The musings of a fourth year English medical student

Friday, 26 December 2014

Thought of the day


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Can we embrace real bodies?

Positive body image is not something that I've been very good at throughout my life.

Very recently, I've been looking at two major art sources: The National Gallery, London, and Tumblr.
Whether you personally consider Tumblr art is up to you, but it is to me. 

Tumblr does get a bit of a bad rap for triggering eating disorders, as it is flooded with images of skinny models. I have a private Tumblr account where I follow a mixture of architecture and 'fitspo' blogs. Fitspo is designed with the intention to encourage a healthy lifestyle through images of nutritious food, exercise equipment and examples of very athletic men and women. But needless to say, fitspo is airbrushed. I feel that Tumblr fitspo promotes, perhaps unnecessarily, unrealistic ideals of the human body. Yes, the models are leading healthy and active lifestyles, but to me, the required fitness regimes and restrictive diets sound too exhausting to be fun and worthwhile. I don't care about 5% body fat percentages; what's wrong with a bit to hold on to if you're exercising regularly and eating right? What I'm getting at is although these bodies are mega-healthy, they don't look real to me. Promoting these über healthy ideals with very little scope and variation makes me feel like we're still missing the point.

However, when I was in the National Gallery the other day, I was absolutely in awe of the naked female bodies painted. The particular paintings I was awing at were paintings of goddesses, the very ideals of women - and bloody hell, they were so different to what you would see on Tumblr. Granted, they were painted by white artists, so naturally all the women were absolutely pasty in complexion. These women didn't have chiselled cheekbones or felt the need to pout to accentuate their beautiful mouths. They weren't sat there poised with a sucked in stomach and brilliant posture; they had proper bulging tummies, and they didn't give a damn that they were on show. Their breasts weren't ginormous, symmetrical and perky - they were real. They looked like real English women. No fake tan, no hair dye. And most importantly, they just looked as if they were entirely comfortable and unashamed in their bodies, even if a Tumblr model today would scoff at their 'flaws'. I found that so incredibly sexy. To have total confidence and ownership of your body for precisely how it is, seemed so much more provocative, than a woman who's probably been at a make-up artist's chair for hours, spent years training in the gym.

I wish there were more bodies like that, publicly celebrated in our media. It's not about one ideal, but loving you for you. 

Which one is more attractive to you?

Kate 

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Personal reflections

Since returning back to the South West for Christmas, it has been an utter whirlwind. A few hours after getting off the train - Birmingham New St Station was a nightmare - I went to meet my 30 closest school friends from my old secondary school. I was already exhausted and hungover but the experience was awfully overwhelming, and I kept wanting to cry. I asked to leave early because I couldn't really handle it. So many emotions were going through  my mind at that point in time: already missing my university friends and boyfriend, wanting to get back to the house to see my family, and feeling awfully guilty for not making enough effort to stay in contact with my school friends. 

On my and my mum's birthday, the 21st, I had a lovely relaxing day at home, including a walk to a lovely restaurant in a village in the valley. I then spent the day in London with my sister and granny n the 22nd; we had ice cream sundaes at Fortnum and Mason after a day's shopping in Covent Garden and Regent's Street. On the 23rd I relaxed at home and then popped out to see a friend at a newly opened bistro place in my town. It was wonderful to see her, but also rather guilt-inducing. You see, my experience of university has been perfect. I settled in straight away, loved my course since day one, made a tonne of new friends and barely missed home life. However, it certainly hasn't been the same for all my other mates, unfortunately. Many of my friends did question the course, the location, had personal life issues to juggle at the same time, and couldn't find friends to live with for 2nd year. I just assumed that because I wasn't hearing bad news, that meant that there wasn't any to share. But because I was having so much fun at medical school and not maintaining my school friendships, I wasn't there to support my friends when they really needed me. I would have described myself as the agony aunt of my friendship group at college, and I really enjoyed being there for my mates through those tough times. 

One of the main reasons I felt so guilty for this was because recently I realised that my life is perfect. I can hand on heart say that there is nothing I would change. I have a wonderful family, friends at uni and at home, lovely boyfriend, loving the course I am on, and have finally accepted myself as an individual. And it was embarrassing to realise that naïvety in thinking that everyone else felt the same way. Not many people can be that confident and assured in their lives, and as a good friend I should have checked and helped them where I could. Now I am trying to ensure that I do just that.

Later that day, I had a dinner party to celebrate my 19th birthday with my friends from back home. I felt truly spoilt, as this was the second dinner party I had had to celebrate my birthday, having already had one with my uni friends before I came home. I was showered with presents that I didn't feel I deserved, having not seen these lovely people in 13 weeks!

I can already see this Xmas holiday slipping through my fingers, but I want to make the most of every minute.

In brief: make time for your friends and family. Don't get caught up in all the small stuff and forget how important the maintenance of those friendships are. To me, friends and family are the same thing: you should be obliged to love and support both of them equally. 


 Dinner with university friends, 19th December 2014
Christmas day with my family, 2014

Afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason's with Lucy, 22nd December 2014

My 19th and my Mum's 48th, 21st December 2014

Dinner with friends from back home, 23rd December 2014



Merry Christmas


Kate 

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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

First term: Reflections

I cannot believe I have been at university for 12 weeks! It feels like I've blinked and suddenly everyone has donned their Xmas jumpers and 2014 is drawing to a close.

It's been a fantastic term. Since arriving at uni, I've met the most wonderful friends, done an awful lot of partying and really enjoyed the course. But I've also gone about many things the wrong way, and looking back I now have certain resolutions to help get myself on track. It makes sense to reflect on the term, given the strong emphasis on reflection during our clinical placements and as practising doctors.

