The (Great) Unknown

By Rose Brazilek

Watching the trepidatious first year medical students enter the hallowed halls of building 15 for the first time, it is hard not to get swept up by their wide-eyed enthusiasm and innocent optimism. Phrases such as “I’m definitely going to attend all the meetings of the Disney club” and “I don’t need to pre-read any lectures,” are often heard, phrases they may regret uttering so freely six months from now. However, it was not so long ago that many of us also opened a medical textbook, encountered a cadaver or calculated the exact time until an assignment could be re-submitted on Turnitin for the first time either.

In many ways, medical school in the preclinical years is more similar to high school than most of us will admit. We have our classes with the same people, eat lunch together at regular times (or perhaps attempt to study if exams are the following week) and even have a camp specifically for medical students, although high school camps probably did not involve the same overt levels of intoxication.

For most new students, the reality of the MBBS course differs widely from initial imaginings. Instead of encountering specific diseases in our early years, we now learn meditation techniques, and anatomy classes are replaced by tutorials on the basics of epidemiology, at least for the first semester.

Like all university courses, medicine requires adjustments in learning styles, as learning becomes self-directed and students must learn how to find reputable sources of information and properly reference (helped in no small part by the myriad of assignments associated with improving these skills). Once the teacher was the fount of all knowledge, but that role now falls to textbooks, journal databases and more often than most would wish to admit, Wikipedia. The threat that the vast amount of content is still assessable, even if a lecture is skipped or slept through, is omnipresent. Though warned of the workload by friends, relatives and strangers in the street before entering the course, many students still find it difficult to appreciate the work involved in a medical degree until they begin and by the end of semester one, find they have a multitude of overdue quizzes, lectures to catch up on and assignments with due dates dangerously close.

Life in medical school also presents new challenges which are not present in other courses. Interacting with real patients for the first time is a daunting experience, made no less intimidating by the unfamiliar hospital surroundings and feeling of complete lack of knowledge or applicable skills. We also have the dreaded OSCEs and the terror they inspire, which is not fully comprehended until the practice version halfway through first year. Students often find they are being tested on the one condition they forgot to study, and in their anxiety put the stethoscope earpieces in backwards and deduce that the patient does not, in fact, have a heartbeat.

Socially, the transition to university life also has many differences, especially in terms of the freedom offered. Many students are living away from home for the first time, and are intent on making the most of the lack of parental supervision or guidance. Events are generally organised by students, for students, and can involve events ranging from paintball to MedBall and anything in between. Students can make their university experience whatever they want it to be – from attending conferences, to becoming involved in ground-breaking research (or less than ground-breaking research), or simply meeting other like-minded people at the regular social events.

So, if you see a first-year who is attempting to memorise the findings of every study referenced in Professor Hassad’s lectures, or one who cannot work out the difference between the South One and S1 lectures theatres, give them a hand. It was not so long ago that we were all in the same position.


‘The (Great) Unknown’ was originally published on the Auricle’s now defunct blog in 2013. Rose is now a current final year student and winner of the 2016 Writing Competition.

Featured image by user Trexer at Wikimedia Commons.

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