What is First Year Medicine Actually Like?By ATAR Notes in VCE
12th of February 2018
New student at Monash? Best to read this new student guide!
The transition from high school to uni can be both exciting and nerve-racking. After spending most of your life at school, probably following a similar routine for years, it can come as a pretty big readjustment. In this article, I am going to talk a bit about my experience of first year uni – some of the challenges but also some of the enjoyable aspects.
Firstly, a bit about me. I completed VCE in 2016, and my first year of uni in 2017. I am heading into my second year this year, studying undergraduate medicine at Monash University. While I will talk a bit about my experience of uni in general, my focus will be specifically on first-year medicine.
Just like they say, uni is different to school – your timetable is less strict, your time is your own, lecturers don’t usually follow you up on attendance or study and there are way more food options! However, regardless of any course you choose, there are always challenges – organising your time, ensuring you meet deadlines, motivating yourself to study and learning content on your own. Medicine, especially, can be a tough course to manage. It’s a full-on course, but there are interesting and enjoyable aspects. The following gives an overview of some of the challenging parts and some of the more interesting and exciting parts.
The main challenge, I think, is learning the amount of content that makes up the course. Medicine is a massive area, and it is impossible to know everything. This is important to keep in mind, however you obviously need to have a sound understanding of many topics, so as to be well trained in treating and preventing illnesses and diseases.
The most content-heavy topic by far is anatomy. Rather than being particularly hard to understand, anatomy involves a lot of memorisation. You basically need to remember what is where, what it is called and what it does. In saying this, the anatomy you learn links to other body systems that are important in the function of the human body, but start by learning the basics.
My main piece of advice here is to find a method of memorisation that works best for you. The course goes quickly, and there is a lot of content packed into each week, so it is important not to waste your time on methods that are unhelpful to you. It can be good to draw things out and annotate them, or use models to test yourself. Some people find that working with others is best for them. In essence, find a method that works best for you.
I found that the first semester of my course was a lot of basic sciences, particularly a lot of biochemistry, which included cell biology and body metabolism. Physiology was also a major topic, introducing topics like signal transmission throughout the body. In this first semester, it can be easy to become a bit disillusioned with the direction the course is taking, feeling as though you just want to get onto the ‘real stuff’. However, this comes later, more in second semester – you will start feeling as though you are learning more medical content when you start anatomy. My advice here is, although it can seem slightly pointless at times, learn it as best you can – if you can have a good understanding of it at this point, it will help you when you get to later topics, and need these basic sciences as a base foundation of knowledge.
Another big challenge for many people, that comes in second semester, is adjusting to human anatomy, specifically using cadavers to learn. Many people are often really excited at the prospect of getting to learn from them, however, some people are often quite freaked out at the idea. I was one who was pretty nervous going in to the first session, not quite knowing what to expect. However, once you adjust to it, it’s actually not as bad as you might think, and can be quite helpful in putting what you have learnt from a textbook into context (it is also compulsory).
While end-of-semester exams usually include multiple choice and sometimes short answer questions, there are various practical assessments throughout the year that can be nerve-racking. In these, you are often required to perform an examination of a particular system or area of the body on a ‘simulated patient’ – i.e. an actor. My best piece of advice for approaching these is to know exactly the steps you need to do, and practise as much as you can – on friends and family, to know the steps off-by-heart, and also to make sure you can perform the examination within the specified time.
Compared to many other courses, Medicine is a small cohort – there are usually just over 300 students. While many students in other courses talk of experiences of not seeing the same people twice, Medicine is very different in this aspect. It becomes almost like a school cohort, where you will find that you get to know people in just about every tutorial you have, and will see familiar faces just about every day. This aspect of the course is great – you get to make friends with whom you will have classes. You can also study in groups with friends to help your understanding of certain topics, and also to give you motivation.
Although I mentioned above that first semester content contains a lot of basic sciences, and can become a bit tedious, there is a lot of interesting content in the course to keep you curious. Anatomy and physiology in particular (learning what the body is made of and how it works to keep us alive) can be fascinating. You are literally learning what we are made of and how we work (not many people would be able to say that they know this much about what we actually are)!
You will probably find that the undergraduate medicine course has support when you need it. Although many people say that lecturers at uni don’t really care about what study you do, in my experience, many lecturers and tutors in this course are happy to run extra sessions, organise one-on-one sessions, or answer questions via email to aid your understanding of content. So don’t be afraid to ask for help. Second-years run sessions each week (called VESPAs), that go over content you have been learning in lectures and tutorials, which is a great way to get extra help.