Articles and Case Studies

10 things I wish I had known when starting my medical school journey

11 Dec 2020

by Dr Mirsada Prasko

Medical Student studying in lab

My medical school journey started the day I opened an early morning email that read “Congratulations…”.  To my utter disbelief and extreme relief, I had finally made it into the career pathway I knew I was meant to be in, and the path I had fought so long for. Little did I know that my journey was just beginning.

As the first person in my family to enter university, I didn’t have anybody to tell me what to expect from medical school. I’m writing this to share my experience and what I wish I had known when I stepped foot into my first orientation day overlooking a sea of unfamiliar faces – knowing these were my future colleagues and likely lifelong friends.

  1. You’ll be surrounded by the top 1%

    The first thing we hear at that initial congratulatory lecture for making it into the hardest university course is: “You’re in the top 1%”. And that’s true. You have every right to feel proud of yourself for being at medical school. But sometimes that feeling of triumph can be short-lived, and you may feel you’re only ‘average’ when surrounded by highly driven, motivated and intelligent students. If that happens, try not to get fixated on the word ‘average’. Please remind yourself and your friends that you’re competing with the most elite students – and that getting into medicine alone is a huge hurdle, and you got there!


  2. ‘Love thy neighbour’ – we’re all on different pathways to the same destination

    Medicine is great for many reasons, but I love it particularly because it’s something you can do when you’re 17, 27 or 37 years old – it knows no age limits. There are a mix of undergraduate, postgraduate, international and interstate students within medicine. We all come from different worlds, so please don’t compare your journey with others. You all made it to the same playing field, regardless of how you all got here. Making friends with a diverse group of people has enabled my growth.


  3. Comparison is the thief of joy

    Stay in your lane – this doesn’t just apply to driving. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of comparing our knowledge or experience with the person next to us. However, we’re all on different paths and have a different baseline knowledge coming into medicine. If you keep learning and growing, you’ll be most likely to succeed. I remember opening my exam results and initially being really proud of myself. I then spoke to a few people and inevitably, without even meaning to do so, started comparing my marks with theirs. This only took away my initial happiness. As long as you’re improving, then nothing else really needs to matter.


  4. Books can’t teach you what practical experience offers

    It’s very tempting to want to stay at home and learn from textbooks, but I guarantee that speaking to patients about their own experience with a condition will make you remember it better than any book could ever teach you. You’ll investigate jaundice in a hospital in a real patient and understand why we need certain investigations or why certain history questions are important. Books can’t teach you how to ask patients questions or how to pick up on patient cues. By listening to patients, you learn communication skills as well as more about the conditions themselves.


  5. Turn up for what? For everything!

    I believe every student starting medicine should keep this in mind – make it your job to show up to things. This includes lectures, extra tutorials, clinical ward rounds, study groups and even social events (yes, you read me correctly). Medicine is a social specialty and we have a lovely teaching culture where the students in the year above will run additional classes for the year levels below. This means more knowledge, greater perspective on exams, and forming better connections with your colleagues. This brings me to my next point.


  6. We’re better together

    Don’t try to do medicine on your own – that’s a lonely journey and I promise you it’s better together. Get out of your comfort zone, form a study group, and meet up at least once a week to discuss subjects. This means somebody else can teach you something and you can teach them, which helps you both. Everybody has their own way of recalling information, and it’s a good idea to come together and experience different ways of learning. 


  7. Mental health days are essential – look after yourself

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – medicine is hard. There will be days when you feel everybody else is doing better than you or that you’re not okay. And that’s alright. The important thing is to acknowledge when you’re in need of a ‘mental health day’. Taking a day off university and study may seem like a silly thing to do, but it’s possibly the best thing you can do for yourself. Think of it as recharging – you need a break to ‘switch off’ so you can perform to your best capacity. If you really feel sad or anxious to the point where it’s affecting your day-to-day life, please don’t suffer in silence. Whether you vent to a friend or a psychologist, I encourage you to be mindful of your mental wellbeing. You’re important and don’t you forget it!


  8. You don’t need to remember every detail of every little pathway

    You may need to remember certain details during exam time. I do promise though – once you’re in the clinical years, then the little details don’t matter. What matters is the bigger clinical picture as well as knowing where to find resources.


  9. Enjoy the small wins

    A quote I heard on my first day of medical school has stayed with me since – “Enjoy the small wins”. Medicine is hard and you should enjoy every win, no matter how small. You made it through week one? Celebrate it! You finished an assignment? That’s a win! You made it through your first year? Win, win, win! You should be proud of yourself all the way – and breaking little achievements down like this means you get to enjoy the little wins when they come around.


  10. Enjoy the journey – not just the destination

    I’ve only just finished medical school, and I miss it already. The journey is the most enjoyable part, so stop and smell those roses!

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