The Most Important Thing I Have Learned About Myself So Far This Year As A Medical Student

So my first semester of medical school is over. I’m back home in London for the holidays and it’s been great getting to see my family and friends, especially as I hadn’t been home since I left in September. Before I came back though a requirement for the course was to write a reflection which I’ve decided to share with you guys:

 

My first semester at medical school hasn’t been the greatest. Having done an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree, I’m trained to go into great depth. Whereas I’ve learned that medicine, at least at my current stage, is more about breadth than depth. This is something I’ve really struggled to do and I find that my learning isn’t as efficient because of it. However I’m getting better with it. Aside from the academic difficulties, I’ve experienced social difficulties related to adapting to life in medicine in general.

Despite wanting to study medicine since before I was 10 years old, I always doubted myself. Whether I was good enough? Whether I could? Whether it’s really what I wanted to do? What if it’s too hard? What if I fail? I’ve survived an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree. But I have never questioned my abilities more than I have since arriving here at Warwick Medical School. There are days when I still do think I was admitted by accident and I don’t have what it takes. Especially when I spend too much time studying a topic in greater detail than is perhaps necessary.

My bad experiences have been associated with my own self-doubt and days when I’ve felt particularly down because the pressure and the weight of it all threatened to engulf me. But the good experiences far outweigh the “bad”. The benefit I guess, of having been riddled with so much self-doubt, is it has forced me to take a really good look at myself. Both as a person and as a medical student. I now actively engage in mindfulness which has proven to be invaluable. Rather than focusing on the negatives, I am choosing to focus on the positive things in my life. Aside from identifying the academic areas that need improving, my social life has improved. I’ve made several good friends who have been an invaluable source of endless support, I have joined clubs and societies that are of great importance to me. I feel like I’m in an extremely positive environment. Most importantly, I feel like I’ve found somewhere I belong.

I have learned that I really do want to be here and there is no other career I could envisage pursuing besides medicine. Most importantly, I’ve learned that I can do this. A quote I once heard “If you think you can do it then that’s great. Go for it and don’t stop until you do. But if you think you can’t, you’re probably right”. This just shows me that my biggest obstacle is my own self-doubt. Everyone struggles and faces difficulties. I’m no different. But if I continue to doubt myself, then my struggles will forever remain struggles.

I feel the only thing I could have done in this situation would have been to not doubt myself. But that’s far easier said than done. Also, I think I could have spoken to people about my issues earlier and possibly resolved them earlier.

Now I’m planning to review blocks 1 & 2 over the Christmas holiday. But if ever I find myself in a similar situation, I think I would read this reflection again. I’ll remind myself of why I’m here at medical school and how I got here. Everything I’ve accomplished along the way. Everything I’ve been through. The good, the bad. Everything.

 

Happy holidays everyone 🙂

Reflecting on My First Block of Medical School

So it’s been approximately 5 weeks since I started medical school. Well 6 weeks if you count induction week. I meant to post an update much sooner than this but things just kept piling up until eventually I resolved to make this post at the end of my first block. So let’s recap.

Induction week was pretty cool. It just consisted of some introductory lectures, signing agreements and basically everything you’d expect in a med school induction. The few lectures we had were so chilled out that I thought this block would be a breeze. Oh how foolish I was. But more on that later. Induction week ended in pretty much the best way possible: The Induction Ball.

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I especially loved the fact that it was a black tie affair and as we already know, any excuse for me to put on a suit…

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Gazing lovingly at a single malt scotch

So. Block 1. We’re taught in 5-week blocks and at the end of every block, we do what’s called a formative assessment which consists of MCQs and SAQs (short answer questions). Block 1 was Health, Metabolism & Homeostasis. In all fairness, the content itself wasn’t inherently difficult but the sheer volume of information being thrown at us was something else entirely. Ever hear the drinking from a hosepipe analogy? It’s surprisingly pretty darn accurate in this case. I think something I’ve struggled with is my learning style. My previous degrees have required me to do some very in-depth research and study. Whereas medicine so far is less about depth and more about breadth. Put simply, I’m used to learning a lot about specific areas whereas medicine is learning a lot about, well, a lot. But this is something I’m working on and will surely improve upon. Having just sat my formative assessment for this block and getting 80%, I find myself reflecting on the block. What I liked and what I didn’t. What went well and what didn’t. And what I can do to improve in block 2.

