The musings of a final year medical student

Wednesday, 16 September 2015


I've had one of those days where you feel a bit like a failure. The stress is really getting to me. Which isn't exactly encouraging when we are only 3 weeks into the first term.

When I was at school, I didn't care about being the best, I just wanted to get the grades necessary to get into medical school. Back then, I idolised the idea of going to a prestigious university and that with all the impressive buildings and research, it was the pinnacle of education. Now that I am here, there are times when it can feel very emotion-less and cold. At school, so much pressure is put onto getting that sought-after place at uni, but nobody tells you what happens when you get there.

At school, you have laws surrounding teaching, curriculum and Ofsted are there to enforce it. You're a child, you have to have special care and attention (or at least you're meant to); teachers should always be sympathetic. At uni, that's no longer there. Yes, there are often counselling services and help centres, but through my own experience they aren't very effective. You have a tutor, but most of them don't care, and they may only see you once a term/year. The universities are ticking boxes by having theoretical welfare safeguarding, but in reality it doesn't work. In the Student BMJ it was published that 80% of medical students found that their medical school wasn't supportive. I myself had a meeting with my head of year, and despite my floods of tears and hyperventilating, he showed no empathy. He didn't even throw a box of tissues in my direction. Waiting lists and slow replies from staff mean that help and support are not tangible.

I had a tutorial the other day about managing stress in year 2 and it was pretty pointless. The speaker was out of touch with us and couldn't really 'get on our level'. We didn't find any hard and fast tips to help prevent stress, except food and alcohol. Not surprising that doctors have high suicide and alcoholism rates.

Aside from the pastoral care, changes need to be made to the teaching. Lecturers need to be more robust and cover the content they have been set to cover. There should be comprehensive and definitive explanations of the depth of knowledge required to pass exams. The teaching needs to be more interactive; talking to medical students and finding out which bits they don't understand.

I genuinely believe that medical school would feel much easier if we could fix some of the welfare and teaching issues. You can't avoid feeling like a small fish in a big pond. But you can, however, be nicer to people, have the right strategies in place and help students to know what is and isn't expected of them. 

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