“hey have you heard of this new app…”

Now I don’t know about you, but this situation is one I find myself in quite frequently. Innocent though it seems, it’s actually quite a jarring question, you see, this innocent asking is challenging a very strongly rooted paradigm that is my phone ecosystem.

So far, I’ve lived in contentment with my current provision of apps, I have apps for travel, ones for music, others for my down time or when I’m commuting, fitness apps, photography apps, and even the odd red herring such as the Sleep Cycle app.

We then go through the initial phase of brushing it off as superfluous, despite their pleas that it will “literally change your life”, after long and hard considerations as to the price of the app, the design of the app, whether you then have to buy more upgrades once downloaded and if it fits in to a category or whether you’ll have to make a whole new one (another can of worms involving re-jigging your entire home screen), you reluctantly concede and download the app. Now comes the phase of intense euphoria as you realise, yes, this is actually a fantastic app, proceeding to thank your friend for their recommendation, followed by the harrowing realisation that you may never perform a single productive task for the foreseeable future. 

..so yeah guys, have you heard of QuizUp?

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I’m sorry D&P

I’ve spent the majority of my holidays overseas in sunny Kenya! It was really fun, a good break, however, one major problem was the lack of internet, basically everywhere, that we enjoy here. Many a night were spent in frustration trying to solve self-assigned IP issues in the flat or working at near zero brightness to conserve battery on my Mac, one night was spent working by lamp, which was cool! (for all of ten minutes, until I got preoccupied with taking pictures of the cool lamp).

However, a, slightly unexpected consequence of my being cut off from the internet, was a new found appreciation for Dean and Pegington. This is classically the ‘worst textbook imaginable‘, I think I’ve probably slated it in an earlier post or being dry, unimaginative, and having possibly the most awful pictures ever witnessed in an academic book. Nevertheless, when there is nothing else, when there was nothing else, this book was my saving grace, as it had exactly what I needed to revise in. The dryness of the text was just something you have to work through, forcing yourself to stare at the text for hours until it finally sinks in. When it does, you find the stark correlation between it and the questions on, say, LAPT or indeed past papers. So sorry D&P, sorry. 

 

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What they say about second year is all true…

All my upper year friends told me that second year was one of the hardest, little did I know that they were being deadly serious (third years upwards will probably look at this and chortle, that is, if they can find a break between their clinics, but it’s flipping difficult guys!

Work was a given. For the first term and a half, we’ve covered a lot of anatomy, limbs, head and neck. This felt like it was more difficult than the thoracic and enteric/pelvic stuff we did last year but at the same time, I have to admit, it’s a lot more interesting. Being able to see muscles as you’re learning about them, and then bringing in the neurological aspect is actually incredibly interesting, and at any rate, makes for much more palatable conversation with your non medic friends than chewing over the finer details of the external anal sphincter. Then comes neuroscience, which has dropped like a ton of bricks, so many pathways, so may obscure nuclei, so much grey matter, it’s all the same! That said, it is also (albeit, in retrospect) very interesting, because it’s popular stuff you know, stuff that makes you feel like you’re doing medicine, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS, learning about drugs such as morphine and cocaine; cool, but hard as nails. If you’re into neuroscience, thens second year is definitely for you, everyone else, find something to take your mind off the impending formatives… 

Last year I did french for my SSC, most medical schools make you take an elective module or two that may/may not be related to the course throughout the year. This year, I again shirked from the hard sciences, and took up Global Health. First of all, despite what people say and much to my disappointment, it actually isn’t a doss guys, it’s hard! Nevertheless, it is quite interesting. For the most part, we had 3 hour blocks of lectures/discussions where people actually spoke, which was a change, and was actually quite fun! As a result, I also sat through one of the best lectures I’ve ever had on death and dying by Dr. Rodney Reynolds. I don’t know what it was about him, but he presented the entire thing flawlessly, and was so approachable as a person, that it felt more like watching a documentary on the History Channel! The main assessments were also really interesting, the essay in particular, on the relationship between economic development and health improvement, I actually found myself enjoying the reading for, and I hate reading. 

Aside from work, comes the difficulties of living in a student house. So we managed to find quite a good house, close enough to uni and comparatively not-a-dump like some of my friends unfortunately got shafted with by horrible landlords. Let me start by saying, even though it’s had its tough times, I would definitely recommend moving out of halls for second year, there’s such a great feeling of owning your own house, being in control of everything, the feeling of ownership and being your own boss! However, in a house of all guys, this does tend to manifest as horrific untidiness and apathy to anything tidy. 

