First Semester of Medical School

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During my Masters, I documented my journey from start to finish in hopes to inspire or shed light on what Public Health was.  I plan to do an overview of the course and my experience studying in London for a year in a coming blogpost.  It is humbling to look back and see how far I've come since my first post about my postgrad studies and now.  Thus, I was inspired to do the same for Medical School as I am sure the memories I make are ones I would like to reflect back on later in life. 

What classes did I take during my first term? 

In my first term, we covered the molecular basis of cell biology, structure and function of various body parts, pharmacology, and physiology.  On top of this, we were introduced to the basics of Public Health and Social Science.  Overall, we had four subjects: Public Health, Physiology and Pharmacology, Structure and Function of the Body, and Molecular Cell Biology.  

My undergraduate degree was 'Cellular and Molecular Medicine' so luckily, a lot of the terminology was not new or overwhelming to me.  On top of this, my masters was in Public Health but the 'Social Science' portion of the module was new material that I had not encountered before.  Finally, I only encountered basic pharmacology in the past so I found this to be very interesting and brand new information.  Even though many individuals would find first term on the dry side, it forms the foundation for the upcoming subjects and beyond given that all pathology begins at a cellular level.  As a result, we are unable to 'choose' which modules you wish to take during your pre-clinical years at most UK universities. 

Did I do any clinical work/experience? 

Many UK universities will offer clinical experience prior to beginning lectures for insight on the health system and provide patient contact.  Traditionally, time is spent at a GP surgery and on hospital wards. The difference between work experience and 'early clinical experience' is that you learn how to manage a Cardiac Arrest, First Aid, and are able to talk to patients.  A lot of students even saw minor procedures/surgeries!  However, bar this, there is no more clinical experience until next year.  

What is my schedule like? 

Surprisingly, we are not given intensive contact hours but that is at the expense of having heavy workloads.  An abundance of content is squeezed into a one hour lecture and it is easy to fall behind if you do not catch up on the day.  Each day, like my masters, is dedicated to one subject.  In addition, we are given 'group work' each day on information either covered on the day or from the previous week.  It is a great way of solidifying what you learnt and filling in gaps through discussion with your peers and Clinical Teaching Fellows.  Something which helped me is doing the questions a head of time and still carrying out the discussion during group work because it allows me to get a better understanding of the information prior.  I generally take a while to absorb new facts so this method really helped me to learn effectively.  

What is the work load like? 

During my first term, we were not given many assignments.  There were a couple group presentations, but other than that, time is designated to self-study.  However, there is a lot of content explored in a short amount of time so it is vital to catch up on the lectures on the day to a) solidify your understanding b) ensure you do not fall behind later on c) to understand upcoming lectures d) have notes ready when it comes to exam time.  I highly recommend learning as you go along - though this may be improbable for some.  Hence, a majority of my time goes to listening back to lectures, refining notes, or reading extra material.  Alongside this, we are advised to read any 'pre reading' we are given in preparation for group work. More often than not, the information is covered in the lecture or group work and can be tested.  Nonetheless, I believe prioritising your lecture material over pre-reading is a more efficient approach.  

Do I have time for extracurriculars? 

Yes! I take part in two different student-lead programmes which bring me a lot of joy as it utilises the skills I acquired during my masters.  As someone with a passion for public health, these programmes ensure I do not lose those vital skills and are programmes I thoroughly enjoy.  

My other passion is dance.  I am a part of three different dance groups which, is not only amazing exercise, but is something I look forward to each week.  I highly recommend joining groups, societies, or hobbies that you thoroughly are passionate about as it will be a wonderful and healthy break from medicine.  It offers the opportunity to get to know students from other courses as it is easy to be trapped in the 'medic bubble'.  I whole-heartedly look forward to dance practice and lessons -  I have two a week that do not last more than one hour.  However, if there is an upcoming performance, then the hours do increase.  My student-lead programmes involves work that can be completed from home with occasional meetings so this offers flexibility.  

Do you have time for yourself? 

Self-care is very important.  To me, dancing is a form of self-care as it brings me the upmost happiness and is very freeing.  On the other hand, I have been carrying out the 'Insanity' Work Out and currently finished week 6.  Exercise is tough to allocate time for so I recommend opting for at-home work outs as it saves time (and money!).  The Insanity work out is a great way to improve your fitness and will undoubtedly improve your endurance when it comes to sporty extracurriculars.  Similarly, I love the Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Work Out and Fit Girls work out guide - both work wonders and can be done sans equipment.   

In addition, pampering yourself is important.  Every Sunday I treat myself to refresh and reset for the week ahead.  This includes a sleeping in, a face mask, using my favourite body washes and body butter, and eating delicious meals.  It's important to practice self love and 'reward' yourself for the week gone and the week to come.  However, a self-care Sunday does not have to lack productivity! I will study and carry out work for the next week and ensure I caught up on all the material from the last but I do so in comfort.  

Is it weird being a graduate on an undergraduate course? 

I am blessed to have a group of friends who are all graduates, thus, in an identical boat to myself.  We have been trying to make it a point to do something outside of university at least once a month.  My course is made up of 1/3 graduates which is a plus. Nonetheless, there are moments where it can be a negative experience being a graduate on an undergraduate course. 

Regardless, no matter how many degrees you have done, medicine is a different ball-game.  Everyone is on the same page and adapting their learning techniques accordingly.  Saying that, it is awkward being older than some of your peers and occasionally, I wish I had gotten onto a graduate-only course.  However, remember the end goal - to be a doctor.  It is not difficult to feel intimidated by those younger than you and at times, there is a gap in experiences or growth but it is vital to try to detach.  This is an attribute I am yet to achieve.

Overall, I love the university and place I have settled down in as all that I want is close to my home.  Hence, it is not difficult for me to pursue my interests.  If ever you are feeling down about being a graduate on a 5 year course, take a moment to count your blessings and seek good in the bad.  Furthermore, having graduate friends of a similar mindset is the best rock that one can have in this situation.  

How did you find exams in comparison to undergraduate, masters, and a levels? 

During my school years, undergrad, and masters, our exams were sectioned out and 'modular'.  At my university, and most UK medical schools, all the information is tested in one paper.  Therefore, there are no breaks between subjects to revise - you have to study everything for one exam.  Terrifying, right?  This was scary at first but highlights the importance of time management during the term as well as the revision period.  To add, our exams are cumulative.  Anything taught in term one is fair game for term two up until our finals in year five.  You have to keep revisiting old material as you learn new information but it will soon be second nature.  

Anything you would do differently? 

In first term, I dedicated a lot of time to making notes but that is not efficient.  Now, I spend more time in learning and understanding the material as it comes and revising as I go along so the run up to exams is not overwhelming.  

Second, show your friends and loved ones that you care.  It isn't hard to get stuck into work and end up in your own world but either a text, phone call, or a hug here and there is more than enough to let those around you know that you're there and love them deeply.  

Third, look forward to every day.  We are in a blessed position to learn and there are individuals, especially females, fighting for this right.  Thus, seek the good in the bad and do not be shy to ask your tutors or lectures for advice or help when required.  They want to see you succeed as much as you do. 

Thank you for reading!
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