The following post is intended for prospective medical students. It is my perspective on a number of topics including 1) reasons to apply to medical school, 2) study techniques, 3) my medical school experience.
Firstly, an introduction. I am Shaileigh Gordon, a final year medical student from James Cook University, Australia. Prior to commencing medicine, I studied forensic science. My initial interest was in forensic pathology. Since progressing through medical school, I have become increasingly interested in psychiatry. Outside of medicine I am a keen runner and cyclist. I love the sunshine and travelling. I have a wonderful family, an incredibly supportive partner and an adorable and very spoilt border collie. That is a brief summary of who I am. Time to move on to the quality content.
1) Reasons to apply to medical school
The decision to apply to medical school can be one of the most important decisions a young person will make. It is a lifelong commitment to hard work, long hours and innumerable sacrifices. One of the pertinent questions you will be asked during the application process and beyond, is why did you pursue a career in medicine?
Some people are ‘born to be doctors.’ Whether they be born into a family embedded in the medial field or have had exposure to death, disease and suffering which cultivated an intense desire to cure and heal, there are those with a calling to medicine.
There are then those like me, who, unlike many of my colleagues wasn’t born with a stethoscope around my neck. I grew into medicine. I had an initial interest in forensic pathology and applied to medicine on a whim. I felt I had the motivation to succeed, combined with the intelligence and commitment to work through the 6 years of medical school. Medicine seemed to be a respectable, interesting profession and the opportunity to positively influence the lives of others was appealing. My motive wasn’t awe-inspiring. I didn’t have an impressive anecdote to share.
After nearly 6 years, I have a slightly clearer answer to the question of why apply to medical school. Here is what I believe; apply if you were born to be a doctor. Apply if you believe you would make a good doctor. Apply if you want to cure disease, heal the sick, have fun and to be a positive influence on society. It really doesn’t matter the reason; people can grow into medicine, and for whatever reason you have, you can become a great doctor. If you enjoy it, are dedicated and willing to make a few sacrifices, apply. The process is fantastic and rewarding.
Developing effective study techniques is a fundamental component required to succeed in medical school. Different people learn differently. I have over the years developed a number of techniques to study efficiently and effectively. The key components of my study techniques include- mind maps, case studies, flash cards and a lot of repetition.
During my second year I discovered the power of mind maps using the program cMAPs (it’s free) I would create one or two maps/week/subject, print it out and bind them into a single ‘book.’ These maps allowed me to have a very quick, easy reference. With 5 minutes free I could revise an entire week’s worth of content. I have attached 2 mind maps, one I created in relation to study techniques and an example of one I used during medical school.
During the pre-clinical years, the knowledge we gain can at times seems obsolete. I often found it challenging to integrate the basic sciences to the clinical aspects of medicine. It is during the clinical years that all of the individual aspects of what we learn comes together. I struggled at times in my 5th year while studying for my final exams to know ‘what to study.’ I had learnt a lot about health and disease, and yet had no idea what to do with it. This is where I found case studies particularly useful. There are many books and online resources available to practise the process of diagnosis and management. However, the most important resource are patients. While on speciality rotations, learn from your patients. Take each presenting complaint as an opportunity to review the basic sciences, pathology, physical examination and management. Present cases to seniors and get feedback. Common things are common and that is what you will be examined on.
The online resource ‘Brainscape’ was a treasure to discover during my 5th year. It is a flashcard system for revision in which you create your own flashcards and rate how well you know them. The program will then repeat the card as frequently as required based on your knowledge of each card. I created thousands of flashcards and I reviewed all of them, many times. I gained confidence in having a quantitative measure of how well I knew a topic. Some of the features are free, however you can pay for more advanced features. I have a paid subscription because I value it tremendously and will continue to utilize the system beyond medical school. If online flashcards do not appeal to you, hand-made ones are also effective for ongoing revision.
A lot of repetition
For all aspects of medicine, from the basic sciences to physical examination, revise. Continuously.
3) The medical school experience
Medical school will be different for each individual. There will be the obvious similarities: lectures, exams, stress, timetables, exams and more stress. However, I truly believe the best thing about medical school is the life you lead outside of it. I spent the first 2 and a half years convinced that if I studied constantly, sacrificed a social life and received top grades life would be exactly how it should, that I would be the best medical student and eventual doctor I could be. I set timers to remind myself when and for how long to study. I spent 120 hours in 10 days studying in the lead up to exams, and that wasn’t to cram! I had already spent innumerable hours revising during the term. At the end of each exam period I received my grades. They were as great as I could have wanted. I would want to celebrate with my friends, for the year had been a success. At which point I realized I had forgotten to make friends to celebrate with.
If my life for 6 years was to study medicine and nothing else, what would I be left with at the end of it? I would finish medical school, start internship, start residency, and start specialty training. The study never stops. Medical school, for most, will be concurrent with your early 20s, an exhilarating, identity defining, momentous period of life. With my head in my books, I almost missed it.
After two and a half years, I decided to engage fully with life and enjoy a true work-life balance. What did that mean? It meant I studied the content, I revised and I continued to make good grades. However, I wasn’t as pedantic about the number of hours I studied. I revised a little less often. I spent time with family and friends, free from guilt. I made time for a positive relationship, running, cycling, and for ‘netflix and chills.’ I decided to no longer measure my success in life solely based on my grades. I recognised the importance of an holistic approach to life. Note this; taking time for the joys of life during medical school does not mean you are any less ambitious or dedicated to becoming a great doctor. It means that being a doctor is one part of who you are.
Over the last 6 years my life has changed. I could not imagine pursuing any other career. If you choose medicine, embrace every aspect. Enjoy the journey, and know that when you are finished you will reflect on the experience and be amazed at what you achieved and the person you have become. For that is what I am doing right now.
I have also attached part of my very first and only blog I wrote at the end of my first year. After nearly 5 years it makes for interesting reading.
First time blogger
Good day! This is my first ever blog and I am rather excited about writing it, despite the content being undecided and written on a whim. I think it is important to document the wonderful experiences I will have over the years and share with the world, in what I hope to be an interesting way. I expect this first blog to contain random thoughts, memories of my first year and perhaps some advice for future med student hopefuls.
…I remember waiting for the phone call as to whether I got in to medical school. Like some, there was this sense of “I’m not good enough”, “why would they choose me?”, I’ll never get in, life is over……(catastrophising some more.) And you know what? I got in! Amazing.
My first year of medicine was for the most part a wonderful experience. What they tell you is true, it is hard work. You will become overwhelmed thinking you have to learn every single piece of information that ever existed in the history of the world. You will want to cry when a lecturer asks you a question on an exam that you swear was never covered during semester. And finally you will want to punch that adult friend that always tells you, “it’ll be worth it in the end,” while they are eating caviar and sipping on wine as you tightly grasp the can of corn with your left hand and the plastic spoon in your right.
First year is about learning that you will never know it all. You should accept it now, or it will inevitably be realised later on as you fight to cover those four chapters in that stinking textbook on biochemistry. It is also when you realise that no matter how competitive you are (believe me, academically I am extremely competitive), you need to help the people around you as you will certainly need their help in the future. As medical students we are all endeavoring to work as a team for the best outcomes for our patients. Be kind to each other.
So that was my first attempt. Now I realise there isn’t much structure and it may be rather yawn provoking, but I don’t care because I’ve had a great time writing it. Be kind. Love life. Medicine is wonderful and so are you.