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Just a random picture I took walking towards the med shool

Something my med school does is CBL which is case-based learning. Every week, we get a new case which corresponds with the week’s lecture themes. I really like my CBL group and we all seem to be on the same wavelength. I like to listen to everyone’s views and process everything before I comment: It’s amazing to see how people think differently from you and even moreso when someone mentions something you hadn’t even considered. Also, there was a, erm, unanimous decision to have weekly cake at the end of each case. I have zero complaints about this.

Every Friday we’re at the hospital doing Clinical Skills and Anatomy & Imaging. It’s awesome! I actually feel like I’m learning real medicine when we’re there. We have to dress “appropriately” for the day which means smart shoes, trousers and a shirt for me. No complaints here. I actually feel more professional.

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Do I look like a med student yet?

We’ve been doing things like percussion, auscultation, patient consultations etc. We also spend hours in the anatomy lab working with plastinated prosections. Our school gets plastinations from Gunther Von Hagens which is pretty sweet. I think so far, Fridays have been my favourite part of the block.

There have been a few nights out. Most memorably Doctors and Nurses. The women were dressed in scrubs with fake mustaches and the men, well, we dressed up as, erm, sexy nurses. Complete with make up and glitter. No. You will see no pictures. I’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure they will never see the light of day.

I’ve also really thrown myself into extracurricular activities. I think it’s important to have a life outside of med school to maintain my sanity. I’ve joined a bunch of societies, I’m on the committee for the surgical society, I’m on the medic’s football (soccer for my American brethren 😉 ) team. Possibly at the top of that list though, I’ve joined a charity called StreetDoctors which works with at risk youths to teach them techniques which could potentially save their life or the life of someone else in the future. I got to go to the annual StreetDoctors conference and it was such an enlightening experience. Bring on StreetDoctors conference 2016!

You know, something nobody ever mentions is how quickly your first month at med school goes by. I’ve been here, what, 5 weeks? Yet it feels like I’ve been here for ages and I’ve known my classmates for ages. But I have made a few incredible friends, one in particular who’s responsible for introducing me to the StreetDoctors charity.

And in true med student fashion, I also now have a whiteboard.

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So yeah. That’s block 1. Block 2, please be gentle…

Goodbye London, Hello Coventry!

So moving day came and went. I meant to write a post much sooner but I’ve been so insanely busy.

Remember when I said I would regret not packing earlier? Guess who regretted not packing earlier. I got home at 2am and then decided that that would be a good time to start packing. I never learn.

The day I moved up to my new place in Coventry from London was so ridiculously stressful, I can’t even begin to explain. I left my house in London at 8:03am and began the supposedly 3 hour drive. I had to fight my way through the monstrous London traffic, spent hours trying to get out of London, finally got onto the M40 motorway, then broke down on the M40, called AA and had to be towed the rest of the way. All of this meant that I arrived nearer to 5pm. So much for a 2.5 – 3 hour journey!

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Everything fitted in the car!

But alas I’m here. Although I think my room could do with sorting out.

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Oh and I bought this super cool bonsai tree!

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I’ve been pretty hungover all day so I’ll be doing another post about my first week at medical school later 😉

One Week Until Moving Day!

I’m feeling pretty damn good right now. Why?! Because I’m moving  to my new place next week and I’ll be starting my medical degree in two weeks! That’s why!

This will never get old.

No, I haven’t started packing. Yes, I probably should. No, I probably won’t. Yes, I’ll probably leave it until the last minute. Yes, I will probably regret that decision.

When I first moved away for my undergraduate degree I didn’t actually pack until the morning of the day I moved. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now but I think through my previous posts we’ve established one undeniable fact:

Not even just a little bit.

On Tuesday I hopped in my car with two friends and began the drive, it was kind of a road trip, to Warwick (well Coventry) for occupational health and I started my hepatitis B Vaccination course. That’s right. I’m a vaxxer. *Insert witty comment regarding anti-vaxxers here*

It’s definitely all starting to feel incredibly real now. Literally as I arrived at the hospital preparing to pull into the car park, a security guard ran up to the car to stop me. I wondered why. Why turned out to be an air ambulance descending from the heavens at that precise moment (10/10 landing by the way). I am ridiculously excited for this new adventure to begin.

In just four short years, I’ll be responsible for keeping people alive. And if that’s not a scary thought, I don’t know what is. It’s scary sure, but it’s a good kind of scary. I think. I suppose the fear is part of what drives us to pursue a career in medicine?

