Hey everyone my name is Rob and I’m a 5th year medical student at the University of Manchester, meaning my first year at medical school was in 2016. Being the first in my family to go to medical school I didn’t really know what to expect and there are a multitude of things that I know now that I wish I had of known back then. 


One of these things was learning how to adapt to the workload that comes with medicine, in the first semester of first year I prioritised work over pretty much everything else whilst in the second semester I flipped this on its head and ended up neglecting work. Whilst exam wise I didn’t see any negative effects I feel as though it would have been wiser to create some form of timetable to ensure that my work-life balance was as good as it could have been.


Another thing I wish I had known in first year is that you really don’t need to know what speciality you want to work in when you graduate. It can be quite daunting hearing people within the first week of university saying they want to be a neurosurgeon or a cardiothoracic surgeon when you don’t have a clue what career path you want to pursue. A lot of people still don’t know what they want to specialise in by the time they graduate and if they are one of the lucky few that do, this opinion can change over the course of time. So don’t be worried if you don’t have everything set out in front of you, you need to experience these specialities before you can make that judgement!


I only ended up joining medical societies from third year onwards and this is something I really wish I had started earlier. Joining societies, medical or non-medical, are a great way to not only meet new people but to improve on a wide variety of skills that a good doctor should have such as; communication, leadership, teamwork – basically everything you put into your personal statement. Another top tip, which goes hand in hand with the last point, that I wish I could have given myself in first year is to engage with medicine. It sounds weird but I didn’t really fully engage with medicine until around third year, in terms of going to socials, getting stuck in with anatomy, tutorials etc. What I mean by ‘getting stuck in’ is taking opportunities when they present themselves within medical school, maybe a potential research project with one of your tutors presents itself or there is an opportunity to go see an autopsy outside of timetabled work. These are all things that really help you grow as a medical student! 


With regards to socials, they are a great way of meeting other people on the course which really helps at a university as large as Manchester as you’re always working in new groups, so knowing a couple people beforehand always helps.


One thing I think I have managed to do quite well since first year is to not compare myself to other students. It can be quite easy to do this, especially on a course like medicine where everyone is naturally competitive to some degree and are academically gifted. Whenever I talk to new students at Manchester I tell them “collaborate with others and compete with yourself”. Other students are likely to be your colleagues at some point so the importance of being able to collaborate with them from an early stage is paramount. With regards to competing with yourself, have a look at where you stood 6 months ago and compare that with where you are now – have you improved, stayed the same or dropped off a little bit? I find this is a much better way of quantifying my successes and shortcomings than comparing myself to my friends within medicine.


Finally, the last thing I wish I had known back in 2016 isn’t specifically medicine related, however, it is still very important. It’s knowing when to look for a house. I left this incredibly late in my first year and ended up paying over the odds for a house that wasn’t in the best location. So my advice would be to start looking around December to ensure you’re setting yourself up for a comfortable second year!


Written By Robert Cartwright-Speakman

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