First of all, finances. Fortunately I had a generous budget, however, I have not been wise with my money. I often bought little bits and bobs without even looking at the price and just putting on my card. Once you start looking around, there are loads of deals on offer for students, but you need to engage your brain and make active decisions to cut costs. Little things, like planning to do your food shop in the evenings when you'll find all the reduced items, and buying coffee from the SU instead of Starbucks all make a difference. My mum always says "Look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves." Perhaps if I'd followed her advice I would now have a bit more money for nights out and Christmas shopping.

Then there was the washing machines. In my halls, they are awful and temperamental. You also can't wash clothes on the weekends because you won't find a free machine. Don't bother trying to use 10ps.  The first 4-5 times I did my washing I didn't read the instructions properly and so the machine would eat my money, such a waste. I now always stick to the same machine. Tumble drying is always worth paying for given my room is so cold so the clothes never dry anyway.

I have 90%+ of my lectures in the same lecture theatre, which is freezing. Now I always layer up for lectures.

People. Some people are introverts, others extroverts. It's hard to understand why some people don't want to go out loads like you do (or for others vice versa). In addition, people need their own space. Every flat has had its own tensions, and I'm relieved to say we haven't had any major tiffs or tantrums. But sometimes when you get the negative vibe from a flat mate, you just have to leave them to it, not necessarily ask them what it's about, just let them get on with it and hopefully they'll chirp up the next day.

Lastly, education and the work-life balance. I have certainly not mastered this balance yet, and have placed way too much emphasis on the 'life' side. I had an online musculo-skeletal test today and I didn't even bother checking my score because I knew I hadn't done enough revision to do well. I think from now on I will try to treat uni as if it was a school day: work should be done from 9-4 with a one hour lunch break, 1-2 hours in the evening but that's it. Also, I cannot stress how organised you need to be at medical school. There are so many deadlines, socials, managerial tasks to carry out etc etc that you have to be on the ball. Particularly for my medical school which has some focus on self-directed learning, so each lecture needs to be allocated a good 3 hours of revision and note consolidating.

Now I've got one more week of uni, in which I have to have a couple of Ebola research project meetings and I will be beginning the cardiovascular block. My only motivation now is that on the last night here we are going to celebrate my birthday at a restaurant and then go to cocktail bar afterwards. Cannot wait!

Kate

Puissiez-vous avoir le meilleur de Noël cette année et une nouvelle année très heureuse. 
Que tous vos rêves se réalisent.

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Thursday, 4 December 2014

Photos of Winter at uni



A standard night out in my city means always encountering some pretty swaggy horses

Dinner with the family

My Dad and I

Wasting my loan on Starbucks




Kate 

Meilleurs vœux

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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Stress and Festivities

I'm starting to realise that what makes medical school hard isn't actually the content that you are expected to learn, but the sheer volume of it, in conjunction with a million other medical and non-medical commitments.

One issue is the timetable. For my medical school the timetable is different every week; it isn't just the order, but new themes and lecture types are constantly being added. We also have our own personal research projects which I am the group leader for, meaning I am responsible for organising our meetings.

In brief: currently feeling like I am drowning in work, and I'm being a grumpy cow about it. The new learning style is still testing me, and I'm still trying to get my head around it. At school/sixth form, I always learnt by being taught something in a class room setting and then asking questions constantly until I felt I had no more queries. Studying at uni definitely feels more like stabbing in the dark, and you have to have faith in your own comprehension, because there isn't really anyone who is going to check or that you can ask to clarify your problem areas. Instead you have to think laterally: spend ages trawling through various textbooks until you find a decent answer. Failing that, anything comprehensible from Wikipedia (bad, I know).

We are currently trying to sort out next year's accommodation, but it is not going smoothly. Finding properties for a group of eight that suits everyone's needs isn't easy. And now the worries of sorting our my research project and my accommodation before going home this month for Christmas has sort of killed any December-buzz that I should have. I love December. This is my all-time favourite part of the year, and now I feel like I have my head so absorbed in things that I'm not taking time to look at what's around me: the Christmas lights in the city, festive coffee drinks, Christmas markets, enjoying layering up for the wintery days, ice skating and singing Christmas carols in the shower. What's the point of living if you don't relish the sentimentality of those sort of things, really. I don't want to be too busy to not see the wonder.

You know when one thing gets you down, and then all the tiny, minuscule things then manage to set you off spontaneously, purely because you're already in a foul mood? Yup, that's me right now. Catered food is shit. Don't get me wrong, the portions are huge and there's plenty of options. It's just boring and very unhealthy. You don't want to wait for the over-boiled vegetables to be restocked after you've already queued for 30 minutes (at worst).  My low will power makes it impossible to resist the pre-made cakes, too. But because the catering is half board, and my kitchen doesn't have a cooker/hob or freezer, it means buying rather expensive lunches. I cannot tell you how sick I am of the bloody Tesco £3 Meal Deal.

Don't get me wrong, these are GOOD problems to have. To be woman who is allowed to study at higher education and has financial stability and everything going for her, it seems ridiculous to be complaining about food quality and busy schedules. I'm taking the night off to recharge and contextualise all these qualms. But what I really wanted to get across in this blogpost is that there are shitty days. It's a lot to handle, but I wouldn't change it. This is where I want to be, what I am most passionate about. Just need to remind myself of that from time to time.

Kate

"Je ne te dis pas que ce sera facile,
Je te dis que ça vaudra la peine"

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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Should've Known Better

Recently I've felt that my blog sounds too formal in my writing style; I would rather use this blog as a public journal, than an über polished and sterile collection of anecdotes. So here goes.

Last week was not a good week, purely because I was really ill. Without sounding like I'm over exaggerating, it was probably the most ill I've felt in my life. I took 3 days off uni and even then the 2 days I did go in felt like a real struggle. I spent 90% of the time sleeping. I had a combination of sore throat, cough, blocked nose, migraines and feeling nauseous all the time. Due to feeling ill, I've also not been drinking, which I think was well needed. My body's tolerance seemed to be getting worse and worse instead of strengthening as time goes by. My hangovers have slowly started getting worse, I get drunk quicker and feel sick quicker, too. 

