5 things I wish I knew before coming to medical school | by STEMaccess | Sep, 2021


I was never one of those people who wanted to be a doctor since they were 4 years old. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just came to the decision a lot later. As late as my final year of Sixth Form I was considering applying for a History degree.

I’m very glad that I ended up studying Medicine, and to delve into every reason why I made that choice would take up more space than the website servers allow… but here are 5 things I wish I knew before coming to medical school, that would have either made my decision easier or would have better prepared me for my first year.

1. Give yourself time to find your feet

The point here is that there’s no right or wrong way to approach your first term at university. There are people who I work with on the wards who spent that cold September morning in 2017 in bed with a bag of Doritos, and there are others who had an early night and got to lectures early with a fully charged laptop and a black coffee. Both of these people are now in the same boat. Obviously, if you spend your entire university experience sat in bed with a bag of Doritos you’re not going to be that successful… but the first few weeks of university are designed for you to settle in, get to know your new environment and make new friends. The best way to utilise these weeks is to do just that. Turn up to teaching and make an effort to stay on top of the work, but your initial priorities should be accommodating yourself to the sudden change in lifestyle that you’ve suddenly experienced.

2. Learning is very independent

Learning at medical school is very independent. This wasn’t too much of a change for me, as I was used to independent learning. I self-taught most of my History A-level after joining the course late and handled my university application mostly by myself. However, I was expecting university work to be more rigid and prescriptive, so the independence came as a bit of a shock.

The positives of this are that you can set your own priorities. No-one knows how you work best better than yourself. Even if you haven’t yet figured this out, the best way to do so is trial and error. You can decide to take a Tuesday off if you’re burnt out or not feeling great, making a note to watch those lecture recordings on Saturday instead when you’ll be more refreshed. Most of the time no-one is going to notice.

The main negative is that this can be dangerous. If you don’t have the right work ethic, this lack of structure can translate into a fun experience doing sport, watching TV, reading books and going out with friends, until exam season hits and you realise you know nothing. So be prepared for the independent learning, as it’s a good thing, but also be prepared to exercise some self-discipline and not to fall too far behind.

3. You’ll develop a host of new non-medical skills

If you’re like me and had no experience in this type of thing, spend a bit of time before you move into your accommodation learning some quick and healthy meals that you can throw together. Whether that’s a simple chicken pasta or a veggie stir fry, having a few recipes up your sleeve is going to make that first term a lot easier. Ask your parents to let you do the laundry and ironing too so you can get used to doing this yourself.

4. Join a society! (or two)

If rowing isn’t your thing, then maybe drama will be, or football, or rugby, or music, or hockey, or chess, or krav maga. Most universities have a wide range of societies, some doing things I’ve never even heard of. Take the time to try something new and you won’t regret it.

5. Exams are harder than school

It’s important to mentally prepare yourself so you don’t beat yourself up if you fail the first exam, or even the second or third. Medicine is hard, there’s a reason the entry requirements are so high and it’s such a competitive degree. Give yourself time to get used to the new lifestyle and you’ll find your feet.

But Medical School is great overall!

Check in with us in a few weeks when we’ll be discussing different learning styles following on from Point 2 above!

Rhodes Willoughby is Co-Founder and Director of STEMaccess, currently in his fifth year of his MBBS/BSC degree at Imperial College School of Medicine.

Check out our website at for more insights, online courses, private tutoring and more to get you into your first-choice university.

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