Final year students give their advice
How to thrive at medical school
Medical school may feel stressful and overwhelming at times. In this article, final year students offer advice on how to make the most of your time at medical school, so that you are better prepared for your future career.
Strike a work-life balance
Gabriella Johansson, final year medical student, University of Cambridge
Carve out some free time in your schedule to do something different from studying. Organise your time by keeping a calendar and a list of learning objectives and deadlines. This will help you keep on track and allow you to schedule time to take a break.
Balancing my studies with playing sport motivated me to be more efficient with my time. I rowed for four years and played rugby for two years, culminating in a Varsity match at Twickenham Stadium. The only year I failed an exam was when I decided to play less sport. I found that this made me less focused and less organised, because I didn’t have an outlet to give me a break from my studies.
Broaden your horizons
Manroy Sahni, final year medical student, University of Birmingham
Attend events run by societies to find out which specialty might suit you. I became interested in sports and exercise medicine after listening to talks put on by Birmingham’s sports and exercise medicine society in my third year. I became involved in the society by organising seminars and practical sessions, and later became its president.
Don’t feel pressured into choosing a specialty at medical school, but try to get a sense of the sort of patients you enjoy treating, clinical conditions that fascinate you, and areas of medical work that seem to come naturally.
Get involved in research
Emily Gardner-Bougaard, final year medical student, St George’s University of London medical school
Try to get involved in a research project. Most specialty training programmes (including core medical and core surgical training) want to see evidence of critical appraisal skills and previous publications when selecting candidates.
Although medical school is busy, you will have less time to carry out research when you become a foundation doctor, so use the time and the resources around you to get ahead early on.
During my studies, I was involved in two audits—one on vascular surgery and the other on infectious diseases—and I had a research paper published by the British Association of Clinical Anatomists on how well doctors retain their anatomy knowledge once qualified.
Email a hospital or research department to see if there are any upcoming or current projects you can join. Taking part in a research project can be time consuming, so make sure you pick a project you are genuinely interested in, rather than doing it to tick a box. Bear in mind that although consultants have more experience in publishing articles, trainees are often eager to publish something and are probably more willing for you to be a co-author.
Practise your presentation skills
Abbas See, final year medical student, University of Cambridge
Being able to present in front of other people is a skill worth honing. In exams and on the wards you will be required to present patient cases, and if you have taken part in a research project or an audit you might need to present your work at a conference or local teaching session, or both. Presenting in front of your peers and seniors is daunting to begin with, so get as much practice as possible so that it becomes second nature.
Learn how to teach
Johnson Pok-Him Tam, final year medical student, University of Bristol
Teaching others is a core part of your role as a doctor. Seek out opportunities to teach students in the years below through your tutors or your medical education society.
Consider setting up your own teaching sessions with a few friends, for students in the years below. I used lecture notes and past exam questions to plan revision days and weekly revision sessions. Around 10 students attended the weekly sessions and 30 students took part in the one-off revision days. I experimented with different teaching styles and found that using a case based approach worked better than getting students to recite facts from a textbook. It is important to interact with students by asking questions such as, “What would you do next?” or “Why is that differential diagnosis likely in this patient?” to encourage group discussions and engagement. By encouraging verbal and written feedback from students after each teaching session, I was able to record what went well and, more importantly, what could be improved for the next teaching session.Johnson Pok-Him Tam, final year medical student
University of Bristol, UK
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
- General Medical Council. Tomorrow’s Doctors: Outcomes and standards for undergraduate medical education. 2009. www.gmc-uk.org/Tomorrow_s_Doctors_1214.pdf_48905759.pdf.
- McCullough JH. How to get involved with undergraduate research: a guide for medical students. 2014. http://cures.cardiff.ac.uk/files/2014/10/NSAMR-How-to-get-involved-with-undergraduate-research.pdf.
- Tavabie O, Baker P. Foundation doctors and bedside teaching. BMJ Careers 2011; 30 March. http://careers.bmj.com/careers/advice/Foundation_doctors_and_bedside_teaching