Your first year at medical school comes with newfound freedom – and the pressure to get it right. Third-year Ian Soh looks back at his time as a fresher.

It all starts with the admission letter. The thrill and anticipation before starting medical school.

Then it’s freshers’ week, where you’re having the time of your life with all the freedom and excitement ahead of you. With so much to experience, memories to make and nights to remember, it feels like all that’s happened in the past year leading up to this was meant to be.

From there, it won’t be long before reality sets in and you’re faced with your first lecture. One thing is for certain: the leap from sixth form to university – and medical school, especially – is a big one. We all struggle making this transition.

This is a personal recount of what I encountered during my first year and what helped me. I hope you’ll be able to learn from my lessons and be well prepared. If you’re reading this, you’re already thinking ahead and looking for advice and support.

1. Take the initiative and get support

It’s hard to get through medical school alone. At university, your lecturers are also clinicians with demanding schedules. Unlike in sixth form, they won’t be able to attend to all your doubts and needs. You’ll eventually have to learn how to be accountable for your own learning.

One way of doing this is to surround yourself with like-minded people for support and to share experiences with. Hopefully during freshers’ week you’ll have made some connections with students in your year or those in the year above. Don’t be afraid to talk about your issues or doubts with someone you trust – they’re also likely to feel the same as you!

Don’t be afraid to talk about your issues or doubts with someone you trust – they’re also likely to feel the same as you!

2. Find resources

In the same way you’d be sceptical about consulting information from Wikipedia, it’s not all about learning from YouTube.

If you’ve already started looking, you’ll soon realise there are many ‘helpful’ resources available on the web. However, it’s worth becoming familiar with credible and effective materials. Your chosen resources should complement your learning instead of causing more confusion.

Here’s a list of resources that I’d recommend:

Personally, I’d try to avoid overcomplicating materials and reading into concepts too in depth unless necessary.

As a first-year student this is your opportunity to appreciate the breadth of medicine, rather than fixate on a particular principle and failing to cover the rest. I’d offer the same advice to anyone sitting their first knowledge tests at medical school.

3. Figure out your learning style

Each of us learn in different ways. This means that no one methodology of learning is suitable for everyone.

As a visual learner colour associations and diagrammatic images work best for me. Assigning colours for certain concepts or conditions during my note taking helps with my recall and emphasises specific key points to know by heart.

For some, making flash cards seems to be a better way to help aid both revision and learning. Others prefer mind-maps, podcasts and learning from questions, which work just as well.

That said, taking copious amounts of notes during your lectures isn’t always productive or possible. I’d strongly suggest trying to work towards understanding the material, rather than having to later pull together all the pages of back-to-back notes that you've made on your computer or in your notebooks.

4. Finding motivation

I’ve found it difficult to stay disciplined with more online learning taking place and the challenges brought about by COVID. These are unprecedented times and it’s important to remember that you're not alone.

Whenever you’re struggling to find confidence, look to the past for encouragement. Be proud of yourself for having made it into medical school, despite everything that’s happened in the outside world. There may be times when you think you’re not capable of managing the expectations of medical school, but the fact that you’ve made it this far should give you one more reason to believe in yourself – and push you to go even further.

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5. Exploring new interests

At the beginning of the pandemic, I worked with other medical students to create #MoreViralThanTheVirus – a digital, global youth movement combating COVID-19 misinformation through social media and online campaigns. If I hadn’t worked on this alongside other medical students and the World Health Organization (WHO), I wouldn’t have known that global health would be something that I’d be interested in.

This experience has shaped me to become more independent, with opportunities to work on my time management and learn more about myself. Recognising that there's more to studying medicine is just as important as your studying in order to maximise your potential.

Spend time in your first year wisely. One day you’ll look back and be glad you made the most of it.

This page was correct at publication on 17/01/2022. 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.