I do have one piece of advice for you guys making housing decisions (outside of London, a few of you have probably made these already and are feeling the pinch when rent creeps over the £60 a week mark .. hah!), there’s a big difference between Jimmy, this great guy I met in halls and Jimmy, my now housemate. When you live with someone, you really find out what they are like as a person, and some people just make terrible, terrible housemates. There’s no hard and fast way to solve this problem, you just have to hope for the best. There’ll be fall outs, domestics, horrendously deep running house politics that will leave you wanting out, but I guess it’s all a part of life really and sometimes we just have to deal with it. But please, for the love of God, get a rota. 

 

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The pitter patter of fresh fresh

So one of the rites of passage (probably one of the nicer traditions) is that as a fresher, you’re essentially ‘adopted’ into a family made up of second year mums and dads. 

My children are great, but I really don’t feel responsible enough to mentor other people given Iv’e pretty much forgotten all of second year already. However, I love their keen-ness, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Plus I get to watch it absolutely beaten out of them after circles and crawls of various kinds (if you know, you know) to become hardened second years like myself. 

Now for the onslaught of embryology questions… 

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OD

For my entire life, I’ve always been pretty sensible with my money, save not spend, scrimp not splurge, unfortunately, the London lifestyle, for the most part, isn’t very compatible with that frame of mind! 

Ok so It’s not like I went on a mad spree through Harrods, but moving into your own little place in central London has its own problems. This year I’m living near Angel. The area itself is pretty nice but it’s a little kick in the teeth when I realised I was essentially moving from the navy to the blue squares on Monopoly! It’s a big step up from catered halls, we have a kitchen (this is a big thing for meand compared to halls where, essentially, your entire life is condensed into one room, moving out with your friends definitely has its advantages. However, there are also pitfalls. 

Moving out for us was a pretty smooth transition, we had connections to a real estate agent through someone we knew which meant that we barely had to do any viewings and we got a house a lot earlier than most people in our year. We got a lot of money off it as well, which is great for us impoverished Northerners. However, there was a lot of rent required up front, something I definitely did not account for. So, this marks the first time in my life I’ve ever been in the red. (or, rather blue, Barclays clearly caught on to the negative connotations seeing red all over your balance comes with) 

Overdrafts are something my parents always told me about as being very bad financial decisions, for people who forgot to pay bills, withdrew ridiculous amounts they knew they didn’t have, amongst other wives tales. Now I’m not blaming them for their scaremongering, it did raise me not to rely on credit or other veins of virtual money to get by, but there are also genuine ways to get by, especially as a student, when you can’t – most importantly in London. The student overdraft is one of them. O% interest, up to a limit negotiated by your bank and you have until a year after you finish your degree to pay it off (see you in 2019 Barclays!) It’s a temporary measure for me, I hope, as my student loan should be coming in shortly to put me back into the black (or, rather, green for me), but between now and then, it’s just something there in the back of your mind you know? 

Until then, I’m not even going to look at a coffee shop. 

 

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First year

I only really felt qualified to write anything about medicine once I’d at least passed first year and it is with great joy that I’m writing to you guys today; I passed!

So, you’ve finished your A levels, no doubt you’re making plans for what is going to be the best summer of your life, raiding Debenhams for kitchen stuff, telling people you’ll definitely keep in contact with them and generally feeling like you’re on top of the world. Then comes September and you realise you’re leaving home, the dread sinks in; “are they going to like me?” “What if I hate it?” “Do I need to start revising already?!?” In this post, I’ll try to take you guys through what it’s like being a medic fresher.

The first week

Truth be told, I’m not really a Londoner, I’m actually from The North (*gasps*) so I brought my stuff down on the train. This was a challenge; two large suitcases, smaller suitcases and other bags. I had my family down to help me but I really don’t recommend it because by the end of the year, I had so much more stuff meaning moving out was an absolute nightmare. However, I managed and there was an almost tearful goodbye, then I was on my own.

The first few days go by in a blur, you meet endless numbers of people who’s names you can’t hope to remember, you do so much stuff in the name of freshers fortnight and as a medic, yes, you’ll probably still have 9am lectures so this is good practice for the rest of the year. You’ll have some sort of freshers fayre where all the different societies will have stalls – join a society! Its a great way to blow off steam and meet some of the other people in your year who aren’t medics. Then there’s the nightlife. Medics go hard. Its a common thing at most universities to have a night where all the sports teams get together and be social; sports night. Sports such as rugby, hockey and rowing are renown for the sheer amount of alcohol they consume (one poor university even made the papers!) and if this is your cup of tea then you’ll fit right in. If, however, you don’t drink or getting smashed isn’t your scene then there’s nothing really stopping you still enjoying a good night out. Most societies often cater for those who don’t drink, although beware, this doesn’t mean you get it easy in circle!

