Medical school can be a scary place. There’s the dissection room, angry hospital consultants and the student union bar on a Wednesday night. But don’t go running for home just yet.
With the help of medical students and doctors who have been there and survived we’ll tell you how to survive in the land of colonoscopy clinics, cardiac vivas and neuro MCQs.
So put on that white coat, swing that stethoscope round your neck and step out into the big bad world of becoming a doctor. We start with the essential induction to your new life.
Trust me I’m a doctor
Ask most patients what a ‘medical student’ is and they’ll screw up their eyes in confusion. Patients see you trailing around after the real doctors in your smart white coat and often view you in the same medically qualified club. As such, you’ve unwittingly become a privileged member of society’s most trusted profession.
As a medical student you’ll spend more time with patients than any other person in the team. You’re in that middle-ground between being a member of the public and a medical professional. Patients won’t find you quite as scary as a proper doctor and you’ll be making an extra special effort to suck up in order to take their medical history.
Because of this they’ll tell you things they’ve never told anyone and you’ll witness grown men break down in tears behind that thin, flimsy cubicle curtain. It’s all part of becoming a doctor - and a good one at that.
Just don’t abuse it. Patients trust you with this information and you’re legally bound to confidentiality. So no blabbing about it down the pub, it could be the patient’s relatives at the next table. Medical students have been kicked out of medical school on a number of occasions for abusing this - and they’ve no defence.
Whether you like it or not you’re going to be stuck with that big hairy guy who picks his nose for at least the next five years. There’s also a high probability that you’ll end up marrying one of those drunken idiots who vomited over you during freshers week.
You need to remember that medicine is a team sport. Refuse to play ball with your colleagues and your performance and experience will suffer. Medical school isn’t a competition, you either pass or fail - and the pass mark has already been set.
It’s better to drag your buddies with you when you pass the final exams rather than fall flat on your face when you attempt to go solo.
Work hard, play hard
Unlike those other students studying embroidery or pole dancing, you’re going to have to do some hard studying during the course. You’ve made it to medical school which proves you’ve got a few brain cells - but don’t let this go to that straight- ’A’ head of yours.
Medicine is one of those subjects which trumps the ‘A-levels are the hardest exams you’ll ever do’ line - in fact, it rips this theory to shreds, throws it on the ground and stomps all over it. Medicine is tough and there’s no escaping that.
But don’t get disheartened if you only scraped into medical school by the skin of your teeth and the number of zeros on daddy’s cheque to the alumni association, you don’t need to be a whizzkid to pick up a MBBS. A little common sense and good organisation is all you need. Medicine is a practical subject that requires lateral thinking and it’s the straight ‘A’ students who often struggle.
The easiest way to fail is to fall behind with the curriculum. Remember that we’re learning about the human body everything is linked. If you miss that lecture on the science behind gastric acid production then the GORD workshop will leave you with a burning pain in your chest - and you won’t understand why.
Keep on top of the work and you’ll be fine. This means occasionally being prepared to ditch drinking games at the union for a night with your head in the books.
A little respect
While other students will be playing with PCs we medical students get to play with people’s lives. Patients are often scared, in pain and may even be terminally ill. Put yourself in their position, treat them as you would want to be treated and you won’t go wrong.
Watch out for the difference between consultants who treat patients like real people and those who think they’re just a piece of meat. Learn from it. By the time you finish medical school you should have a list of doctors who get the respect of both you and the patients, and a list of those who you wouldn’t want to treat a member of your own family.
When you reach consultant grade you’ll want medical students to talk about you down the pub as a ‘great doctor’. That’s when you’ll know you’ve finally made it. You’ve got around twenty years to become this fantastic individual so start moulding yourself now.
Practice makes perfect
Unlike A-levels your medical exams will test your practical skills and not just your academic knowledge. Sucking up pints down the union when you should be practising sucking up blood may appear the better option at the time but could land you in trouble in a few years.
Sure, it’s difficult trying a new practical procedure, especially when it involves sticking sharp things into little old ladies but unless you force yourself to overcome this fear now you’ll struggle even more in the future - and no-one wants to be a venflon virgin forever.
Watch someone experienced first and get them to talk you through the procedure. It doesn’t need to be the head of the anaesthetics department, one of your brave buddies is often a better bet as they can point out the areas where they struggled themselves.
Most medical schools and placement hospitals have a clinical skills centre where you can practice procedures. Dummies don’t care if it takes seventeen tries to get an arterial blood gas sample. Ask at the centre for training workshops or times when you can practice by yourself.
Always remember that it’s not just getting the needle in the vein that’s important, there’s going to be a terrified little old lady attached to it. You’ll need to hold a conversation about her granddaughter’s new baby whilst maneuvering that piece of metal in her arm.
Just like riding a bike, practical procedures become easier the more you do. You’ll soon be able to simultaneously extract blood and recall all eight grandkids in order without any trouble.
The last and most important point - enjoy it! You’re one of only a few thousand students accepted into medical school each year. With electives, the best student events and an almost guaranteed job at the end, your life’s looking great already.
Live it up!