Arriving back in Liverpool to visit my student self in 1977, I would start with both reassurance and a warning; this is what you have wanted to do since the age of 12. The chance to learn about the human condition, the chance to diagnose and treat disease and to make people better. You think that maybe it's a lot of hard work. It's going to be much more than that.

Hit the books

You can't read and learn too much. Treat the syllabus as the minimum. Medical schools will reduce basic science learning as the years go by, but it is fundamental to understanding everything else. Learn your anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology and microbiology. That decision to do an intercalated degree in physiology will be one you’ll never regret.

Model behaviour

Of those you meet in your early years, ask who it is you want to emulate. Model your behaviour on these people. Watch how doctors speak to patients, look for the skills that lead to an instant rapport between them. Unless you look closely you may not spot how expert clinicians do this. Admire the doctor who talks to a patient about their family, rather than the doctor who tells the patient their latest serum sodium.

Ears open

Talk 10% and listen 90%, or more. Ask open questions, as the patient will tell you everything you need to know if given space and trust. If you don’t learn how to examine patients properly now, you'll always keep making the same mistakes.

The patient will tell you everything you need to know if given space and trust

Push yourself

Look for challenges that take you beyond where you're expected to be. In respect of clinical exposure and practical procedures, ask and you will receive. Never hold back if other students don't seem as enthusiastic. It's your life's work we’re talking about, not a contest in mediocrity.

And the rest…

A better haircut might help with your social life, although the sister from the orthopaedic ward returning your tie during the ward round after a particularly sociable evening is something you might want to avoid... Don't buy a copy of Gray's anatomy; even for you, it’s too much.

And don't worry if, in 2015, you can't remember something. By then, the internet will have been invented.


This article was correct at publication on 09/12/2015. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Dr Simon Watkin

BSc Hon (Physiol.) MB ChB MD FRCP(UK) FRCP(Edin.)

Dr. Simon W Watkin is a consultant in Respiratory and General Medicine. He qualified in 1983 from the University of Liverpool and trained there, obtaining his MD Thesis in lung cancer research. In 1994 he was appointed as a consultant in respiratory medicine to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, and was clinical director from 1995-2006 and deputy medical director from 2000. In 2008 he moved to the Borders General Hospital in Melrose and was head of medicine for five years. He is still a full time on-call NHS consultant, and is a member of the Council and Cases Committee of the MDU and a non-executive director.

See more by Dr Simon Watkin