I recently blogged about how to get into Graduate Medicine, and people seemed to appreciate it, so much so that I was asked to blog about what comes next. I don’t know how other medical schools run the graduate course, so this may of course be totally different to my colleagues from elsewhere, but I hope this can give you a flavour of what to expect, ‘cos I sure as hell had no idea what was coming!
My school puts the first two years, ie. all of the Basic Clinical Sciences, into one year. Which, when your idea of complex scientific equation is working out the optimum amount of Gin going into a perfect G&T, makes for one fun-packed year (with not nearly enough actual gin in it).
1) DO NOT BANKRUPT YOURSELF.
If people give you books, great. If you get them silly cheap, excellent. But it is perfectly possible to do this year without them. Most uni libraries have latest editions or even online editions, and you can at least borrow, figure out whether a book is for you and THEN buy it this way. I bought ‘Animal Physiology’ and ‘The Cell’. I have opened one. And that was to look at the pretty pictures. Other than that they have been huge, expensive ego-boosters and little else. I like Netter Flashcards for anatomy, primarily because it feels like a game and you can take them on the Tube.
2) DO EXPLORE OTHER LEARNING TECHNIQUES.
In my first year, there was a guy who would sit in the library whenever he wasn’t in lectures, with a copy of Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine (the one book you should CERTAINLY buy), in a book holder (WHO OWNS A BOOK HOLDER?!), and he would just be reading it. No underlining, fancy highlighters, or even page markers. Just reading. And I have absolutely no doubt it all went in, because why on Earth would you spend your spare time doing that if not? Most of us lower mortals do not have photographic memories, and THAT IS FINE. We have other skills. I can fit my fist in my mouth, for example. Trick is to play around until you find things that work for you. I put many things on post it notes (and being a generous type, share these on my blog), I like mind-maps (if only because it makes me get all the info in one place, and looks more manageable than huge paragraphs, and I used to draw all my anatomy out (which took forever, but got me through!). I’ve also dabbled with making notes (I got bored), highlighting (I just highlighted the entire page), and reading out loud (good to break down tricky bits, but I felt very silly). Occasionally, I was found revising off catalogue cards while on the treadmill in the hospital – until a cardiologist told me from the next machine along that I’d made an error… Even if you have a metric poo-ton to learn, it’s worth experimenting with different methods early on, and make your learning more efficient as you go.
3) DO NOT TRY TO LEARN IT ALL.
Some people will have a study group going within 5 minutes of the first Fresher’s Week hangover, others will install a sleeping bag in the library, and others will be seen on the verge of tears throughout the year with sheer stress. There will be meltdowns regardless (more on these later), but remember what that sacred medical show Scrubs tells us; I’m No Superman (or woman. This is an equal opportunities blog). You can aim to be top of your year in first year if you like. But even Mr I-Read-Cheese-And-Onion-In-My-Sleep will not know all of the curriculum. Figure out what you’re strongest at (I have a clinical background, so linked stuff to conditions as much as possible, for example), and focus on that, then try to get a good overview of everything else. If you can understand it, however vaguely, you can probably answer a multiple choice question on it. Unless it’s the Kreb Cycle, which I have never learnt, and never will. So there.
4) DO NOT KILL YOURSELF.
Literally or figuratively. First year is a marathon. My darling BoyFace has told me many awful stories of his year at Sandhurst, and I see first year Grad Entry as the equivalent, but more intellectual (thank God!). The hours of work are crazy (I got to a 8am-11pm stage at one point), the work is literally never-ending if you let it be, and you are suddenly surrounded by people who are going to make you feel very stupid by comparison (YOU ARE NOT STUPID. THEY ARE JUST TERRIFYING). I never knew until that year that a brain could feel physically full (medically, it can’t. There, you learnt something. It just feels like it). Take time to stop.
5) MEDICINE IS A TEAM SPORT.
You are stuck with the other human beings around you for four long years. You are not going to like or even want to tolerate some of them. That’s ok. As I said in a previous blog, medicine does not make you a saint, or even a nice person. Some of them however will end up being really close, bosom buddies, and it’s not always easy to tell who they’ll be. Don’t jump in with one small group on your first day (you don’t want to miss out on anyone else!), but don’t be too much of a social butterfly either. If you get on with someone, great. Go for drinks. One of my best mates now, I met at my interview (hi Megan!). Let yourself form friendships that mean more than just quizzing each other on the bus. You are going to need people who will remind you about deadlines. You will want to share notes. You need others who understand what the hell you’re doing, because NO ONE ELSE EVER WILL.
6) DON’T LOSE YOUR NON-MEDIC FRIENDS.
You are probably going to become a pretty crap friend to them for a while. I am well aware that I owe the amazing S&S up North many many birthday, christmas and thanks-for-putting-up-with-me presents. Others, I have not seen IN YEARS. My oldest friend in the world (22 years!) lives just down the road, and I have seen her twice in 6 months. And it’s not only time, it’s money. I am perpetually broke, which sucks when you want to go into central London to celebrate birthdays/promotions/the end of Wednesday with old friends, but you know you can afford the journey, or a drink, but not both. We’ve got really good at house parties, which are cheap, and always seem to end up with us having more booze afterwards than we started with… and I make a lot of birthday presents, which people seem genuinely touched by(?!). They may not understand exactly what you do, or how rubbish it can be, but they are so proud of you, and provide an escape from the Bubble, even if it’s just by giving you a sofa for a night away from your normal stomping ground (you’d be amazed how well you can sleep even on a sofa when it feels like a break!).
7) USE YOUR FAMILY.
And not just financially, though the chances are they’ll end up helping out at some point on that front. I speak to my parents and little bother way more now than I did before medicine, and they keep me (vaguely) sane. They’re not anything like medics, but are also more than capable of telling me to pull myself together, and in first year coped with FAR too many 1 in the morning phonecalls which consisted mainly of me crying down the phone while they explained what was going on to each other; “Yes, it’s your daughter again (I’m always someone else’s when I’m trouble), she’s crying because blood doesn’t clot in the way she wants it to.” “No, I don’t know what she’s on about.” “If she is drunk, I don’t know how she’s paid for it!”
8) IT IS OK TO LOSE YOUR SHIT.
You are liable to cry. You will certainly get angry at yourself, others, inanimate objects. You are not going to be wonderful to live with every second (I know a woman I adore who scared me pretty much every morning. I still love her). You need to do this, you need to let it all out, and you need to pick yourself up and carry the fuck on. Because MEDICINE.
9) ASK FOR HELP.
Some of us need more help than others. Some of us lose siblings and get wonky during our degrees. That really is not necessary in order to ask for support (though my goodness, the support has been incredible). Our Uni has an amazing counselling service, as do many others, I have a pretty great personal tutor (but please, don’t tell him I said that, or I’ll never hear the end of it), and some amazing friends (and family, yeah yeah). Twitter has been a GODSEND – it’s a whole network of lovely people who have been there first, and can help with pretty much anything you need to know!
10) TRY TO FIND THE FUN.
I promise, it’s there. It’s not easy, it will make you feel stupid, frustrated and frankly exhausted, but it’s fascinating, beautiful, and occasionally utterly hilarious. You will meet lecturers who inspire you, some who crack you up, and some who you want to throw things at. You’ll also be at a UNIVERSITY. Do Fresher’s week. Go drink with your mates. Join a society (or five). Make the most of this second (third?) youth.
Graduate medicine will quite literally change your life. The first year may be tough, but I promise it gets so much better, and there’s still a lot of fun to be had in that first year. So keep on buggering on my friends; you’ve reached the Promised Land, and this is only the start of it.