A week later, and I'm not 100% back to normal, but still functioning. Unfortunately I missed a lot of lectures that I now have a test on tomorrow, and I still haven't gone over the slides or gone through my textbooks. I keep telling myself I will stop procrastinating and improve my organisational skills, but it hasn't happened yet. The bombardment of uni emails and changes make it all feel very overwhelming to me. It's very easy to forget that something is due in; no one is going to prod you and remind you about your own deadlines. Being organised is crucial. I would consider myself an organised person and I'm still really struggling to keep on top of it all! 

I'm now desperately procrastinating by writing this blogpost.

In other news, I'm now on a health and fitness kick. When I went to the nurse recently my weight was measured, and I've put on 4 kilos since coming to uni. It makes me feel sad and a bit embarrassed that I'm a wannabe doctor and yet I have taken appalling care of my own body. I am still a 'healthy' BMI, however I know I haven't been exercising enough, drinking far too much, smoking too much and eating mindlessly and unhealthily. And I feel crap for it. I'm certainly not the most unhealthy medical student, I've seen my mates do a lot worse, but that is no justification.

If there's one thing I've now learnt, it's that all the bits and bobs that people warn you about uni are totally true and you shouldn't take them lightly. I don't take many things very seriously, so all the things I was forewarned about I brushed off and quickly forgot about. How naïve of me. Now I feel I definitely need to reiterate what I have already been told to you, if you're about to go to uni:
- You will be sick at uni. Be sensible with your drinking because no one else is guaranteed  to look after you 
- Spend money wisely. Keep track of your expenditure so you don't mindlessly buy things that are expensive or a waste of money 
- You will put on weight at uni, particularly if you're catered like me
- You will get very ill at some point; you will feel like you're dying.

In terms of living at uni, I do love the new lifestyle. I really like the city I live in, even though I have to get a 20-30 minute bus into the centre every day. I have been at uni for 8 weeks and haven't gone home yet. My family are visiting me next weekend which will be nice. I don't intend on going home until the Xmas holidays because I feel it would be too stressful and emotional to make such a flying visit. It would take just under 4 hours on the train which is enough to put me off anyway. I have had some feelings of homsickness from time to time, particularly when I was ill. Now it feels as if home is my old life and being at uni is my new one. Going back home seems surreal, like going back in time. 

The medical course is going well and we have just finished a fortnight of endocrinology, which I find really interesting. Learning the pathways is tedious but I am still really enjoying the course. Today we learnt venepuncture for measuring blood glucose, using a prosthetic arm, which was great fun. Later on we had a communication session where we did a role play with an actress who came in to be the patient in said role play. I absolutely loved it! One of the things that I find best about medicine is getting to use scientific knowledge in a way that is very sociable and practical. Chatting to the patient made it all feel very real and like there was a purpose to all the science lectures we have. I was surprised how many of the students were dead nervous about performing in front of their peers as well as being recorded. I think it just highlights how self-deprecating some medical students can be, as well as the tendency to set ridiculously high standards for oneself. 

I'll post again in a weeks time with more ramblings.
Kate 

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Monday, 3 November 2014

Little Update

Since starting medical school I feel that all my posts have been very positive, and whilst I am certainly loving university life, I think this is not showing a totally accurate representation of my time here. It isn't always great, and recently a couple of bits and bobs have started to grate on me which I wanted to share.

Today was a rather bleak day. I stupidly decided to stay up till 3am despite having a 9am lecture today. Later on I also had to present five Case Based Learning scenarios in a group meeting. The CBL cases were incredibly difficult because the content that was relevant to the question was impossible to find. Many of the questions asked us about topics we had never studied before, our recommended textbooks were useless, as was Google. For many of the questions we could find a shred of info on Google but we had no idea whether to write it down - how could we know it was accurate? In some questions the textbooks would contradict each other as well, which didn't help. Unfortunately the facilitator asked me to answer the one question that I hadn't completed. I really felt victimised and embarrassed by the way he spoke to me in front of 30 of my peers. And once I'd given up trying, he then admitted that nobody really knows fully how mitochondrial DNA is replicated and that it is till being researched. I also felt it was unfair that many of us were criticised for giving brief answers despite the fact that the content had never been taught to us and was nowhere to be sourced. We have an evaluative meeting on Friday about the CBL session, and I will certainly have a lot to say.

In addition, I have an end of topic test on Wednesday, which until now I was worried about. Then tonight, I tried to find the lecture power points on our online resource webpage, but they have all been deleted. After much stress, I've decided not to worry about it, because everyone else will be in the same boat. The test does not count, however it is frustrating that we can't properly revise and prepare ourselves.

One thing that people told me about Freshers was weight gain. I never really thought it would happen to me, but unfortunately it has. The combination of drinking too much, late night takeaways and very unhealthy canteen food has had undesirable effects. I've now got a uni gym membership so hopefully I can undo all my sins. I would highly recommend that you pick up a uni sport or join a gym, because otherwise the motivation to be healthy will be at an all time low. When you're stressed, tired and hungover, little else will make you want to exercise. I'm too scared to weigh myself. Being in a relationship with someone who is gym mad also doesn't make me feel much better when my physique is considerably flabbier. I am not overweight, but I certainly need to be healthier.
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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Start of Med school: party, work, then party more

I have just began my fourth week of lectures at Medical School and I am absolutely loving it. This post is going to be centred on what I am learning, teaching style, and the work life balance during first year.  


The Medical School has divided learning into separate categories, those being:
- Scientific knowledge
- Practical skills training for clinical practice
- Communication skills for clinical practice
- Research
- Anatomy interactive sessions

N.B I have changed the names of the actual categories for the sake of the anonymity of my medical school

Scientific knowledge - this is the biochemistry and proper hardcore scientific knowledge that we need. This category is further broken down into 'blocks' throughout our first year. Scientific knowledge has began with a six week introductory block which has involved going over most of the A2 biology and chemistry I studied with a few extra facts sprinkled in, so it hasn't been too taxing. We usually have a lecture on this every day. After this block we are having a test and then moving onto endocrinology, which I am really excited to learn about.

