NUMAN ∙ 3 minutes read

5 surprising facts I learned at medical school

By Dr Parisah Hussain

Nerd. No life. Antisocial. Pretentious. Fatigue. Burnout. Stressful. Overworked. These are the words that commonly spring to mind after hearing 'medical student'. 

But is this always the case for medical students? 

Was this the case for me? 

Let’s look at the 5 surprising facts I learned at medical school. 

1. There is more to life than just studying all the time and passing exams 

During my time at Leicester Medical School, I eventually realised that there is so much more I can achieve than just studying all the time. The students who I surrounded myself with, especially in 2nd year, opened my eyes and told me that it’s possible to work hard and play hard. It’s incredibly important to have regular breaks to focus on yourself and your personal growth. Make plenty of time for your hobbies and social activities. I made sure that I'd graduate and leave medical school knowing that I have participated in lots of university societies (sports, fashion shows, culture, religion), support my friends and go on as many food motives as possible.  

2. You’re not the only one suffering from imposter syndrome 

Imposter syndrome is an internal experience or a belief that you are not as competent as other people perceive you to be. Medical students are known to suffer from imposter syndrome. I realised this by having open conversations and discussing my issues with my coursemates. We feel like we have nothing to offer. We want to be perfect. If we want to achieve perfectionism, then we believe we have failed. This is a long term battle which we all have to deal with. The only way for us to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like an imposter. 

I’m still working on it myself. But here are a few tips I use if you feel the same way:

  • Break the silence. Tell someone how you’re feeling. Knowing that you're not alone in the process can be freeing. 
  • Make sure you recognise when you feel like a fraud. 
  • When you make a mistake or experience failure, develop a healthy response to it. 
  • When you have achieved something, learn to pat yourself on the back. You need to regularly reward yourself. 

3. You learn anatomy by doing a full human body dissection

In my very first month at medical school, the best way I learned anatomy was through full human body dissection, which is also known as cadaveric dissection. There were 8 students per cadaver. Not that many UK medical schools offer this amazing learning opportunity anymore. It was great to learn all of the different systems in the body, from head to toe. Cadaveric dissection is also good for students who aspire to become surgeons. Students also have the chance to test their surgical skills in competing for anatomical dissecting prizes. 

4. There is a huge scope for research in medicine

To get through medical school, you have to pass written and practical exams at the end of every year. However, there are other opportunities for medical students to broaden their horizons along the way. During your pre-clinical and clinical years, I got involved in research such as audits and quality improvement projects, some of which ended up being published in high impact medical journals and were presented at national and international conferences. You have the opportunity to present your work in different cities and countries and your medical school will pay all of the costs for you. Not only that, if your poster presentation or oral presentation is top-notch, you may be awarded prizes. Also, you have the option to take a year out and study for an additional degree (bachelors or masters) at the same institution or at a different one. I took a year out between my 3rd and 4th year of medical school and did a bachelor's degree in Healthcare Management at Imperial College Business School. It was one of my favourite years at medical school. 

5. You’ll never forget the patients you have met

From the beginning of the 3rd year until the end of the degree, teaching is designed around hospital placements. I rotated around different wards and different specialities, meeting patients from all walks of life. You pick up so much clinical knowledge when working on the wards and speaking to patients. When you speak to any patient that you made time for, you’ll never forget their faces. Deep down, they also appreciate you making the time for them. It can be very lonely for patients throughout their hospital stay whilst all of the healthcare professionals are busy working as a team to optimise patient care. Sometimes, when your head is dug in the books and you’re studying to pass the written exams, you can miss out on the actual outlook of what you’re going to become: a doctor looking after patients. There will always be some patients who you'll never forget during your career, and you'll share your experiences with others. Patients may not remember your face, but they'll definitely remember how they felt. 

The bottom line

If you’re interested in applying to medical school, you need to have a passion for it. Don’t be too afraid when you hear all of the horrible stories spoken by some medical students or junior doctors. You get that within every field of work, no matter what career path you choose. Studying medicine and working as a doctor is a rewarding career. It's competitive and 6 years of studying is a marathon - patience is key. 

Go with your heart. You’ve got this!

Dr Parisah Hussain

MBChB, BSc (Hons)

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