My Rollercoaster Year at Medical School
Tanvir Raza is a medical student at the University of Birmingham, who has learnt from his first year experience and now maintains a good level of extracurricular interests whilst mentoring younger students through university life.
On the morning of my first day, I remember thinking to myself, ‘Should I dress smart or casual?’ I was concerned worried about my first impression! The first day of medical school was extremely daunting; walking into a grand lecture hall with hundreds of new faces all around you. However, as the days passed, these strange faces became nuanced acquaintances.
I remember printing out my timetable for the semester and staring at it; I was aware that Medicine was a tough course but there were a lot of lectures and I realised that I had some very long days ahead of me. On average, I had about 4-5 lectures a day and attending all of them whilst maintaining my attention span was a struggle but I stuck at it. I am the type of student that likes to make my own notes instead of scribbling on lecture slides. Ergo, each lecture took me about one and a half hours to cover. I was constantly worried about the amount of sleep, food and drink I was getting and whether or not I was overworking myself.
I wanted to do something outside of my medical work, so I started attending weekly football sessions. This gave me the opportunity to form relationships with my peers, the people that I would be sharing the next five years of my life with. It also allowed me to stay healthy and most importantly, give my brain a rest to avoid burnout.
Besides my regular lectures, I had to attend anatomy classes, where we are taught in small groups. In our first lesson, we were expected to read a cell biology book. Truth be told, I was caught out by the tutor several times in that session for not preparing beforehand! It took me a while to get used to the way anatomy is taught and I struggled to visualise and understand key topics. To overcome this, I spoke to my tutors for advice and resources and I even took advantage of the university’s buddy system. This is where struggling students meet up with an older medical student to discuss the challenging areas of the course. I was really pleased to have so much support around me.
Soon, I was introduced to the prosectorium. About once every two months, we were exposed to observe dissected human cadavers. The first thing we were warned about and the first thing I noticed upon entering the room was the sharp and distinct smell of formaldehyde. A few students had to leave the room immediately as they were unable to tolerate the odour of the preserving chemical. I used my experience in these sessions, to increase my imagination and passion for becoming a surgeon.
As for live patient interaction, we had a module dedicated to clinical communication. Every two weeks, we spent the day at a GP practice. Here, we practised taking histories from patients and also attempted clinically examining them. It was nice to get involved in the practical side of medicine and improve our interpersonal skills. The only downside of this was the early-morning starts and the long journey to the clinics, which can be based almost anywhere in the region.
I spoke to a lot of my colleagues and other students who also felt intimidated by the magnitude of information being thrown at us from all directions.
As I attended more lectures, anatomy sessions and prosectorium sessions, I become increasingly worried with the volume of content we were expected to know. I used to think my A-Levels were unbearable and I knew that Medicine was a tough course but I was never aware of the depth of knowledge needed in first year. I spoke to a lot of my colleagues and other students who also felt intimidated by the magnitude of information being thrown at us from all directions.
Come December, it had only felt like I was at University for a few weeks but before I knew it, the 3 months of Semester 1 was over. This meant that exams were looming. Myself and the rest of the cohort spent our entire Christmas holidays studying for our first medical exam. As first year students, we had absolutely no idea of what to expect with regards to the style of questioning and difficulty of the exam. The only thing I had to rely on was the advice of older students; ‘nothing to worry about as long as you have worked hard all semester, it should be easy!’ I began to question my work ethic and wonder whether I had worked hard enough or not.
Nonetheless, the exam turned out to be reasonable and a lot of us came out feeling rather relieved. We all felt that after a month of hard studying, we deserved a nice, long break. Alas, the very next day, Semester 2 had begun and yet again I found myself staring at a packed timetable. In fact, I could see that there was almost twice as many lectures and sessions. Even though the structure of the course was more or less the same, I was not feeling incredibly optimistic about the next few months.
To keep up with the increased workload, I found myself falling into bad habits; not attending the football, eating an abundance of junk food and not getting enough sleep. I believe I had started to suffer from the effects of burnout. I used my spare time much less efficiently and had even started binge-watching TV shows.
A journey one has to undergo to strengthen the inner resolve you need to persist through this challenging but incredibly rewarding career.
Semester 2 ended in a similar way to the previous one rather suddenly. Before we knew it, the revision period for final exams had commenced. The volume of content that I had to memorise was immense and after recovering from a period of burnout, I was not feeling particularly motivated. Actually, I was very anxious and I even had thoughts of dropping out from the course.
In summary, my first year was not the barrel of laughs that I thought it would be but it was certainly a vigorous experience that taught me many life lessons. A journey one has to undergo to strengthen the inner resolve you need to persist through this challenging but incredibly rewarding career. I have definitely learnt a lot this year – not just medical knowledge but more about building relationships, overcoming barriers and how I actually manage stress and increased workloads. Bring on next year!