A Snapshot Of Life In Medical School

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A student learning how to take a patient's blood pressure in Tanzania. You’ve shadowed physicians and done a medical placement to get a better idea of what life is like as a doctor but have you thought about what life is like in medical school? Do you know what to expect as a medical student. If your application is successful you will spend a minimum of 5 years in medical school with a few more years added on depending on the specialty you choose to pursue. Knowing what to expect can help you stay better prepared for the long, hard road ahead.

For those who are about to start your journey at medical school, here is a snapshot of what you can expect from your first day in med school, to the last.

The Class Structure

While most medical schools across the UK follow similar class structures, there are a few differences from one school to another. A typical class structure consists of a combination of lectures, practical application classes, note-taking sessions and problem-based learning modules.

In schools that follow the traditional system-based curriculum, the classes are split up by body system. If you are enrolled in a school that follows this system, you can expect to study the any one system, say the gastrointestinal system, for one month then move on to the cardiovascular system the second month and then the respiratory system the third month.

In a problem based system, students work on a patient case in teams. The case is usually a hypothetical scenario where the signs and ailments suffered by the patients are described. It is up to the team of students to analyse the patient and come up with a proper diagnosis. A mentor often guides the students through this process.

First Year of Med School

The first year of medical school typically focuses on the theoretical aspect of medicine. This means that you will have a lot to memorise. Although the exact courses of the schools may vary, most schools will include almost all of the following subjects in your first year:

  • Gross Anatomy

This subject has two parts to it, the lecture sessions and the lab sessions. It is one of the toughest and most important classes of medical school. Here, you will have to study the body in depth. A lot of schools have this class every day while some have it on alternate days. The lectures can be for a few months or even up to a year. The lab sessions are usually longer than the lectures.

  • Histology 

Histology focuses on studying the cells present in the human body. It consists of studying slides of the different cells under a microscope. As with gross anatomy, there are lecture and lab components for histology too.

  • Biochemistry

Biochemistry involves learning about the different reactions and cycles in the body such as the glycolysis cycle. It is a theoretical subject and consists more of lectures with minimum lab work.

  • Pathology

This course also consists of a combination of lectures and lab work. In pathology class, you will study histology slides of various diseases such as a heart attack or renal failure and identify the problem in that particular organ through inspection.

In addition to these subjects, you will also have Objective Structured Clinical Exams (OSCEs) where you will have to study a hypothetical patient and conduct a complete examination of the patient in a specified time. You may also have certain medical ethics courses included along with these other subjects.

Gap Medics student conducting a post-delivery health check with her mentor Second Year of Med School

The second year of medical school takes your learning out of the textbook and focuses on the practical application of what you’ve learned during the first year. During the second year you will get your first taste of what it feels like to actually practice medicine and not just be a medical student. Some of the diseases that you will learn about this year usually include congestive heart failure, heart attacks or myocardial infarction, deep vein thrombosis, blood clots in lungs and/or rheumatoid arthritis.

 

Third Year of Med School

This is when you will finally start your clinical rotations. Third year students become a part of a team that consists of an intern, a resident and an attending. As a third year med student you have to keep in mind you will be at the bottom of the ladder so you should be prepared to do your best at this stage and get noticed by the seniors. While some doctors are genuinely keen on teaching the students and encourage questions and interaction, others may prefer that you learn by ‘being seen and not heard’.

Once you start your rotations, you will be placed in different specialties. This will give you the opportunity to explore a variety of specialties from OB/GYN and internal medicine to paediatrics and cardiology. It is very important to make the most of these rotations as they will help you choose your future career path and decide what kind of doctor you want to be.

Fourth & Fifth Years of Med School

The fourth and fifth years of med school are more intensive versions of the third year except that they are more specialised. During these two years you will get to explore the different specialties a bit more, which will help you decide what field you want to specialise in. You will have to select your subjects accordingly. For example, if you have internal medicine on your shortlist of choices, you can choose to do a rotation in rheumatology, cardiology or gastroenterology.

As you enter medical school, be prepared for nothing less than a rollercoaster ride with endless hours of studying, countless projects and numerous sleepless nights. But as you reach the end of your journey and get your license to practice, the self satisfaction you get when you know that you helped save a life will have made it all worthwhile. 

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