I’ll leave you with this pretty cool picture, which my friend was kind enough to appear in, I took of the main entrance to the hospital I’ll be predominantly based at.

There are little market stalls on the right selling fruit and veg! Boy am I going to be a healthy med student!

There are little market stalls on the right selling fruit and veg! Boy am I going to be a healthy med student!

I Promise I’m Not Dead

Hey guys,

So it’s been a while. 3 months and 2 days by my count. Where have I been? Let’s see… My desk, the library, my supervisors offices, my desk, the library, the library again and, oh, the library a bit more. I’ve started to have confusing thoughts about the library…

This is totally normal, right?

Basically, I’ve been working on my masters thesis. I chose to specialise in Addiction Biology Research which is ridiculously amazing. It’s been a hell of a tough time, filled with ups and downs (mostly downs but some pretty significant ups). And the stress! Boy was it stressful. In actuality, I spent the last 36 hours leading up to my deadline at the university library. Literally. I didn’t go home for 3 days and I’m pretty sure I started hearing colours…

But hey ho! I submitted my thesis last week!

Be gone fell creature! Into the fiery chasm you go!

So yeah. That’s where I’ve been and why I’ve neglected the blog. I’d love to say that I’ll never again neglect the blog but I don’t feel that’s a promise I can keep. So instead I will promise to keep up with it as much as I can.

On a cheerier note…

2 WEEKS UNTIL I MOVE TO MED SCHOOL!!!

The Joys of Student Finance

So if you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been fortunate enough to get into medical school and I’ll be starting in September. Huzzah!

I’ve pretty much been walking around with the biggest grin on my face since I got my acceptance. Wondering when the feelings of elation would subside. Be careful what you wish for because subside they did. And were replaced with the not unfamiliar feelings of dread and annoyance. Yes, you’ve guessed it. It’s time to apply for student finance again.

Oh Student Finance England. Our relationship has always been turbulent at the best of times. Naturally I wasn’t looking forward to rekindling the romance between Student Finance England and myself. Especially as they’re notorious for messing up the applications for those, like myself, applying for graduate-entry medicine. But! Somehow this time around they actually did their job! I applied, sent in all the evidence they asked for and 6 weeks later, presto! My application has been approved.

For those that don’t know, in the UK there are two main pathways to medicine: Graduate-entry medicine (4 years) and Undergraduate-entry medicine (5-6 years). The names are pretty self-explanatory but I’ll go ahead and explain them anyway. Graduate-entry medicine is available only for those who have previously attended a university and have a degree. Undergraduate-entry medicine is for 18 year-olds, fresh from completing their A-levels at a college or sixth form. However, graduates can apply to undergraduate-entry also and it’s far less competitive than graduate-entry medicine.

However, If you’ve already applied for student finance whilst completing your first degree, they won’t give you support if you choose to pursue another degree. Therefore, graduates that apply for the undergraduate-entry medicine degree have to pay for each year’s tuition (£9000 per year) and maintenance out of pocket, bar the final year which the NHS will pay for.

I’m 23. I’ve already applied for student finance whilst obtaining my bachelor’s degree. My master’s degree that I’m currently studying cost £9000 out of pocket as I wasn’t eligible for any help. So paying £9000 per year for a 5-6 year medical degree didn’t sound too great to me.

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Fortunately, if you’re a graduate and apply for the graduate-entry medicine degree, for your first year, you only have to pay the first ~£3500 and student finance will pay the remaining balance to bring it up to £9000. Years 2-4 tuition will be covered by a balance of the NHS and Student Finance England and I’m eligible for a maintenance loan for all years so that’s nice. So all in all, I’ll have a nice huge mountain of debt when I graduate 🙂

Wow. That was a mouthful.

I realise that’s probably all very confusing so here are a few good links that explain the finance better than I can 😉

https://www.gov.uk/nhs-bursaries/overview

http://www.medschoolsonline.co.uk/funding-for-english-graduates/

http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/explore-by-career/doctors/training-to-become-a-doctor/undergraduate-medical-education/financial-support-for-students-on-degree-courses-in-medicine/

Dear doctors, be kind to each other.

Dharmaraj Karthikesan's Blog

I met a young doctor who used to work under me recently. I had just completed my night rounds in the hospital and I was leaving for home.

