Surviving Your 1st Year at Medical School

Introduction

On behalf of MM, I want to offer you all a massive congratulations on getting into Medicine! The misery of the BMAT, UKCAT and doing hours of interview prep is now over; it was a long process with the end never in sight. But now that you’re here, what comes next?

You’ve spent years trying to get into medical school – books, courses you’ve seen it all. But once you’ve gotten the offer, it suddenly seems like you’re on your own – you suddenly wish there was a Kaplan or Medify course to get you started. No one quite prepared you for what’s on the other side.

It’s perfectly normal to be feeling nervous coming to uni for the first time, especially to study a course like Medicine. So, we’ve set out some tips for you as understandably the road of Medicine may seem daunting and unfamiliar.

What can I expect from Term 1? 

Term 1 consists of the Molecules, Cells and Disease (MCD) course which is fairly science-heavy. For those of you who were rearing to study anatomy or to delve right into the workings of the heart or brain, this topic may seem quite dry at times. Although Immunology, Metabolism or Microbiology don’t immediately scream Medicine, they are important topics in their own right. But never fear, just hang in there for Term 2, and things start to pick up.

You’ll be having 2 summatives (assessments that count towards your mark at the end of the year) in Term 1. These include:

  • FOCP FCA write-up – you’ll be assigned a patient to visit in pairs and will be required to answer a few questions on your experience.
  • FOCP Society and Health Test – this is a fairly simple assessment and can be done online.

There’s also an MCD Practical Write-up where you’ll need to conduct an experiment in a group, gather results and then present your findings in a report. However this is not summative and is there for you to practice and gain some valuable feedback before your summative practical write up in 2nd term.

My main advice for you would be to start these assessments early, and please don’t put them off! I had friends who would pull all-nighters to get these done, but this isn’t healthy, and it means that the work you produce won’t be your optimum. All three will be due in December so you need to stay on top of things.

I would also advise you to take the formative assessments seriously too. Formatives are mocks so they don’t count towards your degree but if you take them seriously, the feedback you get will be valuable and will help you prepare for your summative. There’s no point hardly bothering with a formative – you won’t get anything out of it.

Workload

I was told that A Levels were a lot harder than Year 1. Now looking back, I’d say that first year of Medicine can be around the same difficulty, with slightly more things to learn. If you could get through A Levels, and the chaos of Year 13 then you’re more than capable of tackling this!

But the difference is that you have to be slightly more tactical with how you deal with this workload. You must remember that Medicine is a massive subject, the amount of information you can learn is limitless. The quicker you accept that learning everything they teach you in lectures is impossible, the better it will be for you. As someone you used to basically memorise textbooks for GCSE and A Level, this came as a shock to me.

Quite a few of us at Imperial can be perfectionists, but you can spend hours wasting time trying to memorise the small details. Try and memorise concepts instead. E.g. for Metabolism, I spent hours trying to learn all the amino acids and their structures, and in the end this bit into time I could have spent on more difficult topics.

How to approach revision?

This is a common question us older years get asked and we still struggle answering it – you’ll get a different answer every time you ask it. My advice would be to try out a few methods and see what works for you! Some examples:

  • Annotate older years’ notes (don’t waste time making your own unless they’re very concise). There’s a massive notebank available created by older years (Laz’s notes are a popular one). I used to print off the notes and annotate them in lectures. But the danger with this is that some lectures in the notes are out-of-date, which can cause a panic in the lecture theatre when you realise things some things don’t correlate or align!
  • Use the lecture slides – these will be put up on Blackboard in the days just before the lecture. The good thing about this method is that the slides will be relevant – the bad thing is that some barely have any information at all so are hard to work from.
  • Blackboard self-tests – the best way to test your knowledge is to attempt these questions as they mirror the ones Imperial can ask in exams. But I’d recommend doing this once you’ve revised a topic, rather than going straight into the questions and getting things wrong. Imperial also has a new platform set to be launched later in the year, so do keep an eye out for that!

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to look over things constantly. Don’t do what I did and mainly do the revision during Easter. Those 5 weeks were grim for me and would have been so much easier had I read over lectures consistently through the year.

Also try not to just read notes passively – it can be easy to read over the information and let it pass straight over your head. Try and form a more active learning approach – test yourself, redraw diagrams you saw in lectures, write down the main points in each topic… This will help things stick a lot more rather than just reading over the information.

An example of The Forgetting Curve-When we learn a new topic, over time we slowly forget. After a week you may feel like you hardly remember anything. However everytime we go back over a topic, we quickly retain more and more of it and forget less until eventually we can remember and recall most of it.

 

Should I attend lectures?

Another popular question but unfortunately there really is no correct answer for this. Our brains are wired differently – some people can sit through hours of lectures and still be on it, whereas others like myself will start to drift far away by lecture 3.

If you do choose to go, try to sit near the middle or the front. If you head to the back, you may not get as much work done and it’ll be super easy to get distracted by your friends.

Also, quite a few of us can be guilty of coming into lectures just to see our friends – this is understandable. Especially if you’re living far from home, your friends are basically your family here so naturally you don’t want to be cooped up alone in your room or the library all day. So to remedy this you could still come in to Uni, but when the lectures are happening you could work separately in an empty G-room or computer room, and come out to see your friends once lectures are done as a reward.

The one great thing about Imperial is that our lectures are recorded on Panopto – so if you choose to study in your own time, you have a way to sit through lectures at a time you work best. But this method does come with a warning – if you choose to Panopto instead, you need to stay on top of lectures. If you miss e.g. 2 days, this can put you 8 lectures behind!

Make the most of uni life!

I can’t stress to you enough how these first few years of uni are some of the most enjoyable of your life! You have the freedom to do whatever you want (within reason), so definitely take full advantage.

If you were too scared to do an activity before uni, do it now! Join clubs and societies, go to talks that you find interesting, go sky diving or learn a martial art. London is an amazing city, there’s no excuse for getting bored!!!

Life doesn’t start and end with Medicine!

I leave you here…

You might be feeling overwhelmed, but it’s important to remember that just because you’re a med student, doesn’t mean you’re expected to be on it all the time. So many people have walked this path before you and felt exactly the same way, but if they can do it then why not you?

Again, many of us are perfectionists, and it can be hard to deal with the fact that you might once have been top of your class at school, but now suddenly you’re surrounded by people who seem a lot more intelligent and hardworking. You may roll your eyes at this but honestly all I can say is try your best. Accept the fact that you’re doing one of the most prestigious courses in the world, in one of the best unis in the world. You don’t have to be perfect at everything – merely the fact that you’re here should be proof enough that you’re good enough. And if you think you’re here by some fluke like I did– prove yourself wrong!

If you do find yourself needing a little help, then Muslim Medics will be here to support you through thick and thin. Our weekly tutorials cover the lecture content so if you do feel yourself dozing off in lectures – then our tutorials are a great way to catch up on things. Just keep an eye out on our Facebook pages and we’ll keep you informed on there.

I end this by encouraging you guys to work hard. It’s brilliant that you’ve made it here and beaten the odds, but don’t let that make you slack off. It can be easy staying in that Fresher’s Fortnight mindset all year but remember why you’re here and why you chose this course in the first place.

Best of luck!

Ayesha Ali

Muslim Medics Year One Co-Ordinator 2018-19


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