Five truths about being a first year medical student and five rookie mistakes to avoid
Five truths about being a first year medical student
You won’t be able to watch medical dramas on television without cringing
You’ll never be able to watch Holby City again without noticing an inaccurate medical reference or irresponsible procedure. Whether it is doctors living in caravans in hospital car parks, medical staff performing operations on their parents, or clinicians being able to diagnose patients at first sight, real medicine simply isn’t like that. Likewise, don’t be fooled by the endless tracheostomies that screenwriters entertain viewers with—you’ll probably see more in one episode than in your entire time at medical school.
Nobody knows the right way to use a stethoscope
Whether it is which way to position the earpieces, or telling which side is the diaphragm or bell, at some point everyone gets flummoxed by this pesky medical essential. It might be the symbol of your medical student status, but that won’t prevent you being left prodding at a patient’s thorax, desperately trying to hear anything that resembles a heartbeat.
Family and friends will ask you for medical advice
Even though you’ll only have covered a term’s worth of material when you go home at Christmas, people will assume that you are the fount of all medical knowledge. Particular culprits for on the spot diagnosis requests are grandparents. At some point you’re bound to be asked to “take a look at this rash/ankle/weird thing on my hand” despite having no idea what it is or how to treat it. It’s usually best to admit your lack of knowledge and offer to make them an appointment with a general practitioner.
You will make mistakes
Whether it’s confusing a dissected hip joint for a shoulder, or mistaking the thymus for the thyroid gland, everyone will slip up. Admitting your mistakes, analysing where you went wrong, and learning from the experience is an essential part of a medical career. Asking the wrong questions can also get you into trouble. One story we remember is of a first year student who inquired whether the #NOF on many older patients’ notes was “something to do with Twitter?” (when in fact it stood for “fractured neck of femur”). Although mistakes can be embarrassing, it’s far better to learn from them early on than face admitting your ignorance once you go on to the wards full time.
You will become an expert procrastinator
If only you were as proficient at your studies as you were at putting things off. As a medical student, you’ll learn how to find almost any excuse to take a break from revision, whether it is trawling through Twitter or attempting yet another Sporcle quiz. Guilt inducing procrastination is best avoided, but taking up a sport or joining a student society can be a great way to stave off stress.
Five rookie mistakes to avoid as a first year medical student
Drinking heavily the night before your first dissection session
It’s not just cadavers that you’ll find lying in the dissection room. It is pretty common to find hungover medical students sprawled on the floor during their first dissection tutorial. This isn’t helped by the fact that university medsocs usually plan their first social of the term the night before anatomy sessions, which inevitably leads to queasy students either fainting or politely excusing themselves to be sick the next day. And another warning: missing breakfast can have similar consequences.
Wearing distinctive clothes in a lecture
Don’t draw attention to yourself, especially if you know your lecturer enjoys asking lots of questions. The best form of defence is preparation, and by that we mean wearing inconspicuous clothes (grey, navy, or black). Find a neutral place to sit in the lecture theatre, not too near the front, back, or sides. Adopt an interested, yet vague, expression and look down at regular intervals to make notes. Do not, under any circumstances, make eye contact.
Plucking up courage to examine a patient on a ward round, only to do so from the left side of the bed
Doctors are protective about some traditions in medicine. One of these includes which side of the bed you examine your patient from. If you do end up making this mistake, for the love of god, don’t do it in front of a team of doctors on a ward round. Remember: examine from the right hand side of the bed.
Forgetting to wash your hands.
No matter how many times you practice for your objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs)—on the day, you will, at some point, forget to wash your hands and lose out on the easiest of marks in one of the most stressful of examinations.
Mistaking a magnetic resonance image for a computed tomography scan—again and again . . . and again
Medical schools love quizzing first year students on anatomy using computed tomography scans and magnetic resonance images, yet students seem to be allergic to any lecture with the word “imaging” in the title. Working out whether what you’re looking at is the right or left view, a female or a male, are common things that bamboozle students. Just don’t suggest (as one medical student did) that a bladder on a sagittal magnetic resonance image was a “calcified towel left in by an incompetent surgeon.” Useful tip: magnetic resonance images show up tissues that have a high water content as white, so skin appears white. If the transverse section has a white border, it’s probably a magnetic resonance image.George Gillett, fourth year medical student1, Abhishek Kumar, final year medical student2, Zak Tait, second year medical student1
1University of Oxford, UK, 2Brighton and Sussex Medical School, UK
Correspondence to: email@example.com
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Cite this as: StudentBMJ 2015;23:h4463