Enjoy Your Life: An Advice to First-Year Medical Students

“Nothing good in life comes easy” is a statement that has been touted too many times by many people, even you. This statement may relate to you in various ways, like how hard it is to make money or how difficult it is to complete that online course or the one that will relate to most of the readers of this column, the difficulty of tertiary education. For a lot of students, while they may be very interested in the course of choice, the process of earning the degree becomes quite rigorous. The rigour can lead to certain levels of disinterestedness at different stages of pursuing the degree. If a quick poll is held today, the results will show that they are not alone in this. The poll will also inform them that the first year of studying any course is usually the easiest. This holds for many courses but does the same relate to Medicine education?

Medical education is known worldwide for being rigorous and intensive, where you are expected to learn a tremendous amount in a short amount of time. In Nigeria, medical school starts in the second year, with the first year spent reviewing basic science concepts from high school, but at a more advanced level. Medical students typically perform well in their first year, some even earning perfect CGPAs. This is not surprising, as medical students are arguably the brightest minds in the country. The story usually changes during the second year, when medical students are exposed to entirely new concepts and (in the words of one of my professors) “diligence” becomes more important than “brilliance”. Seniors in medical school often advise first-year students to “enjoy their lives”, as things only get more difficult. After some weeks in the pre-clinicals, I couldn’t resist giving the same advice to the new first-year medical students.

Embracing the advice “enjoy your life” however, doesn’t mean neglecting your studies and risking academic failure. You still need a good CGPA to cross over to pre-clinicals and it might even be advantageous to strive for a perfect one if you want to get a scholarship. Instead, “enjoy your life” means to make good use of the free time you have in your first year. It could involve engaging in more social activities, engaging in extracurriculars that can build your CV or maybe even developing some skills that can be financially beneficial in the future. The goal is to not get burnt out with too much studying and schoolwork because the workload intensifies in subsequent years. Without a long talk, here are some reasons why you should enjoy your first year as drawn from the experiences of a second-year medical student.

  • The only certainties in my life are the anticipation of Jesus’ second coming and the unwavering routine of 8 a.m. classes except during weekends and public holidays. Tuesdays are especially the worst with us having back-to-back classes and practical sessions from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Imagine listening to someone talk about carbohydrate metabolism for two hours, I promise it is worse than it sounds. I remember my first year when I could wake up and skip all the classes for that day because I didn’t feel like going anywhere and I wasn’t affected. I don’t have that level of flex anymore because apparently, I need to have up to 75% attendance before I can be allowed to write any test. I have no choice but to get used to waking up at 7 a.m. everyday lifestyle if I am to cope. It might not sound difficult but coupled with late-night studying after a stressful day, it definitely is.
  • I remember complaining because I thought having to read about 600 slides for CHE 126 exam was too much. My perspective completely shifted in just about two weeks of pre-clinicals. To provide some context, we do about four new topics in biochemistry every week and coupled with the other classes, the number of pages to read easily approaches 600. Some of the concepts are also time-consuming to learn and unstable, so it’s almost inevitable that some students (including myself) will fall behind. Also, most lecturers don’t give out slides and we have to scramble through different textbooks just to find out what was said in class. One of our lecturers said he doesn’t release his slides because they want to produce doctors who are not “spoon-fed”. I still don’t understand his logic but that’s just the way it is. Indian Professors on YouTube are the only people saving my life at this point.
  • My class, no strangers to being treated as special, has been selected as the guinea pigs for this new system. Everyone who hears that we’ll be doing systemic embryology and histology with head and neck and neuroanatomy in one CA has the same reaction: not a good one. One funny example was when the lecturer teaching us the upper limb heard that the thorax would still be included in the first CA, and his response was “Ah, God will help you people.” My coping mechanism is that all this is just a prank and we will all be pointed to the camera soon.

“Life, sadly, doesn’t get easier” is another statement that has been repeated to us much too often than we’d care to recount. This statement specifically applies to our pursuits of the “Dr.” title. It doesn’t get easier, but we get tougher and we find ways to stay afloat. Sometimes I wish I could go back and attend that party I chose to skip because I was busy solving Asiri questions on reaction kinetics or perhaps the Jaw War session I missed because I was trying to solve all the Kirchoff’s law problems in College Physics. Finally, while the degree is why we are here, it is important to live a little (or more than a little) too. To every first-year medical student reading this, learn from my experience and be sure to ENJOY YOUR LIFE.

Daniel Akinola AKINTAYO

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