In 2015 when Alex was a fourth year medical student at the University of Manchester, he wrote an essay for us with advice he would give to himself as a fresher. Five years on and now as a qualified doctor, Alex still believes it’s all about pacing yourself.

I can honestly say my first month of university was one of the best months of my life. I loved every second of it. I loved the independence of living away from home. I loved the people I met in my halls of residence and the friends I made on my course. I even loved the course I was on, and the lectures and seminars that went with it. I never wanted it to end.

But it did end. Not the joy of the course, but the feelings and emotions surrounding it. I’ve always known I wanted to do medicine and that hasn’t changed over the last five years. If anything, my resolve only strengthened as the years went on. However the unparalleled excitement and feeling of newness did not last forever.

My advice to myself while I was in medical school

The best advice for every fresher is this: medicine is a marathon, not a sprint.

The sheer number of my friends that have burnt out, taken years out, or failed due to pressure has really surprised me. These were not bad students, nor were they students that gave up trying. But five years of constant studying and exams can take its toll on the best and brightest, regardless of how strong their commitment to medicine may be.

I believe the hardest year of medicine is the fourth year. Not year four of the course, but the fourth year of studying as a student. This means it includes those students that have intercalated. It’s the first year after all the friends you have made who study three year BScs and BAs have left, and it’s a strange sensation to know that you’re only just half way through your course. While you’re nearest and dearest are off starting careers in exciting new fields. You're still living in a student house, living off a student loan and surviving on student budget. It’s naive to think this doesn’t get to people.

MDU app banner ad

It’s at this time, and all the other times that medicine gets hard, that you need to dig deep. Remember why you chose to study medicine and look to a future career that is not only exciting but incredibly rewarding. If you focus on the short term without looking at the bigger picture, it might drag you down.

My advice to myself as a qualified doctor

Looking back on what I wrote five years ago, it feels like the same advice could apply at any stage of my career. The end of medical school is really just the beginning. Even if in the relief of finishing five years of study, it doesn’t feel that way.

I think only when those five years double up to ten, and when you see many more years ahead of you after that as well, do you realise that pacing yourself is not only a good idea, it’s a necessity.

So with that in mind, my advice to my fresher self, and any other new medical students as well, is to settle in and enjoy yourself. It’s a long road ahead.

Ensure you make the most of all the amazing opportunities available to you. That interesting lecture on a subject you’ve never heard of may turn into a passion for an area of medicine you had no idea existed. Medicine is a broad and varied career, and there is no one path, or speed, required to reach the finish.

Work hard, enjoy yourself, and take your time. There’s no rush, you’ll be fine.

Even though what you’re doing is important, take time to make friends and build new relationships. These will often become vital many years down the line. Whether it’s a future study buddy, or a good pal to relax with after a stressful day. Having a good support network around you will make the challenging times that little bit easier.

Finally, don’t worry about making mistakes. There are much worse things in this world than failing an exam! In your future career, you will come across things you could never predict coming. Some times these can be scary. Remember support is always around you, and the MDU is often invaluable in these situations.

Work hard, enjoy yourself, and take your time. There’s no rush, you’ll be fine.

Advice to always remember

Remember support is always there for you, and many students have gone down this path before. You may burn out, you may struggle, you may even need to take a little breather. This is all ok, because in the end, you will make it.

The marathon will end, and the medal will be a career more exciting and adventurous than you can possibly imagine.

The MDU is here to support you from the very start of your journey as a doctor. Find out how we can support you as a medical student.

This page was correct at publication on 20/05/2020. Any guidance 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.