, the textbook is not always the solution. With so many learning resources available online, the days of hunching over dry dusty textbooks with blurry photos and diagrams, are over. Geeky Medics is a great website for more clinical based learning but it’s always worth asking other students for recommendations.

Textbooks do have their merit, particularly for subjects that will crop up regularly such as anatomy, however borrowing from your medical school library is worthwhile so you can find the best textbook for you. Medics in the years above may be able to sell you decent copies of good textbooks and schools will often have stalls at careers fairs where second hand textbooks can be bought cheaply.

6. More than medical school?!

Surely not! Although we all know medicine is the best course (of course!), limiting your social life and other interests purely to medicine will severely curtail your university experience. Most universities have a wide array of societies from wine tasting to Harry Potter, and there’s usually an opportunity to sign up during induction or welcome week. Joining societies is a great way of meeting other students and forgetting about the pharmacology of paracetamol!

7. Look after your health.

Sounds obvious doesn’t it? As medics, we’re among the worst when it comes to acknowledging physical and mental health problems. Although it can be tempting to be blind drunk for the entirety of the first term, your liver won’t thank you and having a couple of alcohol free days in a week is a good idea to allow your body to recover. Similarly, eating meals that don’t come from Dominoes or in foil trays, will help sustain you through revision and exam periods. Exercise can help with stress relief, so resist the temptation to put in twelve hour days at the library, and make sure you find time for a swim or a brisk walk. And lastly, if you’re feeling down or anxious, remember there is plenty of help available, either from the university, the medical school or your GP.

8. You will make mistakes.

You will make mistakes. And then more. And then some more. Loudly proclaiming that the epididymis is the same as the growth plate in long bones (it’s not – it’s the epiphysis!) in a packed lecture theatre, will probably mean you’ll never make that mistake again! And that’s the key – we all make mistakes but not learning from your mistakes is the real mistake.

9. Don’t worry about asking for help!

Asking for help is not a weakness; it shows you are aware of your own limitations, something that is crucial as a junior doctor. If you’re struggling academically, then friends can be a great source of help, as it will help them learn if they can explain basic tenets and concepts to willing ears. Failing that, most lecturers will give out their email address for this very purpose, use it! If you’re worried about something outside of your academic studies, then there is usually pastoral help at the medical school, student counselling services or seeing your GP can be a good idea, if your worries are health related. And of course, solving anxieties early is always a good idea; sitting on worries until breaking point never ends well.

10. Is medicine for me?

We’ve all been there! You worked so hard to get into medical school and now you’re here surrounded by piles of notes on immunology and a stethoscope you’re not quite sure how to use…..And the doubt starts to creep in, especially when you meet friends who have six hours of lectures in a week and one essay per term! Hang in there, because this is the start of a truly unique and privileged career. Medicine is the marriage of art and science, and a way of life that takes five years to learn. Of course, everyone finds a specialty that they’re not keen on, but the beauty of medicine is that there is always scope for your interest; be it sports or working with children. Medicine is infectious, it will very quickly become a passion, take my word for it!

Written by Becx Mann.

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