What It’s Really Like Studying Medicine, Part 2

This is the follow on from Part 1 in my series focusing on my experiences of Medicine.

Oh, Exams. Compared to other courses, we have only a few hours spent scribbling over desks. 6 hours in the exam hall in the summer, 1 hour in the winter. What makes our exams tough is the sheer amount of information to regurgitate!

Buried Alive

At King’s, there are exams midway through the years 1 & 2 at the beginning of January. These are the ‘Midsessional exams’ and usually only contribute a tiny percentage of your overall mark. I know some students take these as minor road-humps in their medicine studies, and I know a few students who do not revise at all. It doesn’t seem to matter if you fail – in the first year, failure results in a meeting with the head of year to check progress but no further serious repercussions.

I’m one of the students who works hard for the January exams. It’s an opportunity to test your knowledge of the material insofar, and to make sure your revision and exam techniques are productive. Think about it – if you’ve already learned half the year’s material, you could have half the workload and stress when you revise for the vital summer exams!

There are smaller assessments through the year, which require some preparation. However, the most important exams are mid-May, and dictate whether you pass or fail the year. There are only three May exams, and are spaced to fall on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10AM within a single week.

Let’s not pretend – All exams are stressful. My friend showed me a funny meme; ‘Medicine. Ruining my life so I can save yours’. The workload can seem crushing and insurmountable even for the most laid-back or prepared student. Medical school brought me an academic competitiveness I hadn’t found before, and with it an internal carnage of fear, doubt, self-appraisal and success. As with any task, if you’re pushing to be your best you will find the journey hard work.

Even if you’re not competitively driven, you may find yourself pulling 14 hour days in the two months before your exams. If you structure your revision badly, you may be tempted to cram till 5AM of Exam Day, before stealing 4 hours of sleep to arrive at the exam hall for 10AM. Even for the most well paced students normal life and schedules are put on hold as life quickly becomes dominated by sedentary yet exhausting mental marathons.

This may sound hell – it can be! Remember that only hard work brings real success, and the feeling of relief and achievement after the week of exams is immense. I have friends who slept for a full 24 hours after studying and then partying till exhaustion!


January exams follow the Christmas break = no Christmas holiday

Summer exams follow the Easter break = no Easter holiday

Medicine has its own special spartan calendar. This can seem tough, especially when your fellow students on different courses seem to be lazing around, sleeping in, watching endless repeats of ‘Game of Thrones’ or making the most of what Timeout London has to offer.

When I was coming to the end of first year I found it difficult to keep in contact with friends on other courses due to our differing periods of timetabled lectures and study leave. This resulted in me not seeing my law student friends for two months, with a brief social collision before we then separated again for our summer holidays. If you think losing contact with your newfound friends from university is bad, it’s worse when you realise during the Christmas and Easter holidays that you will have little time to visit the friends you made during your school years.

It’s not so bad though; when you break up after your exams in May the rest of term is easy. In fact, in year 2 the end of exams signals the end of the academic year! Look forward to not starting university again till September, or nearer to October depending on the academic course you have taken (If you take a BSc. or MSc. at King’s or another university, you may have different term dates). Plan something good, travel.

So, medical school is tough. Studying eats up a lot of time, the exam period is stressful and the schedule of holidays leave lots to be desired. Every cloud has a silver lining, however – recognise the skills and traits you will develop through maintaining a successful work:play balance, and the useful reserves of tenacity and steadfastness that your peers will envy. You’ll also have a tonne of fun partying, and you cannot forget Fresher’s Week. Of course, this is just my view of the experiences of myself and my friends – this will not represent the entire student population.

The advice I have is:

Pace yourself through the years – make sure you have enough foresight to start revision early and to succeed in the exams. No one wants to have the stress and disappointment of having to retake in August. Enjoy freshers, enjoy the relatively easy periods of term, take breaks over the ‘holidays’ to see friends and family. Don’t be a slave.

Make sure you have a work:play balance – Friends, social activities and exercise are all important for your own health. You need an escape from the stress and slog of the medicine workload – Sadly, there are mental health issues that arise that can be partly attributed to the stress of medical school/university. Likewise, there’s no point being the top percentile student with no friends, no networking and the personality of a 2D exam results sheet.

Enjoy your time at medical school – the point of university is not just to get a degree. It’s about developing yourself as a person, making friends and enhancing your social and academic skills. It’s about taking opportunities and exploring what the world has to offer. For me, I can go out and find great things in London. It’s got its markets and vibrant nightlife hotspots, but part of the fun is finding new smaller places on the path less trodden.

Get out there. Join a sports team. Set up or join a society. Open doors.

Is this true or is it an opinion clouded by hindsight? Let me know, anyway. I’m moving onto Phase 3, which is the clinical section of my medicine course. I hope to post more regarding my experiences, being closer to becoming a ‘real doctor’! If you liked this post, please subscribe to keep up-to-date in the future.

Thanks to Klaus M from flickr for the above image.

A book I read recently, which proved to me that there is benefit and advantage in every stone Life throws at you.


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