Practical skills training for clinical practice - we have these every couple of weeks and we are put into smaller groups of around 20. Here we are expected to dress professionally: bare below the elbow,  no cleavage, dark colours, shoes that give adequate foot coverage to prevent needle stick injury. So far we have only had one proper session where we learnt how to clean our hands properly and how to approach patients whilst preventing injury and spread of disease which was really good fun. The facilitator, a nurse, made the session really enjoyable. Later we will learn venepuncture, elements of cardiovascular examination and even the dreaded rectal examination. 

Communication skills for clinical practice - Again, these sessions are every couple of weeks. Actors come into the medical school and we are filmed carrying out pretend histories and then we evaluate our own communication skills. This is a very important part of the course at my particular university and failing this section means that a student has to retake the whole year. We had our first intro session on this yesterday and it was brilliant fun. The aspect of communication development really interests me, as well as the practical side of medicine. Talking to patients, understanding their social scenario and the challenge of gaining their trust is what I am most passionate about medicine.

Research - I don't know too much what our research sessions entail but they are on a weekly basis. Our first project which we are starting very soon is a systematic review of an aspect of medicine that interests us. We have selected which topics interest us most and now we will get put into a ballot and see what we get. I've picked topics including Ebola, palliative care and obesity. We then get given a question and we have to research using various databases like PubMed for experiments that are related in order to carry out our systematic review. I've got to be honest, I'm not looking forward to this. I am sure it will give me much more insight to a particular aspect of medicine which will be very interesting, but equally I am more concerned with learning the science and practising my clinical skills than reading dozens of trials and collating data.

Anatomy interactive sessions - this is one of my favourite sessions. We have these every fortnight. In our first session we got to see a full cadaver and it was brilliant. In these sessions we get to view a mixture of prosections (preserved parts or entire organs and other parts of the body) and models. We are set work to complete during the session and hand it in at the end. 

Okay, so now onto what medical school has felt like so far. In all honesty, I do not feel at all overworked. I have spoken to friends at other medical schools and many complain about the vast amount of work to do. My medical school is not PBL, however we do have a lot of free time to revise and explore the content discussed in our 40 minute lectures. So far I haven't had any homeworks or deadlines in particular. The end of topic test that I have in a couple of weeks time worries me slightly just because it is not clear if it will be simple test of how much do you know or whether it is going to be applied in a particular way. Nevertheless, it is only a test to see how we are doing and is not going to count towards anything. 

The medical school's student's society does a great job of providing plenty of socials, both academic and recreational. Tonight I am attending an abdomen anatomy lecture done by a surgeon at one of our larger hospitals. There are so many medics' sports teams, performing arts, and lots of medical clubbing nights every week. 


Right now, I would say there is a lot more playing hard than working hard. Whether that's bad or not I really don't know. From one point of view I feel disappointed that I'm not keeping one step ahead of everyone else. However, I have been evaluating recently that a lot more of my happiness is derived from socialising and meeting new people. Yes, I could work my arse off and get into the top 10% of the year, but does that really mean anything to me? A piece of paper or a number percentage can't really make you happy, or at least I personally don't get that much happiness from having good results. Don't get me wrong, I work hard and I love what I study. When I did very well in my GCSEs, A levels, my musical achievements and certificates, they really don't mean anything to me. They were important to get me where I am now, but having a piece of paper really doesn't faze me.

One thing that has really surprised me is my physical stamina. I've had Freshers' Flu and haven't gone to bed before 2am since I got to university, and somehow my body is still coping with getting up at 6.30am and starting lectures at 9am every day. I have had to do a lot of napping, but it just amazes me how my body is still managing this. I do worry that I'm going to burn out soon and then get really ill. I keep trying to not go out or have an early night, but when you are in such FANTASTIC company how can you say no to the wonderful socials on offer? I have a great circle of friends and I simply want to spend as much time with them as possible, even though it is going to be to the detriment of my health.

Kate

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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Freshers' Week: My Advice

So I moved up to university on the 20th September, and I feel very settled in. However, first of all, I had to make it through Freshers' Week. I had the best time, met lots of lovely new faces and would thoroughly recommend that you throw yourself in at the deep end, really get into the thick of it.

Over that week, I realised many things and have got some tips for any soon-to-be Freshers.

N.B some of this advice is based on the assumption that you would treat Freshers' Week the way most people do: constant partying, forgotten morals and feeling a bit ill. I'm not advocating that, but the following advice will be useful.

 - Bring plenty of petty change and small notes (fivers and tenners) for club entry and taxis back home (and 4am Maccie's)

 - Bring flip flops - they will be important for communal showers (don't get verrucas off the shower floor) and bathrooms, out of the blue fire alarm drills, and just general lounging around in your flat.

 - On your moving in day, dress in light, loose clothing and wear plenty of deodorant. The amount of walking, lifting, adrenaline and nerves mean perspiration will be involved. I met quite a few freshers that were less than daisy fresh, shall we say.

 - Make sure you shower 1 or more times a day. All the drunken sweating will not be great. In addition, it will help you wake up and press on through your hangover.


 - Make sure you have contraception sorted before you get there. The pill does not protect you from STIs. Yes, you can get free condoms at Freshers' Fair but this is usually at the very end or mid way through the week.

 - Don't trash your flat or do drugs in it. You might think it's funny at the time but the university or landlord can charge you a fortune for it. Medical students can be thrown off the course for being caught smoking cannabis, or anything more severe.

 - Don't buy every freshers' social wristband/ticket on offer. Most people go to the student union events. Try to gage which ticket/wristband is the most popular, not the one where the promoters are constantly harassing you and spamming your Facebook.

 - If a freshers' event claims to be "The best night of your life", it most certainly won't.

