The musings of a final year medical student

Sunday, 26 July 2015


I passed my first year of medical school!

However, it certainly didn't happen with ease. I didn't pass all my exams this year, missing the pass mark by 5% and so had to retake.

This is NOT a fun process, but I learnt a hell of a lot from it. I am not shy from admitting I had a certain degree of arrogance to my course content. If something wasn't covered in a lecture then I didn't see the point of learning it, even though it was a learning objective. If there's one piece of advice I would give, it would be that you can never read too much around the subject in medicine. Surely if the lecturer can't be bothered to mention it then it isn't relevant? Sadly not. 
The learning objectives can be very vague. For example, if a LO says simply 'meiosis' this can be quite tricky. Do I learn my A level version of meiosis? The one in Tortora? The one in Medical Sciences? The one in Essential Cell Biology? Wikipedia? Or do I amalgamate them all into one 'mother explanation' of meiosis? The particular lecturer who covered genetics wasn't the best and his lecture slides left much to be desired.

I digress.

One thing that really struck me when I learnt that I had to retake was how nearly every doctor-friend I told then told me that they had to retake *something* at medical school. A Bristol-educated now neurosurgeon that my dad knew apparently failed every exam and exam retake you could imagine. I know other surgeons, anaesthetists, GPs and others who failed a variety of exams, whether it be first year or finals. 

I'm not saying that is any excuse, but I'm glad that I got the kick up the backside that was needed at the start of the course rather than at the end of it. Revising at home whilst everyone was at festivals and far-flung holidays wasn't great. There was an ever-present burden in my head that there would never be a point where my revision was complete; I could never know too many CT scans, I could never revise muscle compartments too much. However, I am so glad that there was never a point where I questioned "Is this worth it?". The thought of losing my precious place at medical school after working so hard to get it was terrifying. I was not going to waste the opportunity I had. 

Having to retake made me feel like I had let everyone down, including myself. It also made me feel inadequate, and it could have been a sign that medicine wasn't right for me. I was furious with myself. How did I not pass when this is the vocation set so rigidly in my mind? There never was and still is no back-up plan if medicine doesn't work. Nothing will ever be as good as being a doctor. 

I had already applied for mitigating circumstances due to various health problems I have had to put up with this year. This meant that if I had failed the retake I would have had grounds to appeal. Fortunately it didn't come to that. 

The morning of retake results was hard. I thought I was going to be sick as I furiously refreshed my emails. And finally, those big red letters next to my exam code saying 'PASS' appeared. I was delighted. 

So, I've had my first proper week of relaxing in the knowledge that I am going into second year this September. To be honest, I'm already bored. I've been travelling and having fun, but I actually miss reading textbooks. I miss opening up my new clinical cases and deciphering the questions set. I want a reason to get out of bed early in the morning, something that is fulfilling and worthwhile. This is such a comforting feeling, a real appetite for knowledge. It is comforting because it confirms in my head that medicine is right for me. I am smart enough. I can do this. And most importantly, I want to do this. 

If you ever have the bad luck of retaking a medical exam, I feel your pain. It is horrible. You feel like shit. It's a cliché, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. You wouldn't be at medical school if someone didn't believe you had the potential of being a great doctor.

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