Life at medical school: finding the right balance

Making the most of your time at medical school

  • Don't be distracted by how well others are doing. Medicine is a competitive subject to study. Your fellow students will be some of the brightest in the country so you may find it's not as easy to stay ahead as it was at school.
  • Try not to worry about how your performance compares with your peers. Instead, focus on doing the best you can. Remember also that a fundamental part of being a good doctor is the ability to work in a team and willingness to reflect on your own practice.
  • Work hard, but don't overdo it. One of the ways to do well is by putting the hours in on your studies. But make sure you're in a position to get the most out of your efforts. Don't work all day every day; if you try to do too much you may burn out, so make sure you get enough sleep. Exercising and eating well will help you concentrate. Both will also help to keep you healthy.
  • Take time out to enjoy yourself. It's important that you find a way to deal with stress that works for you and to develop an effective support system. Taking time to make friends who you can unwind with, or talk to when you're finding things difficult, is important. Having interests outside of your study can also help. In addition, they can help to make your CV stand out in the future.
  • Make sure you know where to find help should you need it. Your medical school wants you to succeed on your course, so it will provide different services to support you. You should familiarise yourself with these services, so you know where to get help if you need it. You should also make sure you register with a GP who is local to your medical school.

Our new guidance, Welcomed and valued, gives advice to medical schools on supporting students with long term health conditions and disabilities.

It makes clear that disabled students can make a unique contribution to patient care and the medical profession.

We've also worked with the Medical Schools Council to create a guide for medical schools on how best to support medical students with mental health conditions.

The guidance aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions and makes clear that students can be affected by a range of conditions - such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and substance misuse. Any of these can affect your studies, but in almost every case will not prevent you from completing your course and continuing a career in medicine.

Reviewing our guidance on supporting disabled medical students

In the 2016-17 academic year, 9% (3,727) of medical students declared a disability to their medical school. You can read a few of their experiences.

We've revised our guidance for medical schools to make sure it gives the best advice for supporting medical students with long term health conditions and disabilities. We will also produce separate guidance for medical students with the Medical Schools Council.

We will publish resources to help implement the guidance over the next few months, including more stories from disabled students and doctors, blogs and a podcast series.

Read more about our health and disability work in our Welcomed and valued guidance.

The first few months of first year is all about exploring how you learn best. Not one learning method suits all, so figure yours out and you will be sure to succeed in medical school.
Saad Khan
Fourth year, intercalating student, at University of Birmingham

Have fun, but know where to draw the line

University is an exciting time and it's important that you balance your study with enjoying yourself. But you must know where to draw the line.

Your studies will suffer if you spend too much time on social activities or have too many late nights. More importantly though, risky behaviour such as heavy drinking or drug use, including legal substances, could seriously affect your health and even your career. Remember: just because something is legal, it doesn't mean it's safe and so-called "legal highs" can be extremely dangerous.

Your behaviour, even as a student, reflects on the medical profession as a whole. Doctors are one of the most trusted professions in the UK and this is a big consideration for us as the professional regulator. We will not register medical graduates who we believe won't be safe to practise medicine or who don't meet our standards for ethical conduct.

What happens if things go wrong?

Everyone makes mistakes and everyone gets ill or finds it hard to cope sometimes. Some issues may be so significant that they are not compatible with you becoming a doctor, but the vast majority can be dealt with.

  • If you're finding it hard to cope for any reason, don't wait to ask for help. The organisations listed on the inside back cover of our downloadable document are useful sources of support, but your medical school also wants you to do well and will have its own systems in place to support and advise anyone who is struggling, for whatever reason.

    They will keep a watchful eye out for any behaviour that could mean your professionalism is in question. They will also have local procedures to deal with any such problems and to support you in getting back on track where possible.
  • Be open and honest about problems. Honesty is one of the fundamental qualities of medical professionalism, so lying about a problem will actually make it worse than admitting it and finding a way to deal with it.

    When you come to register with us, you will be asked to declare any past fitness to practise issues openly and honestly. We have a duty to look into all issues declared, but that doesn't mean that we won't then allow you to register as a doctor. We will, though, take the situation far more seriously if you have not told us about an issue and we subsequently find out about it.
  • A note on police cautions. Be aware that police cautions have a lasting legal status. You should not accept a caution from the police without taking legal advice.

    If you have received a caution or conviction before or during your time as a medical student, you should discuss this with your medical school, unless it is protected. What protected means differs between different countries in the UK - you need to refer to what applies in the country where your medical school is based.

    You will also need to declare cautions or convictions that are not protected when you register with us along with other fitness to practise issues. Find out more about what you should declare when applying for registration.