 - Keeping busy is the most important thing and will stop you from feeling homesick. The ones on my floor that cried did spend a lot of time by themselves. If you go out a lot and join in on as much as possible you will have much more fun and will be far too busy to feel sad or teary. Try to be out of your room as much as possible.

 - Bring doorstops. You can purchase cheap ones for less than a pound online. Bring several to lend to your mates. Having your door open makes you seem much more approachable and sociable, and the doors in halls are always heavy fire doors, so a doorstep is necessary.

 - Keep a full water bottle in your flat and your bags at all times. You're going to be dehydrated.

 - The best way to make friends is to keep a smile permanently pasted on your face. You will look much more approachable and make friends easily.

 - Try to get some exercise. Even though your head may be hurting, stomach aching, you feel exhausted from sleep deprivation, a light jog or walk will really help clear your head and make you feel marginally better.


 - Don't just hang out with the same people, or people who are at your university that came from your old school. Uni is all about meeting people from all walks of life, and you want to have a good bond with the people you are sharing a flat with in your first year.

 - If you get a reading list upon arrival at uni, go STRAIGHT to the library and get said books. Don't waste any time in getting them, otherwise all the best ones will go.
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Monday, 15 September 2014

Pre-Freshers Feelings

Okay, so I've got four days until I head off to Medical School. Up until this point, I had no apprehensions about starting university. However, the emotional roller coaster that some of friends appear to be on is starting to rub off on me. A handful of my friends, some of whom I've known for a good seven years, have already left for uni. There were many tears, any compliment or cuddle would cause a chain reaction of sobs all round, except me. I thought I was made of stone! Now, it's finally sunk in that I am going to university.

I always tend to find that in any even I'm faced with, I never get nervous until just before it's about to happen. Whether it's a musical I'm in, an A level exam or a piano recital; it doesn't faze me until 30 seconds before it's about to happen.

At first, it just felt like a physical reaction to the idea of uni; I just felt anxious and scared but I wasn't sure why or what about specifically.

Now, I realise the only part of moving away that I am truly worried about is friendship. For the last seven years I have been phenomenally blessed in having the most wonderful group of friends anyone could ask for. It is a group of possibly 30-40 people (my college was very large), and they're all bloody brilliant. All equally witty, spontaneous and supportive. I couldn't ask for more from a friend. And with this group, I am forever busy in my social calendar. The thought of not having that safety net of beautiful companions whom I already know understand me and get on brilliantly with is quite daunting. At university, it may be hard to build a group of friends who all are so like-minded and loving.

As an extrovert, I feel like my friendships are invaluable. A day without speaking to a friend feels void. I really hope I make a good bunch of friends on the Medicine course as well as the people I will be sharing a floor with. I thought to myself: How can I maximise my friend-making probabilities? And I concluded that all I need to do I is just stand tall, keep a smile permanently plastered on my face, be open and complimentary, and join in in all social activities.

Academically speaking, I have no qualms. I fully understand that Medical School is going to be the toughest academic experience I have yet to experience, I'm not underestimating that at all. But personally, I feel that because this is my greatest passion and I am so utterly convinced this is the vocation for me, my enthusiasm to practice medicine will carry me through. I am naturally very organised and I wouldn't be accepted into the Medical School if the university didn't have hope in me.

I'm fine with the new found independence aspect, too. I am in catered accommodation anyways, and so it's a very secure and sociable way of living. Although  I have to catch a bus to get to my university, this does not worry me as hundreds of students in the student village will be doing the exact same thing.


I'll let you know how I get on.


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Monday, 8 September 2014

I got into Medical School!

So, results day came and went, and what a turbulent yet exhaustingly exciting few weeks it's been!


Come results day, I didn't have a place at Medical School. I got the following results:

A - Biology
A - French (5 UMS off an A*)
A - General Studies
B - Chemistry

My firm choice, UCL Medical School, had rejected me two days prior to the actual results day according to UCAS. My insurance Medical School had also rejected me.

I rang up both Medical Schools, pleading to let me in, but the kind staff I spoke to told me that the decision was final. I honestly wasn't particularly disappointed on the day; I knew my F324 OCR chemistry exam went horrendously badly, which showed in my modular result. I didn't feel that bad simply because I knew this wasn't the end of the road. Somehow, someday, I will become a doctor, I told myself. I just don't know by what means it will require to get that. I think this is something incredibly important that not just medical applicants should remember, but all students hoping to attend university and be successful in any personal endeavour.
Just because you are not successful the first time around doesn't mean you're a failure by any means. 
For me, it was just one bad day filled with dread and fear that scuppered my chemistry grade. The pressure got to me and I cracked. However, that doesn't mean I can't be successful and become a great doctor. If you want something bad enough and you have the drive and passion, I truly believe you can achieve.

For me, the only thing that mattered was the end result: becoming a doctor. Given that I still knew I could get into Medical School by reapplying, I did not feel disheartened. I kept myself busy that day, met up with friends, and then had the best night of my life clubbing. The particular club I went to was crammed full of all my friends from college, some of whom I admit I probably will never see again now. It was so emotional to see all these people I cared so much, practically all of them getting their 1st choice. I was delighted for them. Being surrounded by these teenagers I loved so much was truly wonderful.

The day after was when it really hit me. I felt numb and didn't want to speak to anyone. UCL had been my dream; this university was in my favourite city in the entire world, I loved the course, and UCL Medical School was ranked 3rd in the Guardian 2014 League Table. It was hard to accept that UCL was not for me, clearly. I rang up my insurance Medical School again, and they told me once again that their decision was final. I then emailed the admissions team and grovelled. I wrote about how much I loved the university, why I chose to apply there, what I liked about the course and how I truly believed medicine was my vocation and I was not going to stop until I got to fulfil my dream. I didn't get a response.

