It was 6am on the 15th August and my heart was pounding. The day had finally come when I would find out if I had reached my offer to secure my place at medical school. With my usual lack of self-belief, all I could think of was what would happen if I hadn’t made the grades. How would I tell all my family and friends who had put their hopes into me getting in? What if I didn’t get in the second time round? How would I cope knowing that I had missed out on my dream career at the last hurdle? I truly thought that I hadn’t done well enough in the exams so there was nothing I could tell myself to stop these negative thoughts racing through my mind.
After what seemed like an eternity, the UCAS page loaded. I logged in with fumbling fingers, terrified of what it might say… “Welcome back Carla Grace…”, I was holding my breath with all my fingers crossed, “Congratulations! Your place for Medicine has been confirmed”. My breath rushed out in a scream of joy, while my family were hugging me and screaming too. I was ecstatic, I had finally reached my goal. After going into school I found out that I had not only reached, but surpassed the offer, so all my worrying was for nothing.
However, little did I know what I had let myself in for. People had told me time and time again how hard medical school was, how much work it involved and how little free time it left you with. I had naively believed they were exaggerating and took what they said with a (quite large!) pinch of salt. But even just after the first week there, I realised that I previously had had no idea of how demanding it would really be. Having 9-6 lectures each day, needing to write up those lectures and prepare for the tutorials of the next day, along with all the content seeming a thousand times harder than that of A-levels felt gruelling to say the least. Trying to contend with the dreaded ‘Fresher’s Flu’, caught from celebrating a bit too much in Fresher's Week, probably made everything seem worse too!
The first few weeks seemed to be endless complex science, fascinating and enjoyable, but without a patient in sight. Biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, endocrinology, anatomy, pharmacology, neuroscience and, I mustn’t forget,the dreaded histology. Every week another sheet of pink images was thrust my way to try to decipher for the next session. How anybody could make sense of them, I could not understand.
All in all, during the first few weeks, I felt quite run down and although the science was really interesting and enjoyable too, I longed for some patient-contact or clinical relation. Seeing my flatmates and friends from other courses having time to relax, go out and have a good time didn’t make things seem much better, but thankfully my medic friends felt exactly the same as me.
Then, in the third week, came the light at the end of the tunnel - my GP placement. Despite having to wake up at 6am (not a typical student waking time!) in order to get there, I absolutely loved it. I met and chatted to real life patients, observed consultations, learnt how to take blood pressure, various pulses, palpate and percuss. We even have our own student consultation room, just like a GP’s room, where pre-booked patients come for us to practice taking histories. I felt enthused by chatting to patients and finding out how their problems affect them and how the doctors had helped them. I was reminded of why I wanted to go into medicine in the first place, and I felt motivated to keep ploughing through the first two pre-clinical years, whilst keeping in mind that in only two years’ time I would be on placement, interacting with patients and putting the science to good use, every day. Thankfully, we are lucky enough to have the placement day once every fortnight, something of which I am only too glad!
After that first placement, things seemed to pick up. I recovered from the ‘Fresher’s Flu’, and settled in to university life. After discussion with older students, I found that nearly everyone thought that the first semester was difficult in terms of the content, and that they found the subsequent semesters more enjoyable, which I found encouraging. I even, believe it or not, worked out how to interpret histological images. Well, sort of!
My biggest fear now is the upcoming prosection sessions … but I’ll leave that for my next column, if I survive my January exams first, that is!