Aside from the constant activity and socialising, there is a little bit of work involved. You have loads of “introduction to..” lectures which are designed for your constant ‘morning after the night before’ mind. Lectures are where, for the most of us, the real learning curve begins. Professors and Doctors speak to you, at length, about a subject, for an hour at a ridiculous speed. And the volume covered in one lecture, you’ll have yourself wondering how you managed to do so little in one biology class! It scares a lot of people but the truth is, if you’re über keen you’ll read up before the lecture and treat lectures like revision. If you’re good at managing your time, you’ll go to lectures and then read up on the material and try to understand the notes later on and still have time for other stuff. This may be totally different if you’re not on a traditional style course, but there will be similarities I’d imagine.

But don’t sweat this, the stuff to sweat comes later, enjoy your first two weeks of freedom. For the London students:

Stuff to do:

Exploring London town (close tube stations):

  • Hyde Park (Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Lancaster Gate, Queensway & Knightsbridge)
  • Oxford street (Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd.)
  • Regent’s Street (Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus)
  • Leicester Square (Leicester Sq., Piccadilly Circus)
  • Covent Garden (Covent Garden, Leicester Sq.)
  • The Natural History and Science museums (South Kensington)
  • King’s Road (Sloane Sq.)
  • Regent’s Park + Primrose Hill (Gt. Portland St. , Regent’s Park, Baker St. , Camden Town & Chalk Farm for Primrose Hill)
  • London Eye (Waterloo, Westminister (walk along Victoria Embankment for a really nice view)
  • Westminster Abbey  (Westminster)
  • Big Ben (Westminster)
  • Houses of Parliament (Westminster)
  • Downing Street (Westminster)
  • Buckingham Palace (Hyde Park Corner, Victoria & Charing Cross – lovely walk down The Mall )
  • St. James’ Park – Right in front of Buckingham Palace
  • Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery (Charing Cross)
  • Portobello Market (Notting Hill Gt.)
  • The Gherkin (Liverpool St., Bank)

London is a big place, this list is just the start and points out a few of the most obvious haunts. However, the longer you stay in London, the more you make it your own, discover new little nooks and crannies in this big town of ours and, of course, keep them to yourself like all good secrets should!

Cheap and cheerful staples of the student nightlife

  • Monday – Moonies (Moonlighting) – it’s cheap. Nothing more; you get what you pay for!
  • Wednesday – The Roxy – Again, it’s just really cheap. Walkabout (temple) – this one is mainly a King’s haunt after sportsnight
  • Thursday – Proud (Chalk Farm) – This is genuinely a good night, free entry if you’re on a guestlist (there are always plenty around), it’s a good venue, music is good, live occasionally, and there’s a terrace
  • Friday – ULU (Euston Sq., Warren St., Goodge St.) – I can’t recommend this more, £1 to get in, drinks are really cheap (even for an impoverished  northener) and the music isn’t half bad.

Others

  • Ministry of sound – unless it’s a student night, it’s really expensive, I paid £22 and hated it. The venue is really good but they ruined songs and drinks were extortionate. In addition, we felt a bit out of our age…
  • The Big Chill House – Great, the hip hop night is ace, the venue is good too, not sure how much this place costs though as I’ve only been here on birthdays
  • Rainforest Cafe – Weird, fun though! If you’re into dancing next to goldfish. Drinks are pricey
  • Piccadilly Circus – The venue is not bad, lots of rooms, but we went one night and there were too many people that were way older than us which sort of killed it for us.
  • KOKO – like a theatre, cool

An average week

An average week

So the UCL course is a ‘traditional’ course. This means that we have more lectures and fewer small group type things. PBL courses have a lot more of these, they have scenarios which they tackle as a group and present to each other.

The lectures

Lectures aren’t that bad, okay there are some 9ams that you turn up to and leave probably with less knowledge than you walked in with, breaking down over the prospect of all the work you’re going to have to to to catch up but once you get a hang of how they work and managing time effectively then you just get into the swing of it, no matter how bad that first week feels. Also, (most of) our lectures are recorded, which, yes, technically means there is literally no incentive to turn up but I feel that you learn in a different way once you’ve made the effort to show up compared to rolling out of bed and half-assedly trying to watch the recording.

