Practical tips for life at medical school

Finding the right balance

University is an exciting time and it's important that you balance your study with enjoying yourself and taking time out.

Here are five tips to help you find a healthy balance between life and study.

  1. Build a routine - being organised with your time means you can fit in your university work alongside socialising, hobbies and general life admin.
  2. Make friends - getting to know your fellow students, on and away from your course, will help you to settle in.
  3. Look after yourself - your health and wellbeing are really important, so make time to rest and relax.
  4. Reach out if you need extra help - if you're struggling, don't be afraid to ask for support or advice.
  5. Know your limits - anything in excess, from too much partying, to too much studying, can offset your healthy balance.

Don't just take it from us. Here's some advice from current medical students

Find what works for you

I remember feeling like a rabbit in the headlights at the start of medical school. At secondary school, I was spoon-fed; I was told exactly what to study to pass my exams. At medical school the onus is on you to learn, though there are study guides. Don't waste time worrying about what other people are doing - find out what works for you! If your friend doesn't like a particular textbook, it may be the one that suits you. Late night cramming isn't for everyone; some prefer to pace themselves throughout the year. Focus on yourself.

Lorraine Spotten, 5th year, Queen’s University Belfast

There will always be someone who can help

Medical school will be some of the best years of your life. The whole time is packed full - studying, placements, exams, meeting new people and having a lot of fun! But there are times when it can all get a bit too much. I don't know anyone who hasn't struggled at some point, so if you do, you're certainly not alone. My advice is to speak to friends also studying medicine - they've probably felt the same. And seek out your university's pastoral support unit. Mine were brilliant when I needed them. It's all confidential, easy to access and run by doctors so they totally understood my problems. If you're struggling, speak to your medical school early. They will want to help, I promise!

Lydia Kay, 5th year, Leicester Medical School

Let yourself switch off

Don't let your studies take over your life! Make sure you spend some time doing something you enjoy. I find that I feel more refreshed and ready to learn when I've had time to 'switch off' from my studies. Balancing work with enough downtime will help you feel more calm and positive, and you'll be able to focus and learn more effectively. Take guilt-free breaks, get away from anything medicine-related, and have some fun.

Aysha Ahmed, 2nd year, Leicester Medical School

Learn how you learn best

At medical school you may find that you're left to learn a large amount of content all by yourself, which can seem daunting at first. It's important to use the first few weeks to find your most effective method of learning. Explore different kinds of note taking, techniques of summarising content and identify good, reliable sources of information relevant to your curriculum. Once you've developed your ideal method, you'll find the same workload which seemed nearly impossible to keep up with at first is now much more manageable!

Shafeer Rishad, 4th year, University of Glasgow

Focus on you

Make sure you enjoy your time in medical school. Don't get caught up by what others are doing around you. There is a tendency to build up this fear of missing out on what others are up to; whether academically or socially. Go and find out for yourself what you want to do and keep doing what you enjoy and love. Do things at your pace. You'll find you will make more like-minded connections and you'll be surprised by the opportunities that arise. Remember - in 5 years' time, you will be graduating as a doctor!

Shamus Butt, 5th year, University of Bristol Medical School

Know where to go for support

Medical school is... hard. It's a truth that every single medical student will bear testament to, regardless of how intelligent they may be. You'll learn all about anatomy and physiology, but the most important lesson to learn is to not be too hard on yourself. We all need support at some point during medical school including the boisterous, the shy and the studious student. Friends and family can provide you with amazing moral support. So can your lecturer, clinical supervisor and pastoral care team. However, help won't reach you until you recognise that you need to help yourself and ask for it!

Wassim Merzougui, FY1, former Southampton Medical School

The importance of getting it wrong

I remember my first lecture at medical school. After the standard introduction to the course contents, an X-Ray appeared on the screen. 'It's the hips', I whispered confidently to my neighbour. Wrong. It was, in fact, the larynx. I felt like a fool.

The five years following that lecture have been a series of similar blunders. From stumbling at questions fired by consultants on a ward round, to getting completely muddled in biochemistry supervisions, I am now a professional error-maker. Ultimately, this is how I've grown as a medic: learning from my mistakes! Getting things wrong allows you to ask questions to clarify your understanding - so don't be afraid of not knowing the answer.

Alice Rogers, 6th year, Cambridge University

Find your routine

Naturally, it is important to work hard but this does not mean you have to burn yourself out. Make sure you allocate a certain number of hours of your day towards your studies but also factor in some time for yourself. Physically drawing up a calendar, keeping a weekly diary or to-do list can help with this. There is a lot to cover at medical school but use your first year to find out how and when you work best so you develop a routine that works for you. This can help make the workload much more manageable.

Sara Beqiri, 4th year, UCL

Healthcare professional first, student second?

At university you will meet many new people and have great experiences. Whilst it's important to make the most of these, you must remember you now represent yourself, your medical school and the NHS. Patients and service users may well find you on social media, so it's best to make sure your accounts are all on 'private' and think twice before you post or share anything. Similarly, if you do let your hair down on nights out, make sure you remain respectful of others - you may be talking to one of your future patients!

Laith Evans, 4th year, Norwich Medical School

Being a medical student is a marathon and not a sprint

I've thoroughly enjoyed my time being a medical student so far. Looking back, starting medical school was a very exciting time: freshers' week, meeting new people and exploring new environments. However, if I had the ability to go back in time and give myself one piece of advice, it would be to slow down and look after myself more.

Medicine is tough. There is a lot to learn and a lot to do and you won't make it far if you don't take care of yourself. Create a schedule, get enough sleep, eat well and most importantly have fun!

Dylan McClurg, 4th year, University of Aberdeen