The Secret Life of a Medical Student

You work hard in school to get straight As. You do attachments in hospitals over summer to show that you want this badly enough to give up your holidays. You spend countless hours looking at squiggly lines and number nonsense to practice for the entrance exams, the UKCAT and BMAT. And finally you  stress yourself to death over your medical school interview, where you have a 30 minute window to either impress them, or humiliate yourself. Then you wait for a couple of months, a nervous wreck, a shadow of your former self – checking your email everyday for an update on your application. And one day it happens. You get a place. You’re going to be a medical student.

This was four years ago. Now that I’m a fourth year medical student, I can answer the question – was it all really worth it?

Here’s your life. You travel all over the county like travelling salesmen, because you’re often placed in hospitals not where you’re actually living. You have a choice everyday – be keen and wake up early at 8.30 to follow the ward round, or stay at home and have a good lie in.

Despite every ounce of common sense you have, you get dressed, grab your stethoscope and get your butt down to the hospital. You meet the junior doctors on your team who give you a friendly nod but return to discussing patients. So you hang out at the edge of the circle trying to listen in, but they might as well be speaking Turkish. Then the star of the show arrives – the consultant. There’s three species of them. One type will literally look straight through you and not care whether you’re there or keel over and die. One type will smile, maybe shake your hand but for the most part, ignore you unless you ask questions. And another type will bombard you with questions ranging from the simple to the impossible, for your own educational benefit but also out of pure schadenfreude.

You follow your team as they see patient after patient. Most of them run of the mill, but at least one will make you sad and stay with you in the back of your mind. As the hours past you become dehydrated and tired, and you’re trying your best not to keel over and die. What do you actually do? You’re there to learn, to be a sponge that absorbs knowledge and add it to the medical portion of your brain. Yeah right – you got out of bed 2 hours ago but you haven’t properly woken up. You’re a zombie following the consultant like a shadow, hoping to hear some words he says that at least you think you understand.

That’s the ward round – but what else is there? You’re scheduled teachings with consultants. But they’re either so busy or don’t care enough that they never really show, and you spend half an hour waiting for him/her in the seminar room before deciding to go. You can attend clinics where you get to listen to a doctor talk to 30 patients in a row – just as a boring as a ward round, but without the hassle of actually walking around. Like a buffet coming to you! And if you’re extra keen, you can watch a surgeon in theatre, where your super power of ‘standing still and shutting up’ is put to the ultimate test.

bedford-hospital-britannia-road
Bedford Hospital, in Bedford, UK was my hospital for the better part of this year.

And when your day is done? You’re supposed to read, read, read. You have to learn this new language they call clinical medicine – the million ways people can die, why they die, how they die, and what you do so that they maybe won’t die – at least while they’re in front of you.

But at the end of the day, through all the early mornings, late nights, and hours standing regretting you ever left bed because you’re not learning anything – you have fun. You meet countless patients, each with their own story to tell. Some happy, but most sad, and it motivates you to one day be a good doctor so you can help people like them. You meet the passionate junior doctor who will stay back late or come in early to give you extra teaching because they want you to have a good education. You  meet the world class consultant who tells you of stories when he was a lost medical student like you, and tells you to not give up and keep at it. You to get to see the first hand, the wonders of modern technology, bring a patient from the brink of death to strolling out the hospital door in two days. Really, it feels like magic.

It’s a hard life, and everyday we have challenges. Challenges to motivate ourself, challenges to learn, and challenges to pass exams. But nothing worthwhile in life is going to be easy; and anything worth doing will be hard. At the end of the day, it is pretty cool being a medical student. I just kinda wished ward rounds started later.

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