Then, on 18th August I was at my college filling out forms for a French remark and to pay for the BMAT. I had no service and needed the course code for my remark so walked out to the college to find service. I then got a call from a withheld number, and it was the admissions tutor at my insurance Medical School, who gave me an offer right there and then to start in September 2014. Naturally I accepted, whilst trying to stop myself from screaming at her down the phone. After hanging up, my Mum rushed over, I told her the good news and we both burst into tears right in front of the college football academy who were warming up on the field.

It was a wonderful day, and only hours later I got on a plane for a holiday to Barcelona with friends. It was the perfect way to celebrate, and I'm just glad that the admissions tutor rang before I got on the plane!

In forthcoming blogposts I am going to reviewing my experience at Medical School. However, for personal reasons I am not going to state the Medical School I am attending.
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Monday, 7 July 2014

Acting

Today, as my father came home from a day working at his General Practice surgery and gave us a review of his day he mentioned the concept mainly associated with William Osler: imperturbability. When Osler mentioned it, he referred to a permanent regard of tranquillity  of doctors in front of patients and colleagues in spite of whatever stresses the profession of medicine throws at oneself; like a swan that is effortlessly gliding on the water’s surface whilst it ferociously treads water beneath.

I then interjected how being a doctor can often seem like being an actor. Dad then brought up the interesting addition that, for some people, it may not necessarily be acting - those who have the shortest tempers or have the most telling facial expressions are the ones that are required to use their acting skills. I’m sure all doctors, regardless of their personalities, have to do a fair bit of acting at some point in their career, if not daily. Of course, experience will reassure and ease a doctor more and so they may become less flustered than they once were.

Osler made the point that, for a patient, a doctor’s silent communication can affect their confidence enormously. So if a doctor becomes angry or stressed with one patient, and then moves onto the next still carrying that agitated body language and facial expression, even though the second patient may be lovely and their malady not perplexing, patient number two instantly feels uneasy before the doctor has even said a word.

The point my dad made made me consider what does one define as acting in this context. So I looked up the definition: “to operate and function in a certain way”. Thanks dictionary.com, not the most clear and exact of definitions. But I wondered, if I am deliberately changing the way I behave, my mannerisms, tone of voice, body language, is there any deceit in that? If I am changing what is natural to me, even with only good intentions, is that really me?

Of course, repeated actions form habit, so one could argue that yes indeed, to consistently exert certain behaviour then forms a part of oneself. Maybe it’s actually a really good thing, if used to be more pleasant around the company of others. Maybe it just shows what a nice person you are and how much you care; the fact you are consciously changing your behaviour for the benefit of others. 

At the same time, there are clearly times when it is not a good sign to act. We all manipulate our behaviour depending on the social situation, say if we’re trying to impress someone, or the formality of the occasion.


But really, how much of our lives do we spend acting? If the answer is an awful lot, isn’t that a bit sad? Does that mean we’re desperately oppressed?

Kate
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Sunday, 8 June 2014

Revision

Despite being accustomed to the relentless examinations imposed on me by the British educational system, I am yet to perfect my revision technique.

In terms of what to revise, I'm set; I know where to get past papers, important parts of the specification to work on etc etc, but in terms of the structure of my days, I'm lost. My attention span is awful. I always plan my revision days but I never seem to stick to it. I often set myself too much, underestimating how long each task will actually take and how tired I'm going to feel as the day progresses. I also tell myself I will get up at 6am, run and start work at 7am. This fails 80% of the time.

It's only just occurred to me that I'm an extrovert, and I have no idea why it's taken me this long to figure out. I already knew my 'learning style' was to revise in groups, so you would have thought I could have extrapolated from that that indeed I gain energy from the presence of others. As a result of my extrovert nature, spending whole days dedicated to revision is even more unbearable.

Often it's tempting to dodge all social gatherings during exam season, but really I've found that that really hasn't helped me. In fact, but having other tasks or meet ups at specific times has made me far more productive. I still often say no to pub meet ups because it's getting to the point where my body clock is adjusting to so many late nights because I go there too often. So now I've accepted that I'm just not the kind of person who can revise from 8am to 8pm (I have several friends who can, the weirdos). Initially this terrified me, as I felt that getting into UCL is so important to me I couldn't waste precious revision time. But really, like many things, it's quality rather than quantity. It's also about consistency. Making sure that something is accomplished every day, rather than doing all nighters and then cancelling the day after to recompense sleep debt.

Now, I try to revise early in the mornings, take an hour off at lunch to do fun things. I usually finish early evening, around 5-6pm. Before bed I briefly go over definitions if I feel like it. I usually take a small break in the afternoon to meet up with mates, if I can.

I've just had to accept that I'm not a machine. I'm sure many medical students are, explaining their stellar marks. But that is never going to be me.

Then there's food. I've been told by many teachers that you need to eat sugary foods as you revise; the brain works on glucose. However my healthy eating has gone completely out the window. I need to gt a stash of fruit and snack on that instead.
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Saturday, 3 May 2014

Fear

I am petrified. Truly, truly petrified. Of course, I am talking about my A levels. At time of writing, the date is 3rd May 2014. My first proper exam, excluding my french speaking exam, is 3rd June.

Going to UCL means so much to me. Medicine, and London, is the dream.
I don't know if I could live with myself if I threw away that amazing opportunity.

Shit shit shit shit.
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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Veganism

Right now I am really stuck in a conundrum. I was born into a omnivorous family, but aged twelve I became a vegetarian. Aged fifteen, I went vegan and then, aged seventeen, I went full circle and started eating meat again. Now, aged eighteen, I have no idea what to do and what my ethe are.

I initially went vegetarian purely for my concerns over welfare of animals. My sister, a year younger than me, was already a vegetarian for several years and my parents love cooking and were incredibly tolerant and supportive. Over the years, I became extremely passionate about the environment. I spent a lot of time researching the topic, and realised that being a consumer of animal products this was contributing a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere. In fact, more CO2 is produced annually from animal production for our consumption than the entire world's transport systems combined. I also realised, through meeting a vegan actor I was costarring with for a production, the disgraceful animal cruelty that goes on in dairy and egg production. So I became vegan and I loved it, truly. I had never eaten more healthily or felt better.

