‘To end on a reflective note’

Hello guys, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear this is my last ever blog. Fear not, for those still eager to gain any insight into studying medicine there will be some younger, more enthusiastic students taking over very soon possibly with more frequent updates. I started writing this blog in during my intercalated year and I’ve really enjoyed having the chance to try and give people an optimistic but realistic view of being a Cardiff medical student. You guys are the most qualified to judge whether I succeeded in doing that. It’s fair to say one of the last posts I wrote painted quite a stressed picture of being a medical student. In many ways the stress that prompted that post is still pressing on me to some extent as I have my last clinical exam this year, the year 4 ISCE as well as another progress test. These are now roughly 6 weeks away which is pretty scary.

However, let’s depart from the here and now for a moment and discuss some things you ought to weigh up if you are serious about studying medicine. A girl in the year above me at school who studied medicine at Liverpool said to me when I asked her for some advice when she was finishing school said: ‘Only do it if you really want to do it!’. At the time I generally thought it to be something of a throw away line but in retrospect she was completely right. So here are a few things to consider, good and bad, before you commit 5 years and probably most of your life to something.

1. It’s competitive. That doesn’t just mean it’s hard to get in, which it is but the battle is just beginning when you get there. From year 2, the better your academic performance the more likely you are to get the foundation programme jobs you want, which creates a lot of stress amongst students. There are things you can do to boost your applications such as intercalated degrees and research but medical school exams are by nature something of a competition. It’s not quite as brutal as a zero sum game, but it’s not like school because you are essentially in a competition with your classmates who are very diligent, intelligent and hard working people. If you are the sort of person whose mental health suffers if they aren’t top of the class, this is something really worth considering.
2. It’s hard. While it’s fair to say there are conceptually more difficult courses out there for example Physics, Maths, Engineering etc etc the breadth and volume of knowledge can be hard to assimilate. The exams are also difficult as they examine more than just your knowledge but also how the knowledge applies to situations that arise in clinical practice. It means a lot of revising and doing so after placement in later years which can take some real dedication to do.
3. The expectations of medical students are different. Many students who perform well academically at University do still go out a fair bit and get up to all sorts of things. Studying medicine is perfectly compatible with having a social life at University but you won’t have the same freedom. On top of that, doing placement can still be something of a frustrating experience. Even when you’ve turned up, applied yourself and want to learn. A lot of it involves observing stuff and sometimes even when you think you may have an opportunity to get more hands on something will get in the way and you’ll be disheartened. But its key this doesn’t affect your professionalism later on either.

On a more positive note

1. It’s interesting, there is no doubt that if you like science there is some pretty interesting stuff in medicine no matter who you are. Whether you like completing practical tasks well, thinking deeply and analytically about specific problems or exploring the social context of a person and how their illness has affected them there is something for everyone and you’ll never be bored.
2. It can actually be rewarding. It’s probably rare until you are in fifth year at least but there are days where you feel like you’ve learnt something and you’ve actually made a positive contribution to society on that day. Even if it’s just that one of the junior Doctors is ill and you do the bloods that day for the team. This does actually lead to feel quite satisfied sometimes. A welcome change from feeling invisible or like you are actually getting in the way.
3. It opens the door to a world of opportunities. There is no doubt that most specialities have got good sides to them and you can pick the one that most suites you which is excellent. Some specific specialities are more competitive but usually that means you just need to do a couple of things to boost your CV before you start training for it. In addition, there are opportunities for interesting things you can do across the globe. It’s not often talked about but when you finish you’ll have a qualification that will be in demand and means that if you want to you can work in any part of the world. Obviously we need plenty of Doctors in our NHS but people who go away for a year or two and then return are a real asset to the NHS as they bring experience and insight which will benefit them in their careers and hopefully the health service more broadly. In addition there is also of course the year 5 elective while at University which for many turns into the highlight of a lifetime.

So that’s it, a summary warts and all. I could say more and I could say less, the bottom line is if you are thinking about studying medicine; do your research. Respect the fact it’s a big commitment and then you’ll make a good decision. I’m happy with mine. I wish you all the best of luck!


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