The lectures themselves cover a vast variety of topics. The biggest divide is between what one would describe as ‘medicine’ lectures and then ‘Vertical module’ or VM lectures. The latter cover things like sociology, psychology and statistics and are widely regarded as dull and uninspiring, mainly because they are, although this depends on the lecture. However, and I can’t stress this enough, and this goes for all medical schools, things (maybe with the exception of embryology) that seem superfluous but lecturers keep rabbiting on about are worth revising because they will come up in exams. The exams are set, for the most part, on what they teach you in lectures. Far gone are the days of a national curriculum or syllabus, they test you on what they teach you,

Outside lectures

Aside from lectures, we do have some other things. The biggest is on Thursdays where we have something called Vertical Modules which really different to regular lectures. You’re sent off to one of the 3 medical hospitals in the area; the Royal Free up in Belsize Park, the Whittington up in Archway and some lucky people get to stay in UCH. Here you have small group discussions on some of the things that come up in those VM lectures. These are great, a massive change to lectures. They’re normally quite chilled out, everyone has a laugh and you do learn some stuff. Also, in this time, you have patients that come in after you’ve completed a topic. For example, after doing Circulation and Breathing, we had some patients come in with chest complications and heart issues who we could talk to and do some basic observations like listen to them breathing or listen for murmurs. These are truly incredible opportunities because literally what you’ve just been reading in textbooks is what you’re looking at in front of you. We are truly privileged as medics that we get such an intimate view of people’s lives. Also, pay attention as you have to write up about it!

Then you have small group tutorials on the medicine aspect with some lecturers. These are very scattered through the year, normally come almost at the end of a big topic, none in the first two chunks, more in the last two. They’re really good too, although it depends on the lecturer and your group as to how much you’ll really enjoy it. My group this year was really boring, and extremely dull; no one talked, you could hear a pin drop. However, the lecturer we had taught the hardest module so it all worked out.

Often you’ll have PBL and CAL sessions which directly apply what you’ve learned in lectures in exam style questions (hint, hint) and so the biggest thing I can tell you about these is to turn up and actually do the work because sometimes, and there were some cases this year, they directly take questions from your PBL and put them into your exam!

Minor differences

A good score at A2 level: 80-90% A good score at university: >50%

One thing you will need to get out of your mind is this whole pride thing we’re reared up with. There is going to be competition but what you’ve got to realise is that in college or sixth form, you were a big fish in a little pond. I finished top of my year in college but when I got to uni this meant nothing because I was amongst 350 other people who finished top in their year; see what I mean? You need to aim to pass, otherwise you stress yourself out too much if you don’t make 80-90% as easily as A2 biology and then you won’t even make that 50.

Texts: College – a ~200 page book that you learned like the bible for each of your 3/4 subjects per module and then could pretty much ignore for your next module, University: quite literally an endless library resources with no syllabus to point you to what you need to cram for the exam 

In A2, you had a nice framework that you could look to at any point and for any topic that gave you a book and page reference to that book that you get at the start of the year. Forget this existed, comparing it to the infinite span of your university degree will just make you weep. You will get to this point where you’re sat in a lecture and the professor is like “and this binds to CD4578375387 which then activates tinyandreallyinsignifantase which is end product inhibited by 1-3dihydroxyacetonephosphate, a natural product of the enzyme linked reaction between alphabetaihatethisarate and thiscouldntgetanyworseogen”, you frantically try and half scrawl this down and when you go to the library, there are books on every single one of those above molecules; panic! Of course, I’m not telling you to disregard what they say, what they say is what they test you on, I’m just telling you to revise smart. Get a core of good textbooks around you – especially for anatomy, use those and get familiar with them. You don’t want to get too many books because often books have some minor contradictions and you’ll waste so many hours on Wikipedia trying to suss them out that you could have finished getting the basics down and gone out ages ago; work hard, work smart

Good textbooks

  • Gray’s anatomy
  • Netter’s atlas of anatomy
  • Core anatomy for students, Vol. 1 – also known as D&P amongst other, more colourful names. This is worldly renown as THE WORST anatomy ‘textbook’ ever, but unfortunately for us, our lecturer is the one who cursed the world with its existence, and so we are bound to have to struggle to read its dreary black and white pages. However, this denser-than-lead book is sometimes useful alongside another, more reputable atlas.
  • Pocock and Richards Human physiology (Vol.3 is good, Vol. 4 has beautiful layouts and fonts 😉 )
  • Wheater’s functional histology – great book!
  • Vander’s Human physiology
  • Introduction to Human Metabolism, D. A. Bender (A fantastic man and a great lecturer)
  • Case studies in infectious diseases (Written by Kate Ward and freely available on the internet/moodle)

