What I Wish I Knew Before Starting Medical School

Sep 1, 2023 | Med, YouTube

Starting med school was a blur, but throughout the time that i’ve been there this past year I have learnt many new things. 13 of those things I will be sharing in this post as I really wish someone had told me them before starting my med school journey.

1. Independent Learning

Learning in uni is unlike most other ways you would’ve been taught. This is because it is just so much more independent than what you’re used to, but this isn’t a bad thing as it shapes you into a much more proactive learner. This skill is one that is needed in a doctor as you won’t always have someone there to just hand you the answer or pat you on the back for getting it right.

The hard part about this independence is that no matter what type of student you are, it can be very tricky to not let this freedom get to your head – leading to you falling behind on work.

It will be touched on further in this post on how to avoid falling behind on work.

2. No More Comfort Zone

In my freshers week at UoB I met my seminar group and got to know them a bit. At the end of the session the tutor explained to us that we would be split into smaller groups that would all have to do a presentation on a given topic by the end of the week. I was a nervous wreck after hearing this, because I had never presented before, so this whole idea was so scary to me. But a whole year later I’m now here about to enter my second year of medical school, so trust me you get through it.

Another facet of med school life where you will be challenged is on placement as you now speak to patients in person or on the phone, examine them, take histories etc. It all comes at you quite quickly, but the aim isn’t for you to become a master at it as everyone knows that takes time. The aim is for you to become more comfortable in that environment to allow you to thrive later on.

3. Daily Work

It is quite easy to fall behind on work (as mentioned before). One way that definitely helps to avoid that is to try and complete some work on a daily basis. This does not mean just being a slave to your desk everyday by just doing work all the time. It really does just mean to get something done most days by doing something like 1 anki deck, 1 lecture or even just reading up on material for the next day.

Doing this will prevent you from falling into a rut of just not getting anything done and just getting more and more behind. Instead, this will build you good study habits which will let you enjoy yourself and get good grades.

4. Write-off Principle

I know it was just mentioned that we should try to get work done everyday, but there is of course some exceptions…

The Write-off Principle is the act of intentionally blocking out a day, or a few hours where you don’t need to work – some instances where you would use it are:

  • Big occasion – birthday, anniversary etc
  • Been feeling low energy on a given day so you feel you aren’t taking anything in
  • Intentional breaks

Taking away the pressure of constantly feeling like we have to be productive can make it much easier to relax, and in turn be able to come back much more stable and on top of things.

5. Textbooks are Overrated

Haven’t ever bought one, they are just unnecessarily difficult to use and have a lot of waffle to get through to find the answer, but at least at UoB, we get access to the main ones our lecturers suggest for free using Clinical Key.

The only time i’ve ever found them useful is if there is a split idea on what the answer is for something (get opposing ideas on google), so i just check what the textbook we follow says about it – and just go by that because thats most likely what they will see as correct in the exam.

6. Testing is Different

  • MCQs are quite a universal form of testing at medical schools in the uk.
  • It is its own skill to be able to go through them effectively.
  • The best way to familiarise yourself with them is by simple going through as many as you can.

7. Older Year Notes

Without older year notes I wouldn’t have gotten through my first year to be honest 🥲.

Even though the lectures and titles can switch up a bit from year to year, the general content is more or less the same, so make sure you join any med societies or WhatsApp group chats and get access to these as they really help.

8. Get Organised

There is many random tasks and assignments that you need to stay on top of during your time at uni. This means you can’t just wing it by trying to remember deadlines and what the tasks are. You need get organised using a dedicated system which will have everything in one place for you (all you have to do is maintain it).

I recommend using Notion to get organised – I have a whole video dedicated to getting organised with Notion (theres a free template with it too).

9. Cramming

In the experience of myself and most of my friends, cramming (to a certain extent) is something that will happen regardless of how on top of the content you are. The aim throughout the semester should therefore be for you to ensure that your future self is cramming by revising the content, rather than learning it for the first time.

Trust me I left quite a bit of work until the end and it was just not a fun experience to be learning content while everyone else is studying flashcards they’ve made on it 😅.

10. Pomodoro Technique

I’m sure you’ve heard about this method of studying, but if you haven’t then here’s a quick explanation – the Pomodoro technique is the act of having timed study sessions with given breaks at the end of every session. This is done to promote focus and almost game-ifies studying.

The problem that I had with this method is that it can be a bit too rigid. What I mean by this is that I would either be deep in focus by the time my session was done, or the complete opposite and I was just about reaching the end of the timer. So instead of being subject to the dictatorship of the timer, I decided to to change the timer from being a countdown timer. So now the timer would start from 0 and stop when I feel like i’ve done enough work. This worked amazingly as I could enter a flow state and maintain it instead of being disturbed by the timer.

I feel the standard Pomodoro technique really comes into its element when working with friends. As i’m sure you all know, it can be very difficult to work with friends as you can just get distracted so easily, but by having the timer it allows you all to just get some work done and then have a nice break to look forward to and enjoy yourself.

11. Imposter Syndrome

It is completely normal to feel a sense of doubt about yourself sometimes, if anything it is probably more strange if you didn’t feel an element of that at times. I still go through this myself at times so I don’t really have too much to say about it to be honest 😂. But the reason I’ve added this to the list is to just remind you that it is normal – which means that everyone else is probably feeling it too.

12. Save The Day!

In one of Ali Abdaal’s older videos his friend Paul touched on a really nice mental concept for not letting procrastination ruin your day.

The concept is that it could be 10pm and you’ve been procrastinating the whole day – you can still get up and do 45 mins of focused work – which in turn saves the day from being a waste.

I know this doesn’t really sound super profound, but it really did help me identify times where I was wasting the day. Being able to identify my bad times meant that I was able to actually apply the strategy and get more work done.

13. Take Care of Yourself

  • This one is cliché but i feel it has to be mentioned, and that is to take care of yourself.
  • It is very possible to do well in exams without completely draining yourself physically and mentally.
  • Go out there and socialise with friends, make memories and just make sure uni is a time you look back on fondly.

These are just some of the things I wish I knew before medical school, I hope at least one of these tips helps you in some way shape or form on your journey. Wish you all the best!


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I’m Aqeel — a medical student and graphic designer based in the UK.