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7 things a medical student wishes she knew before starting medical school

By Sean Campbell• Last updated: Nov 1, 2023
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So you’re thinking about studying for a medicine degree? Or perhaps you’ve already been accepted to medical school, but now what? Well first of all—well done! Getting accepted to study medicine is a great achievement in the first place. But the hard work doesn’t stop here. The first year of medical school can be overwhelming for some who aren’t prepared, so it’s best to know what to expect from your time studying medicine. 

There’s nobody better qualified to give advice and tips before starting medical school than someone who’s been there and done it all before. That’s precisely why we’ve reached out to Dr. Michaela Donaghy.

Dr Michaela is a former medicine student at Queen’s University, Belfast. Today, she’s a doctor specialising in respiratory health for the UK National Health Service. Recently, Michaela took some time from her very busy schedule to talk about the things she wishes she’d known before studying medicine.  

With these useful tips from someone who knows full well how to survive medical school, you can feel more prepared for what’s in store.

Also read: Top 10 best medical colleges in the world

7 tips before starting medical school, according to a former medicine student

“Know that you might not be top of the class anymore, but that’s okay.” 

To be honest, nothing can prepare you for going from top of the class in school to potentially being close to the bottom of the class at university! But it’s okay, you just have to put in the work to get by and grow into the challenge.  

Since getting accepted into a medicine degree requires top grades, most medicine students are high achievers, academically at least. So you’ve probably been in and around the top of your class in high school for years. But now that you’re studying medicine, you’re surrounded by equally academically gifted students. But don’t let this put you off, as there’s plenty of help and support available...

“Your professors & teaching doctors are there to help.”

Don’t be scared to email or talk to your professors and teachers in search of guidance. When I was a student, these people seemed so senior and above me, and sometimes I feared that my questions would sound silly. But now that I often work in a teaching role in the hospital, I realise that I want to know how our student doctors are feeling, and if they’re struggling with anything. 

It’s never a good idea to sit and suffer in silence if you’re finding something difficult, and this is also the case when studying medicine. Ask for help from the people above you, and you’ll find that most of your professors and seniors are only too happy to help. 

“Keep your hobbies (or find one), and allow distractions.”

There’s no other way to say this: studying medicine is hard work. You probably know this already. But while it is a busy and challenging degree, it’s not a good idea to let your studies consume you completely. You still need to keep some time for yourself, where you can take your mind off your work. 

To that end, if you play a sport or have a healthy, calming hobby, keep it! And if you don’t have any regular hobbies outside of your studies, I recommend finding one. You could join a university club or society, find a sports team, or just make sure to take a nice walk or jog in your free time. Anything at all to clear your mind and take your focus elsewhere, because so much of your time is taken up by studying…

“It’s a full-time course.”

Many university courses don’t have full time hours, with students only expected to attend lectures and classes for 10 to 20 hours a week. But studying medicine is a 9-5 commitment, and there are also clinical attachments (work placements) to think about. 

You may find yourself envying friends studying other degrees as they seem to have so much more free time than you, but it’s all worth it in the end. Every single day is full of so much learning and discovery. 

So start embracing the power of a morning coffee to get you up and moving, and get used to putting the hours in. It’s an experience you’ll be glad to have had once you’re a fully qualified doctor...

“The job becomes a lifestyle.”

Doctors often work outside of “regular hours”, we work a lot, and the job itself has a great many challenges—we save lives after all. But that’s what we sign up to do and it’s why we study medicine. 

But before studying medicine, do have a think about the future. When I was 18 years old, the thought of working a night shift or all weekend was exciting. But after a few years you realize that it can be hard to make many personal plans. Being a doctor is more than just a way to make a living, it’s a full on lifestyle. A way of life. 

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“There’s a steep learning curve.”

...In both your degree and in the job. Once you find yourself working in the field, there’s still so much to learn and to get used to. But you’ll find that you learn very quickly on the job. Remember again, your professors and seniors are there to help, so allow yourself to be guided and taught new things wherever possible. 

There’s also a lot of responsibility, even at a young age. Sometimes for an out-of-hours work shift, you can have doctors in their 20s and early 30s running the entire hospital. But they all know what they’re doing, as they’ve all gone through these challenges together and learned from so much experience. 

It’s this steep learning curve that forms my next (and final) tip before studying medicine... 

“You make friends for life!”

This is one of the very best things about studying medicine and working in the field. Firstly, medicine is usually an incredibly social course. Students go out together, and many end up living together and helping each other out, even outside of class. Because of this steep learning curve I mentioned above, we all go through this incredibly challenging experience, but we go through it together. This forms bonds and friendships which last for life. 

One more really cool thing about this is that while we all study medicine together for our university years, eventually we go off and specialise in different areas of medicine. This is a really nice thing as we can continue helping each other out throughout our careers!

If you’re thinking about studying medicine in the UK, you might want to have a read of our complete guide to admissions tests for UK medical schools. And if you’re thinking about heading elsewhere to study abroad, take a look at the huge range of options we have at Edvoy.

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Guest Author | Study Abroad Expert

Sean, a freelance writer, copywriter, and editor hailing from Ireland. He finds fulfillment in delving into the world of...Read More

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