Exams: Nice mock exams a variable amount of past papers, modules, and ample chance to retake quite safely, One mock exam, very few, if any, past papers, exams at the end of the year and retakes are painful

The  worst thing about uni exams is the lack of past papers. I know for maths and physics, you could get your hands on stacks and stacks of these bad boys, burn through them in a day and you’d be ready to sit the exam. Not the case. If you ask the older years, some are bound to have a few but the exam type changes so frequently so you don’t really get a chance to sharpen that exam technique, especially, as I’m sure, for most of you, SBAs and EMQs are something you won’t be familiar with.

SBA means single best answer. How this works is that they give you a list of five options, and you’re meant to pick the one that is the most right. This is tricky and requires that you really do know your stuff, however, it is also good because it eases your cramming burden as you can just recognise some things because they’re written down. It’s all about elimination here as you’ve got to whittle it down to two close ones and then use judgement and knowledge to suss out the right one.

Resits at UCL are horrible, fail one exam and you have to resit them all. This really scares you when you’re sat there in the hall and are like crap crap crap I’ve failed this paper. However, there is some leeway. Firstly, if you’ve got extenuating circumstances, apply for them, don’t leave them till the last minute cos the staff are really helpful because they’ve invested a lot of time into you and don’t want to see you avoidably fail. Next, if you’re within 5% of the pass mark and you’ve passed the other papers well then they’ll probably let you through. Also, as  saw this year, the pass mark is a reflection of the entire year, so for one paper it was 46% because people found it hard, yet for the other one it was above 50%, so it’s not a static thing. I tell you now, I walked out of that last exam thinking I’d failed it totally. There was so much VM and I had paid it no attention. However, I passed it really well so even if you walk out with that horrendous lurch in your gut, the thing is with SBAs, you never really know how well you’ve done until you see that email come results day.

The spot test

These vary between universities but at ours, we had one. This is where they really grill your anatomy knowledge. For us, we were on a circuit with 50 miscellaneous body parts, pins, bones and X rays. at each station, you have to do what it says, for example, they may show you an x ray with a pointer at a specific bone or organ and ask you what it is/does/serves/ or where it is in the body. They could also have a cadaver and point to like a nerve and ask you about its course, what it serves, what it is. These vary a lot and can get you off guard. Just make sure your anatomy is on top form. Revise a lot in groups, anatomy is very visual and interactive and is easier learned collaboratively.

Study

The way I studied for medicine did change a little over the year. Everyone has their own way of doing this so this is by no means an authoritative method but it may help some of you out.

So I’m not the sort of guy that can read up about a lecture before the lecture, that’s just too much like hard work. During the lecture, I’d take my laptop in and pretty much, almost word for word, try to get down what the lecturer said. After this, I’d usually go home and look at books and stuff relating to the topic and try to now understand this lecture, and draft up a nice handwritten version of the lecture, a bit more concise and with better pictures than the lecturer used! This was a really good method but it was very time intensive, a lecture took me roughly 2 hours to understand and note down and even after this I didn’t remember much the next day.

Around halfway through the year, I decided to switch up. I just got fed up of spending so much time revising. During lectures I cut down my essays to bullet points and had a copy of the lecture slides alongside my document so I could annotate at the same time. At home, I stopped drawing everything out and made an iBook with all my notes on it (that app is great). This meant that they could still be visually stunning at reduced time costs. This I kept up until the end of the year, sometimes even shortening paragraphs on this solely to bullet points.

When revising it’s really important, also, to keep books nearby. I had the unfortunate experience of not doing this at the start, only relying on what I heard in the lecture, or thought I heard, to have my ‘knowledge’ disproved by friends that actually read the book!

So Enjoy your first year

Being a medical student is a lot of work, but its also great fun. You’ll have history students telling you that they’ve never had a 9am or English students that manage to go out every night and still pull a first at the end of the year, you’ll have crises and panic attacks when the workload piles up to your eyebrows and that’s just the monday! However, the stuff you learn is great! (you appreciate this after the exam anyway), the opportunities we get as students, at this age, I mean people donate their entire bodies just so we can do our degree, they sit there and talk to us about their lives, loves, struggles, all so we can help shape a better tomorrow. We also throw the best parties! So, harrowing as the prospect may be, enjoy it!

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