An open letter to first years: You’re doing fine

By Grace Scolyer & Alannah Murray

To our new medical students,


It’s going to be okay. No, really, you’re going to be okay. I know you feel like your world has shrunk and exploded at the same time – after spending so long as a big fish in a small pond, you’re now in an ocean crowded with bigger fish (and it’s pretty hard to breathe underwater anyway). Don’t forget to be kind to yourself.

As you glance across the lecture theatre, your fingers racing across your keyboard, trying to keep up with the lecturer who speaks so fast they don’t seem to breathe, trying to stay afloat whilst drowning in information, the lecture theatre seems like a never-ending ocean. Of people who get it, who are actually smart, who deserve to be here, who will probably be better doctors than you. Because that’s what matters, right? How confident you are in first year tutes, how well you do in your first exam?

Well, not exactly.

You’re going to be okay, and here’s why:

  1. You all deserve to be here. You worked hard and earned a place here just as much as anyone else sitting here.
  2. You are all equals. It doesn’t matter if you came from a selective school, middle of nowhere or from overseas, or if you can speak 3 languages, play 2 instruments, play state-level sport and hold two part-time jobs. You all start and end on the same playing field: this course. The rest shapes how you’ll be – as a person and a doctor – but never how good you’ll be.
  3. Look at the big picture: not only for your exam (trust me, they won’t ask you the minutiae of the 9th step of the Krebs cycle) but also for the course –  this one thing is the first step of many, and is in no way the most important.
  4. If it’s not helping you, stop pre-reading. I’m serious. For most people, wading through hours of textbooks is distressing and ineffective. You don’t have to follow a formula to study. Find something that works for you, whether it’s YouTube videos, VESPAs, watching lectures online at your own pace, or writing notes in every font other than Comic Sans. It doesn’t have to be what the faculty recommends, or even what works for everyone else. It just has to work and to make sense to you.
  5. Stop obsessively comparing yourself to your peers. Stop obsessing about yourself. You’re an exceptional bunch – but also, exceptionally neurotic, and you won’t gain anything from competing with each other or putting any additional pressures or expectations on yourself.
  6. This is it, you’ve made it, you don’t have anything else to prove. You’re here, this is happening, and you are going to get through it just fine – but not without a few, necessary hiccups.
    • Speaking of hiccups, as someone who performed at or below the pass mark for the majority of my pre-clin exams but still survived, I genuinely think if anything, the experience just made me more resilient. We can’t all hit the ground running. Learning to walk takes time, and life so often gets in the way of progress.

Let’s end this letter with a joke.

What do you call the people that barely passed medical school?

Doctors. They call them doctors.

In what will feel like the blink of an eye, you’ll be talking to patients with a stethoscope around your neck, or changing into scrubs and being handed a diseased head of femur in a hip replacement, or actually, correctly, figuring out a patient’s medical story. You’re here, this is happening, and it is so important to never lose sight of that.

So just breathe, relax. You are doing just fine.

Yours affectionately,

Grace Scolyer and Alannah Murray

2 thoughts on “An open letter to first years: You’re doing fine

  1. asklepiossite says:

    Written with so much flair and utterly inspiring. As a second year medschool student I feel like for the past two years the effort I put in has never been reflected in the results I get. I still need to find a method that works for me


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