What is it like to study medicine?

I am often approached by medical student hopefuls about the study requirements of medicine. They often ask about the workload, the stress of study pressures and managing work/extracurricular activities whilst studying medicine. Choosing to study medicine and the life of a doctor is not for the faint hearted. You will need to have love for learning, continuously improving and being challenged at every step of your career if you decide to embark on this journey. Medicine is not a job it is a vocation. It doesn’t end when your working day finishes. Nor does it end when you are on breaks from university and on weekends. Before you start medicine you will need to acknowledge these aforementioned points and weigh that with the type of lifestyle you wish to have while you study medicine and practice as a doctor.

So what is an average day like for me (note everyone has a different routine)? I tend to get up early in the morning have breakfast and head to university around 7:30 to 8 am. University lectures typically start at 9 am (although clinical/hospital days tend to start a little bit earlier). I utilise the time before the start of university day to read and catch up on lecture notes. I tend to do a bit of pre-reading before lectures as it helps with my understanding of content covered in lectures.  During lectures I tend to take notes on the slides to make sure that I accurately document the points raised that were not contained within lecture notes.

For every lecture where appropriate I tend to do a quick summary of the lectures guided by the lecture objectives. ANU provides lecture objectives which are essentially key topics that are potentially assessed during exams. Moreover, they help focus your learning as studying medicine is a big task and you will need to focus on high yield areas. When studying medicine you will also need to acknowledge that you will not be able to learn and become an expert on every topic. There are simply too many lectures, covering a broad range of topics. Consequently, I’ve had to personally accept that I will not be a master of every topic and acknowledge that there will be gaps that will need to fill as I progress through medical school and beyond. Its an uncomfortable feeling but also very humbling as it will reflect real-life medical practice. The key is to actively recognise your ignorance and avoid guessing and making inappropriate therapeutic decisions.

Medicine at ANU tends to be 9 am to 5 pm most days of the week (excluding the weekends). For the first two years you are the university campus and for the last two years you are the hospital or undertaking placements in the community. The working hour could vary significantly depending on the rotations. I know students who have worked 12-15 hour shifts in a surgical/Emergency medicine rotation.

In the evenings I tend to relax for a little bit or go to the gym and exercise. After dinner, rest and catching up with my partner I start studying which could involve  a few hours of reading, taking notes, working on assignments. I tend to spend at least 2-4 hours per night studying and keeping uptodate with lectures, pracs and clinical skills. I aim to head to bed by 11:30 pm to 12:30 am. Sometimes you do lose a bit of sleep but I encourage everyone to try to get a decent amount. It is fundamental for memory, mood and alertness throughout the day. Getting an adequate amount of sleep is something that I constantly struggle with, particularly during exams.

My routine on weekends involves usually having Saturday morning off to go out and play sports or spend time with my family and friends. Its something that I look forward and helps bring a bit of balance into my life. Depending how busy the university week has I tend to start studying after lunch and continue into the evening. If I feel I have adequately caught up on my work then I aim to have sometime off in the evening to relax with my friends or family. On Sundays I work throughout the day and study in the evening to catch up on work remaining from Saturday or preparing for the week ahead and pre-reading/revising for the week ahead. I feel that with a bit of pre-reading and preparation I can better maximise my learning during the week. But I know everyone has a different routine and I definitely advise you to experiment and explore what works best for you.

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