Surviving the First year of Medical School


You do not need to buy any textbooks going into first year, especially not detailed cell biology ones. You just are not going to need them. You will figure out over the first few weeks what you do and don’t need. The only one I can really recommend for first year is Greys anatomy and a good physiology and pharmacology textbook.  It’s easy to think that coming in with a library of textbooks will make your life easier but the harsh reality of it is that you will not use half of them. Borrow them from the library at first, and then when you find you keep using the same one over and over, then consider purchasing it. However, you never need to buy brand new. Ask around as to who is selling one in your medical school or look on ebay. The BMA even have a free online library where you can access textbooks for free! They even have Greys Anatomy!


Yes, they maybe recorded but try and go to them. I found I engaged more when I went to lectures and it also gives you the chance to socialise! Med School can get very lonely if all you are doing is sitting in your room listening to lectures and doing work. It also means you can ask questions in the lecture without having to chase over emails. Lecturers will also respect you a lot more if you are showing engagement with the course and it’s always easier talking to someone you know rather than a voice on a screen. As a GEM student this may not always be possible as you are more likely to have conflicting demands but I would say to go to most of them. It also allows you to follow group work as you will be fully caught up on the lecture content. This was especially true for me as I did not go to the Block 2 teaching because I didn’t get on very well with the lecturers style ( I enjoy story time but when I am struggling to grasp the concept, I just want lectures that are to the point). I found that CBL became a nightmare, and I was at one point 17 lectures behind. So yup, go to lectures, see the recordings as backups rather than first time lecture content. (Recordings can also fail and lecturers have the right to refuse recording of their lecture especially if they are talking about patient details).

Free Time

Have some. This is really important. You can not learn everything on the course. It’s just impossible. To this day I still have no idea about altered voiding. All I know is that kidney stones can get caught at certain points and one of the drug classes is called “Anti-spasmodic”. You make the free time in your life. My lecture often said, plan your week with your free time first. In put that two hours climbing every other day, or 4 hours for date night, then put in your academic work. This stops medicine becoming all you are, and believe me, falling down that particular rabbit hole is not pretty. A question I get asked all the time is “How do you find the time to have a break”, the simple answer is you make it. Apart from sign in sessions, there is nothing to dictate how you study or when you study. I could have done zero work from September to Easter and no one would have known. This is not school where homework is checked, this brings a little freedom into how you use your time. Obviously, med school is tough and there will be times where you feel like you can’t have that time off and that is ok, but it is important that you do take this time off elsewhere. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you do need to be keeping up with your work. The lectures come thick and fast and its not often the content that is the problem, it’s the quantity of it ! Do little and often, you do not need to be up to 11pm each evening working and doing this is a recipe to burn out. Even if you just do a quick review of what you have done, make sure you do not fall too far behind !

Ask For Help

There is no time for heroes here. If you are struggling, ask for help. A friendly second year or even a more experienced first year (don’t forget as a grad entry student you will be amongst those with PhD’s in topics you maybe struggling on). Medicine is a team “sport”. Universities that encourage competition I believe are doing nothing to help their students, you will never be turned away for asking about a patient in a hospital (yes you may just get a grumpy response) but you will never be left when a patient is concerned, so why abandon your course mates now (Doctors correct me if I am wrong on this !)? We formed a team over revision in our med school and people who had been studying alone actually came and sat with us towards the end and wished they had joined us sooner. This does not just cover academic means either. If you are struggling with anything else, talk to people. As I have said before on here, I spent a lot of time in my senior tutors office, even if it was going in there and letting her know what was going on before laughing over the fact a patient complained more about my sweaty hands than the fact I had accidentally knocked their cannula, I knew someone else knew what was going on and this was helpful in itself.

The “Look at Me”

Do not, I repeat, do not start worrying about how other people are approaching the course. Find what works for you. ANKI is HUGE in med school, but it really does not work for me. I get bored and start doing less and less each day. Instead I preferred question banks, writing notes out and drawing pictures. That is fine because I was still learning the content. However, I did worry because everyone else was carrying out their revision differently to me, focusing on different areas, doing things at a different pace.  We all passed though so it goes to show however you do it, make sure it works for you. Ignore everyone else.

Do not sacrifice something you enjoy for studying

Waaay too many times this year I’ve said “I can’t, I have too much work to do”. This is not an excuse. Especially on a Friday night when you know you would rather be doing anything else than working. Go to events that you want to go to, just work it into your timetable. A good example of this is Freshers Week and med school events. I would go to all of these events. They are fun, and it is an amazing chance to just let your hair down and forget about medicine. Every medical school has a Revue, go to it. It’s an evening where we make a mockery of the med school to raise money and it always ends up being a huge laugh and the talking point for most people for the next week. Go to the things you want to go to, enjoy life outside of med school. You can always come home and do an hour of work, it will always be there, nights out can’t be repeated.

Don’t Try and Copy Every PowerPoint

I really would invest in a computer/tablet/ unlimited printer budget this year. It is so much easier and quicker to input any extra notes that lecturers give into a completed PowerPoint than trying to keep up with the PowerPoint AND everything the lecturer is saying. Some med schools will even test you on things that were said in the lecture but may not be on the PowerPoint, ESPECIALLY if they are recorded. This is very rare but they can technically do it because they did teach you on it (another reason to attend lectures). Some lectures aid more to this than others such as anatomy where you really do not have time to be drawing out structures but in subjects such as VLE and Soc Pop, you can probably get away with it a bit more. A hack for the printers is to print double sided with 9 slides to a page and to double check the lecture slides beforehand. A couple of times we have had lectures where animations were not used, and it was 275 slides of pictures which can be cut down to 60 slides with text.   

Engage With Your Course

Sounds pretty straight forward right? If there is extra teaching, go to it. If there are careers sessions, go to them. Guest speakers? Go. Sometimes you just need the extra motivation by seeing people in the position that you want to be in one day. My Student Seminars were my godsends through the year and I learnt a lot through them. I sometimes felt more comfortable going to my student sem teachers than my lecturers (because I’m weird like that) so this was a huge benefit for me. Our ECG teaching was largely solidified by the 3rd and 4th years and ABG’s were something I understood only in student seminars. If you can go to it, go.

Enjoy it !!

I found first year a pain and I was stressed the whole year through. Looking back, I wish I had given myself more time off and did not work as hard (you read that right). I was too stressed and this was affecting me and having a negative impact on my work and my mood. I wish I had gone to more parties, actually talked to people who I didn’t talk to before Easter because I would have found the group of people, I call my closest friends a lot sooner. I wish I had found a group to have a pint down the pub with sooner as this is something I loved doing in my undergraduate. I wish I had gone climbing sooner and just enjoyed being in first year instead of worrying about exams from the get go. So enjoy being the babies of the med school, enjoy your first time in the hospital and your first time seeing patients, worry about everything else after… 😊


Ps. Learn to love coffee too !

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