About six months ago, however, I lost the plot in terms of what my opinions were. Although I wanted to protect the planet, I couldn't justify that veganism was the most sustainable. After all, if I still carry on buying avocados and quinoa from South America, rice from the Himalayas and fruits from South Africa what is sustainable about that? Yes, plants are a much more resourceful way of using arable land in terms of yield of produce, but eating loads of quinoa, soy/rice/almond milk, none of which can be grown in the UK, how was veganism really a good idea? Surely eating meat from my county (Gloucestershire is a farming mecca for free range beef and pork) and eating locally grown vegetables was a far better idea?

I don't oppose the consumption of meat. In the UK, there's a lot of stringent regulations and a great variety of free range meat that we can access, so eating 'ethical' meat is a possibility. But outside of the UK I am far from convinced. However, we're gradually accepting that in today's Western society we do tend to eat too much meat, and having spent so many hours researching vegetable proteins I now know for a fact that I don't need to eat loads of meat, if any, to be healthy.

The Compromise
I'm never going to be perfect. If I'm on holiday and there's an ice cream van, the sun is shining and hunger strikes, I am going to have that ice cream. Life's too short. However, I feel that from now on my aim is to make the majority of decisions over of my food conscious ones, with the odd indulgence. I only want to eat meat that is grown in England or Wales and is free range. I only will eat fish that is labelled as sustainable-approved by a reputable organisation and caught on British coasts. When it comes to dairy, I prefer to drink almond milk, but I buy a specific brand that uses Italian almonds, so is a EU product. I do not eat cheese, purely because I don't like the taste. For yoghurt, I only buy from Yeo Valley as it is organic and from British farms. I will endeavour to make the majority of my fruits/vegetables purchased from European farms.
However, none of this is going to be easy. Given that I am about to go university and live in London, money is going to be super tight. In addition, the origin of foods is very difficult when it comes to friend's dinner parties and social gatherings. Exceptions will be made. But it's better than nothing, and I feel much better for being a mindful consumer rather than a mindless one.


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Saturday, 26 April 2014

Is marriage outdated?

Recently, I've been doing lots of prep for my upcoming A level French speaking exam, where I am preparing a debate on privatisation of the NHS. Following the debate, the examiner then continues to have a general conversation with you on topical discussions - one of those potentially being the relevance of marriage. As I was trying to flesh out some potential responses, I got completely spun out. I had no idea what to think!

Back in previous generations (and still in many non-Western countries) marriage was significant for strengthening bonds and maintaining the prestige of two families. If a family was very wealthy, it goes without saying you must also marry into a similarly wealthy one.

Secondly, there's religion. Whilst the religious population is still significant in the 21st century, a notable agnostic/atheist population coexists with them, with many countries such as the England that really behave in a more secular fashion, despite being technically a Christian nation due to the royal family.

Marriage is believed by many as the only appropriate unit for raising children, but truly I have to disagree. We all know married couples with kids that undergo lengthy, difficult divorces that (without exaggerating too much) truly horrify the children. I have several friends that truly affected by the divorce, and not in a good way. At the same time, there are many same-sex and heterosexual couples
who never marry and have produced stable households that have raised wonderful children.

To me, the only reason I ever thought I would want to get married is a testament of love and commitment. But now I wonder why does everyone else do it. Is it the same as me? Or a combination of the above factors.
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Monday, 21 April 2014

Motivation


Somehow, I don't know exactly how, I've managed to get an offer to study Medicine at the 4th best university in the world, even beating Oxbridge. UCL is also the 4th best medical school in the UK, according to The Guardian. This wonderful UCL that I have dreamt of for years has actually chosen to take me on.

As you can see, it still hasn't sunk in for me. 

It's quite bizarre when I discuss my offer with my friends. I keep telling them I don't believe this is actually happening, to which they always say "But Kate, we always knew you'd get in!"
Then I don't know what to say, but two things pop into my head. Either they clearly don't understand how hard it is to get into medical school in England or that perhaps I am too self-deprecating for my own good, and that I do actually deserve this offer. I suppose both are true, but the latter I struggle to accept.

You see, I didn't get 1200 A*s at GCSE, and I'm not studying five A levels.  I don't play 10 instruments, either. I'm no child prodigy, let there be no mistake about it. To me, UCL is only made of these insanely clever students. So how have I even managed to get my place? I truly don't understand. I never believed for a second that I really could do this.

But all the same,  I am so delighted. I don't think I can properly express in writing just how much I want to study there. 

However, I am facing a very serious issue right now. I am really lacking motivation to revise, and I don't understand why. I've thought of medicine and only medicine for the past 3 years, each work experience placement reinforcing in my mind how it would be the perfect vocation. I, as well as my parents and teachers, have worked our backsides off to maximise all possible chances of getting into medical school. And it's paid off, I now have two offers as two wonderful medical schools. So why aren't I revising? The final hurdle, the dreaded A level exams, are vastly approaching. 

I think a part of it is the fact that recently when I've felt stressed I've resorted to just going completely numb and doing nothing.  Plus bad habits. I've gotten into the routine of partying a lot, lie ins whenever I can. I used to revise throughout the year, but I've forgotten all that recently. 

I'm writing this post in the hope that it clarifies in my head that I want to revise. I want those grades. I want to start my new medical student life. And it all starts with a heck of a lot of revision.
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Monday, 24 March 2014

Uni Application

So far:

UCL interviewed me and subsequently gave me an offer (I'm just as shocked as you)

Liverpool haven't replied yet but have said we will hear back at the end of March, so any day now

Cardiff & Leeds rejected me prior to interview

Newcastle have given me an offer (AAB) to study Biomedical Sciences

Once I have firmed my choices I will write a thorough blogpost!

