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Study abroad : Subject Guides

Medicine: Things you should know as a medical student

Always wanted to be a doctor? Finally gained admission into that medical degree course? Here are a few things you need to know.


It’s common knowledge today that taking up a medical degree is arguably one of the most gruelling programmes. You have a lot of modules that you need to cover and you will have projects, lab assignments and once you start shadowing experience physicians, you will still need to balance your daily coursework on top of that. You’ll probably work harder than you have in your entire life, but it also means that you’ll have a lot of fun as you’ve never had before. Don’t worry, thousands before you have made it and so will you. It’s not impossible.


Medical schools train students using a common and rigorous core curriculum. No two schools are the same and each one offers its own unique academic focus, teaching methods, and research opportunities.


The first two years will be the hardest. After finishing four years in university, you now need to commit another four years of medical school. Your first two years will be spent mostly in a classroom or a lab. A typical class will have an exam every week due to the sheer amount of information that students are required to learn. Students take classes in basic sciences such as anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, and pharmacology. They also learn the basics of interviewing and examining a patient. This hectic schedule will take some time getting used to, but once you do. It’s manageable and quite fun, you learn so many thing about the human body.


Experiment with different study methods

Given how you will be tested very often, it is important that you figure out a study method that works the best for you. You might find that you can recall information more effectively if you use flashcards for certain modules and reading your notes for another. Be flexible and don’t give up!


Failing is normal

Unlike your classes back in university, there are no percentages or letter (A-F) grades, only a pass or fail. It might seem quite intimidating, but you’ll eventually get used to it and many students have found that it alleviates stress and eliminates the competitiveness between classmates. As you’re currently adjusting to the new system and the deluge of information, it is completely normal to fail an exam or two, especially in the beginning, once you get into the swing of things, you’ll start passing.


In year three, you will become part of the medical team and will be doing rotations either at a hospital or clinic affiliated with the school. You’ll interact with patients, perform basic medical procedures along with any tasks the resident assigns you to do. You will rotate through many clinical specialities of medicine, such as internal medicine, ob/gyn, paediatrics, psychiatry etc. This will help you decide what kind of doctor you want to become. Your medical team will grade you on your performance during your rotations.


In year four, you will still be on rotations, but a little more specialised. If you liked working on internal medicine, you can opt to do cardiology, gastroenterology or rheumatology rotation. Grading will be done the same way as in the previous year.


The length of time you spend in a rotation depends on the hospital’s focus or strength. At some schools, the surgery rotation is three weeks long while others may take up to three months. The character of the hospital will also determine your experience. If the setting is urban, you can expect increased experience with trauma, emergency medicine or infectious disease as well as exposure to a diverse patient population.


Clinical rotations will not give you enough expertise to practise in any specialty but they will give you a breadth of knowledge and help you consider potential career paths.


Take your time deciding on a specialty

Most people wrongly assume that a decision on which specialisation you want to pursue needs to be made early on in medical school. This is not truth. You have plenty of time to choose a specialty and it is actually better that you take your time to truly weigh your options. Being in medical school gives you a better understanding of what is required. Your first two years and third year clinical rotations will help you make an informed decision when the time comes. You will be more aware what is truly involved in these different fields. Do your research on your options, speak to professionals in the field, and ask about shadowing opportunities.


Finally, don’t be afraid to change your mind. Even if you’ve been thinking about being a pediatrician since you were young enough to understand what that is, another field of medicine may better suited to your present interests, talents and lifestyle preferences now. 


Job security

While your friends have graduated and are currently scrambling around looking for a job, you know that after your fourth year and once you pass the board exam, you can become a doctor.


Lifeskills gained

One of the greatest payoffs in being a medical student is that what you learn can be applied for the rest of your life. All of the subjects that you’ve studied- anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology etc is all directly applicable in diagnosing and treating a disease.


Being a medical student puts you in a very privileged position, you are amongst the very top students across the country. Medical school is not a sprint, but a marathon and the end results are well worth it. More importantly, remember that being a student is not only a means to an end, but an end-in-itself. Be sure you make the most of being an undergraduate, whenever you have time, and you definitely will, even if they are far and few in between, take part in a social event, or join a club!


Don't give up and ALL THE BEST!!


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