And then I saw him. He was unkempt, exhausted and appeared famished. Worst of all, he looked like a man who has totally given up on being a doctor. He appeared hesitant when I asked him what was wrong,but I could not just leave him there.

After much persuasion and insistence on my part he agreed to join me for a late supper. While he ravaged through his first proper meal of the day, he finally opened up. He has started working for the past week in a new speciality. Though the hours are longer, it was not an issue. He was well aware of the sacrifices he was expected to make.

However, the degradation, humiliation and constant harassment have finally taken…

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The Application Cycle

So I thought I’d write a post on the whole med school application process/cycle, or as I’ve dubbed it: The Hunger Games: Medical School.

It starts off with you taking one of the three entrance exams: BMAT, GAMSAT & UKCAT. After surviving one of these tortuous exams, you then subject yourself to the hell that is writing the personal statement. 30 drafts later, if you’re lucky, you’ve completed it and are now ready to submit your application to your chosen 4 medical schools by the October 15 deadline through UCAS. I feel it’s appropriate to say here that 25000 students sit the UKCAT every year. No pressure.

Farewell. May you bring me good news on the morrow.

 

Alas, you have some relief from thinking about the application process right? Well no. Not really. You refresh your inbox every 5 minutes and jump at every email alert. It also doesn’t help that you’re probably subscribed to a forum such as the student doctor network or the student room. You spend all day on these forums waiting for the first sign of an interview offer or rejection. So many thoughts race through your head but there is one that appears more often than any other.

Several weeks to months later…

Someone posts online informing everyone they have been rejected pre-interview from one of your chosen universities. Then another. And another. Now everyone seems to be getting rejected pre-interview and you wonder when yours will come through.

The cycle before this one was rough. I remember one of my chosen medical schools had 3000 applications for 177 places. So they sent out a million (excuse the exaggeration) pre-interview rejections before sending out interview invitations. And these were done in batches. We eventually figured out that the day’s rejections were sent out at 3pm. This came to be known as “The 3pm Cull.” Eventually it became less about receiving an interview offer and more about surviving past 3pm.

It didn’t help that they switched things up and started rejecting people in batches at 3pm & 5pm.

If you’re lucky, you do survive. The cycle before this one I received 4 awesome pre-interview rejections. This cycle, I received 4 awesome interview invites.

So you go to your interviews and hope beyond hope that you are able to somehow convince the interviewers that they should offer you a place at their medical school instead of someone else.

I’m pretty sure I heard someone say “May the odds be NEVER in your favour.”

Weeks pass after the interview and still no word as to your fate. The forums show that people are becoming desperate and agitated so they call the admissions departments to find out when you can all expect to hear back. Of course, they are treated to the generic “we hope to send out decisions as soon as possible” answer. What did they really expect?

This is how I imagine admissions officers when people call

 

A few more weeks pass. Then, a word. A whisper. Someone on the forum has been offered a place. Now another. And another. Now the panic kicks in. Not all medical schools have 177 places. There aren’t that many places on this particular course. This particular course has 24 places for which they interviewed 160 people. Seriously. Why haven’t they sent your acceptance letter yet?

Then, when you’ve all but given up hope, you receive an offer! Throughout the application cycle, you experience a range of emotions and by the time it’s over, you’re emotionally drained.

And that’s it. The cycle is over and you’re now thinking about the upcoming challenge that is medical school. You even become a little nostalgic. You will never go through this particular experience again. You’re sad to see it behind you and you almost miss the entrance exams. Almost.

Cue Hunger Games theme…

March/April Madness & Interview #4

So a lot has happened in the past month.

The University of Southampton School of Medicine got back to me. Not unexpectedly, I was unsuccessful. I’m not sure how it feels for others in my position, but even though Southampton was at the bottom of my preference list, I was still a little disappointed.

KCL also got back to me. I was unsuccessful for their 4 year graduate entry medicine degree. However, they liked me enough to offer me a place on their 5 year medicine degree. Time to celebrate right?! I’m not so sure. Aside from it being 1 year more than I would like to do, as I already have a degree, I wouldn’t be eligible for a student loan. What this means is that I would have to pay £9000 a year tuition fees without financial aid which is not nearly as much fun as it sounds.

That’s not even a little bit untrue

On top of that, the offer was conditional on me achieving a pass grade in my masters by August 2015 however I’m due to finish my masters in September. They were really nice about it and said that my place would be automatically deferred for 2016 entry instead but that my place was guaranteed. Still. Not the most ideal situation. I want to study medicine and I want to study it now.

Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, 3rd on my preferences list, were the 3rd to get back to me. The short version? I didn’t get in. The long version? I still didn’t get in. But I wasn’t nervous. Despite it not being ideal, I still had the King’s offer. And I was yet to have my Warwick interview which, despite being my final interview, would definitely be successful. Right? Right? Can anyone else hear crickets…?

I’m not nervous. It’s just really hot in here.

I had interview #4 on the 20th of March at The University of Warwick School of Medicine. This interview was at 8:30am, I honestly have the best luck and now I realise that sarcasm doesn’t read well in text, and also followed the MMI format. Having an interview that early could only mean one thing: a nice solitary 3 hour long drive to Coventry the day before. All in all, I thought the interview went well although I can definitely point out a few mistakes I made. And that’s it! No more interviews! Now was the time to wait for my fate to be decided.

Fast forward to this week. People started to hear back from Warwick on Tuesday. The offers came out in dribs and drabs as opposed to in batches. Wednesday and Thursday came and went and I hadn’t heard a word whilst more people were receiving offers. By Friday I had pretty much given up hope. That is, until 11:37 am when I got an email alert from Warwick. Is anyone familiar with the hit song “Lose Yourself” by Eminem? The opening lyrics directly applied to me in this situation. My palms were sweaty, knees weak, arms were heavy. I braced myself and opened my inbox. My eyes widened as I read the subject line: WARWICK OFFER FOR JOINT DEGREE OF BACHELOR OF MEDICINE AND BACHELOR OF SURGERY

Success kid for the win

Hmm, that doesn’t quite feel right. Let me try that again. I got into medical school! I’m going to be a medical student!

This was pretty much my reaction. Right in the middle of the supermarket.

That’s better. So as I was saying, I got into medical school. And here I am two days later and it still feels so surreal. I’m sure that feeling will subside but for now I’ll enjoy it. What’s even better is that the offer is unconditional as I’ve already met all of the requirements. Now I’ve got a lot to sort out such as student finance and figuring out where I’ll live in September.

Did they make a mistake in offering me a place? Maybe. After all, I am the guy who drove over his own mobile phone. I think it’s best if I don’t explain the story behind it. Not entirely sure how much confidence that inspires.

Being offered a place definitely makes me more motivated to finish my masters. Plus I finished the last of my exams in March, so all I’ve left to do is my research project.

I’ve definitely come a long way and can’t wait for the next step on my adventure.

Interview #3

Wait, what? I’m at interview #3 already and I’m yet to hear back from Southampton or Kings? I’ve got to say I’m starting to feel just a tad nervous.

So, last week I had interview #3 at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, which is part of Queen Mary, University of London. If you remember my earlier post, interview #1 was a standard panel interview, whilst interview #2 followed a multiple mini interview (MMI) format. Interview #3 exposed me to another interview format: selection centres.

What are selection centres? No they’re not like the Colosseum of old in which gladiators would compete against each other.

Selection centres usually last for around half the day and require the applicants to perform a variety of tasks. These may include: written tasks, group tasks, observation tasks and of course an interview. Many people actually prefer selection centres as it gives you more time to show who you are and what you can do.

The selection centre began at 8:15am, seriously all of my interviews are early. Coincidence? Perhaps. Unfortunately for me, this was my first experience of a selection centre and we weren’t informed prior to the day that there would be an ACTUAL interview also. Was I naive? Probably. However, having had two interviews already, I think I was able to adapt quickly enough. The interviewer was a really nice guy and we actually ended up chatting about Harper Lee publishing a new book this summer; something we were both pretty excited about. For the record, “To Kill A Mockingbird” is my favourite book alongside the Harry Potter Series.

The head of admissions said we could expect to hear back at the end of the month which will hopefully bring good news. I think my favourite thing about the interviews so far is that I get to wear a suit. I love suits and any excuse to wear one is fine by me.

It’s like looking in a mirror

With three interviews completed (I’m pretty sure I’ll be unsuccessful with Southampton) and only one remaining, I suddenly find myself jealous of my American counterparts who aren’t limited to four medical schools and are allowed to apply to as many medical schools as they wish. Of course it is far more expensive for them than it is for us Brits but I would gladly pay the primary and secondary fees required to apply to even ten medical schools. Wait. Did I miss something? I think I’m at the bargaining stage…