Kate
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Friday, 21 March 2014

Why Agnosticism IS valid

Today I stumbled across a YouTube video titled "Agnostics ARE Atheists" By the Youtuber Jaclyn Glenn.

In her video she explains the following:

- the word agnostic, literally means "without knowledge"
- Hence, both atheists and theists alike are agnostics, too, because neither of them have black and white evidence to back up their beliefs
- you cannot call yourself an agnostic because you either believe in god or not and technically we are all "without knowledge"

I do agree with many items that Jaclyn discusses, but I do not agree with the conclusion she draws from them.

First of all, yes the word 'agnostic', when you derive it's literal meaning, does mean "without knowledge". She is also correct that of course neither an atheist or a theist can prove their beliefs are factually correct.

However, what Jaclyn gets wrong here is that she assumes that everyone has already decided what their religious opinion is. She assumes that everyone either thinks God exists or doesn't. However, there are some people who genuinely don't have an opinion that veers either way. Take myself for example, I do not swing more closely to either end of theism or atheism. I don't have an overall opinion of whether I think God actually exists. Therefore, it would still be incorrect to call myself an atheist because I still don't believe whole-heartedly or suspect with  that God doesn't exist. I admit that is highly unlikely from what I have been educated, but I don't feel certain in any regard that God does not exist. Therefore, by definition, I am an agnostic still.


The video: Agnostics ARE Atheists, by Jaclyn Glenn
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xI9o0d9uFqE
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Friday, 7 March 2014

Should we adopt the minimum unit pricing for alcohol?

After the flop that tried to introduce minimum unit priced alcohol in 2010, alcohol is back up for discussion. 

Globally, 4.6% of ill-health and mortality is due to alcohol and 3.8% of deaths. In 2009, 6584 deaths were  directly related to alcohol abuse, mostly caused by alcoholic liver disease.

But wider than the diseases that an alcohol consumer can inflict on themselves, they also have an effect on society through drink-driving, crime, instability in families as well as in the workplace. The children's commissioner, Dr Maggie Atkinson, has stated that alcohol is a key factor in child protection issues and social work cases involving children and families.

What shocked me was to discover that in 47% of violent crimes in England and Wales alcohol has been consumed. One could argue that the introduction of a minimum unit pricing for alcohol would help to combat this percentage. 

In addition, the UK stands alone with Malta within Europe by retaining to the drink driving limit to 80mg per 100ml, compared to our neighbours adopting 50mg/100ml - a potentially life saving difference.

Is today's culture to blame? Most of us accept the stereotypes that the Scots and the uni students (particularly medical students, ironically) to be heavy drinkers;  it is not something to be questioned or critiqued but simply the way it is. Listen to any music in the UK music charts and you'll hear rappers and the likes of Miley Cyrus talking about all their 'bottles and ice'. Alcohol is just as seductive as smoking to some teenagers. And as the Student BMJ mentioned in their recent publication, alcoholic products are allowed to be advertised at films for unaccompanied 12 year olds.  

Excessive alcoholism needs to be taken seriously. As the Student BMJ pointed out, according to the ICD-10 (international classification of disease, 10th revision), there are over 200 diseases that can be caused, both directly and indirectly, by alcohol, including:
Cirrhosis of the liver
Cancers of: the liver, mouth, oropharynx, oesophagus, colon, rectum, breast
Hypertensive and ischaemic heart disease
Low birth weight and disorders arising in the perinatal period
Road traffic incidents
Falls, poisonings and other unintentional injury
Alcohol use disorders and unipolar depression

I wonder how many young people are made aware of all these risks. Without this knowledge, I don't see how we can look down at alcohol-abusing youths if they are not at liberty to make educated decisions. The alcohol industry and public figures only portray one side of alcohol consumption. No one speaks publicly about the disastrous effects of alcohol, and I don't know why that is. 

It does beg the question as to why alcohol is even legal. I wouldn't be surprised that, if alcohol was a new drug being introduced in British culture, analysis of it from the government would most likely deem the drug too harmful to be legalised. Like smoking, the longstanding prevalence of alcohol in today's society inhibits it's banning because if such a thing was to happen there would be nationwide uproar and the synthesis of an unregulated black market. But at least with smoking we're actually raising its more unglamorous, life-threatening profile. Youtube and UK television is littered with anti-passive smoking advertisements, we have the ban on smoking in public places, smoking companies are not permitted to advertise their products on UK television at any point, plus all smoking products must be clearly labelled that they can potentially kill its users. The disparity here is, quite frankly, ridiculous. 

So, getting back to the question, should we adopt the minimum unit pricing for alcohol?
In British Columbia they have found that a 10% increase in alcohol pricing has reduced the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions by nearly 9%. Alcohol attributable deaths also decreased by 32% after the introduction of a minimum unit price. This indicates that if we, too were to introduce such a scheme the effects could be very beneficial to UK health, especially as 45% of all alcohol consumed in the UK is bought by the heaviest 10% of drinkers. The number of alcohol-related admissions to hospital seem to be on the rise, so some action ought to be put in place. 

Scotland has already passed a bill requiring a minimum unit price of 50p per 8g unit of alcohol in 2012, however the bill has yet to take effect. 

Of course, most people in the UK do not drink alcohol to excess, therefore some feel that the minimum unit pricing would unfairly penalise those who already drink moderately. However, this argument falls short when if you were to model the estimates of 50p per unit then moderate users would be less than £10 worse off annually, compared to to heavy drinkers that would be almost £200 worse off if they continued to drink the same amount. 

It goes without saying that those on tighter budgets are going to suffer more from this ban than bigger earners. People on low incomes are believed to be most at risk of alcohol related harms, reinforcing the necessity for the minimum unit pricing for alcohol. 

If we want to increase national health, less alcohol needs to be consumed, and regular drinkers need to consistently consume in moderate quantities. Simple as. If the minimum unit pricing for alcohol is going to encourage that, then I'm all for it. 
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