A huge congratulations to everyone who has made it and it going to be starting medical school this September. Whilst this is surely going to be incredibly exciting for you all, there’s bound to be some nerves flying around. I have been asked different things about what you can do to prepare, what to take with you etc. My philosophy of doing nothing and not preparing too much remains the same. I don’t like telling people what to do because there’s no right or wrong and everyone will find different things that work for them. Regardless, seeing as a lot of people want to know I thought I wouldn’t harm to give a few pointers based on my experience…
Once I found out I got into medical school I didn’t do anything to prepare, apart from getting my accommodation sorted. I didn’t buy any materials for the course, think about stethoscopes or give any thought to the way I wanted to organise my work or revise. I didn’t buy a single item of stationery, like I’ve said before, on my first day the only pens I had with me were the free ones I picked up during the freshers fairs. I don’t regret my approach to starting one bit and I’m so glad I went about it this way. I wanted to start university open to ideas and suggestions, I wanted to focus during the introductory lectures and figure out how to work based on what we were advised. I didn’t want to go in with any preconceived ideas. I also wanted to fully enjoy the remaining month of my summer without worrying about how I was going to study once the month was up.
I’m quite surprised I was able to take this approach because I’m usually an incredibly meticulous planner and I like to know things beforehand rather than have the attitude of letting things be. I cannot express enough how glad I am that I went into university carefree and with no plans, hence why this is still my number one tip to you all regardless of the rest of the blog post: don’t plan, go in prepared to find out what the best way is and figure it out yourself.
Do not buy any textbooks
Some degree of preparation is okay, but please do not be that person who as a stack of pre-purchased textbooks awaiting them. I say this for several reasons. If there really is a particular textbook your medical school wants you to use, they will tell you…and then you can buy it. There’s no need to go ahead and buy it in advance. Older students will often have copies of these textbooks and may be willing to sell them on to you at a reduced price. You might buy a whole collection of textbooks (and trust me, I know students who did) only to find out your med school is recommending different ones.
Secondly, a lot of textbooks you can get for free via your university. You can borrow copies from the library and you are often provided with free eBooks via your university login. eBooks are actually so much more convenient to navigate and there’s no point buying a hard copy if you’ll have access to the electronic version anyway.
My final reason being that you simply might not like using textbooks. Medicine isn’t quite like other courses where you have a “recommended reading” list with textbooks that are mandatory for your course. With a particular condition that you study you’ll need to briefly know about the relevant anatomy, physiology, histology, pathology and pharmacology. Textbooks are not based on conditions, instead they are based on the disciplines I mentioned above. That means to read about asthma you’ll probably be looking through a minimum of 5 different textbooks and be searching for a small paragraph in each of these. It’s exhausting and quite a task as you can imagine which is why I don’t like using textbooks. I solely rely on online resources and I know plenty of other medical students who do the same. There’s a whole range of incredible websites, YouTube channels which are more than sufficient. Ultimately, you may not be a textbook person so don’t go ahead and buy them before you even give yourself the chance to find out!
Prepare to learn how to learn again
Studying Medicine is quite different to A-levels and you do need to go in with an open attitude. No matter how much preparing you do, you will refine your studying techniques drastically over the first year. You can read about my experience of this here. I’ve now completed 2 years of medical school and I still feel like I’m learning what the best way to learn medicine is. There isn’t a code to crack or a set way that works, you will just need to try different techniques and play around with it all. You might find one thing worked for anatomy, but you need to take on a different approach for physiology. Be prepared for this.
The content is vast and there’s huge amounts of knowledge you need to be able to efficiently learn and retain. The more you explore with learning styles and be prepared to give different things a go, the better you’ll get at learning. After all the stuff you learn now is forever and you’ll be stepping into the first part of that lifelong learning process.
Consider going paperless
As I said before, each week you’ll be going through HUGE volumes of work. I very early on made the decision to keep the bulk of my notes typed up and saved on my laptop. Not only does it save space, but it saved lots and lots of time. Each week I have well over 100 sides of typed notes and I can’t possibly imagine having to hand write all that.
Another thing about Medicine is that it’s ever evolving. You may write something in your notes, but in a year or so the guidelines may change and your notes may need to be updated. You may also learn about a particular condition briefly and then build upon that in later years. Having typed up your notes, you’re making the whole process of updating your notes is much easier.
I’m not saying go 100% paperless, because of course that won’t work for everyone and sometimes just writing something down with good old fashioned pen and paper is the best way to learn. Whilst I type up the bulk of my week’s work I do still write somethings down. Some lectures I like to hand write my notes before typing them up as it helps me to process the information better and I still like to make handwritten summaries for the same reason. But…the bulk of my work is typed and I honestly don’t think you’ll be able to keep up with the vast amounts of work unless you do go paperless to some extent at least.
Organise your notes according to cases
The next thing many of you ask is about how to actually organise the notes. I strongly recommend you organise it according to cases and that’ll keep all the relevant information on a particular condition together and that’s supposedly how you’ll think when it comes to clinical medicine.
I like to split my PBL and my anatomy notes. PBL contains everything about the week’s condition, the physiology, medications as well as lecture material. And anatomy is just well…Anatomy.
I created 3 categories in my notes which has taken me through the 2 years so far: Anatomy, case stuff (PBL content), other stuff (EBM, histology etc.)
Keep focussed on lectures
Here’s an examination tip you should keep in your back pocket right from day 1. Some people may tell you the lecturers do not write the examination questions, but c’mon we all know they do. The lecturers themselves have eluded to writing the exam questions and I think that’s a reliable enough source for me. Everything that’s mentioned in the lecture is important, those tiny details, the names of receptors, the examples they give – these are the important things and the ones you need to learn. Trust me, there’s been numerous exam questions that I’ve seen picked right out of the lecture slides.
Often you might not be sure about the level of detail you need, so use the lecture to guide you. In Medicine there’s tonnes of detail and you’ll have to become good at deciding what’s not as relevant and what to cut out otherwise you will drown in information. The lectures are the best way you can make sure you’re not cutting out anything that’s important.
Some weeks I created notes on a whole physiological pathway and by the end of the week I realised it wasn’t mentioned in a single lecture. That was often an indicator that this particular pathway wasn’t actually that important. I’d then go back to my notes and either: take it out completely, only mention it briefly or add a note reminding myself that it’s not a “need to know”.
Familiarise yourself with anatomical terminology
Now this final pointer is for those of you desperate to get your teeth into some material in advance. Again, I do not recommend and it is absolutely not necessary, but I suppose it couldn’t harm me saying what the best starter material might be for those of you who are really keen. And that would be the anatomical terminology.
When you start Anatomy (which most most medical schools will introduce you to first) the first thing you’ll cover is anatomical terminology. It’s easy really, but takes maybe a couple of weeks for you to just get used to it. TeachMeAnatomy.info is a good place to go to read over some of the terminology and familiarise yourself with the planes of dissection.
And that’s all! A new start is daunting and of course the medical school do understand that so you will be eased into everything. You are given time for you to figure things out at the beginning so don’t think you have to know how to do everything right from the beginning. Like I said before, be prepared to learn how to learn again. And good luck to you all!