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Medical School So Far: My First Term as a COVID-19 Fresher

A reflection of my first term at medical school as we start the new year.

January 2021
Sana Khan
Aston University - 1st Year Medical Student

The first day of medical school started with confusion, perfectly embodying how we were going to feel for the next 5 years... only joking - or am I?


Before starting university, we created an Aston Medicine 2020 group chat and started getting to know each other. Safe to say the group chat exploded when none of us could navigate blackboard on our first day of university. Something about being clueless together was so fun, and that cluelessness has definitely continued since. Sometimes it feels like it’s decreasing every day, but other times it feels like it’s increasing... But the best thing about it is that there is always someone there to help. There’s a wonderful community where you can ask for help and there’ll always be someone willing to listen and make time to help you.


From day one, our medical school has drilled into us that this degree is all about teamwork. ‘Don’t try to do it all alone,’ is what we’re told all the time by our lecturers and seniors. A valuable lesson indeed. And it's something the curriculum reflects, as Aston Medical School takes the Problem Based Learning (PBL) approach, which emphasises small group teaching and teamwork.


The PBL approach essentially involves splitting our cohort into small groups of 5 students who you work with every day. In the first term, we had various modules including:


In general, we had two lectures and a group work session for each module per week. The group work session ensured we didn’t fall too behind on lectures as we were expected to have watched the lectures in order to complete the group work activities. Without this, it would’ve been easy to fall behind since we had recorded lectures which meant we could watch them anytime! In our small groups we often had to complete a worksheet before sharing our answers with an even wider group. We then had a further discussion with the entire cohort led by the lecturer, which offered us the space to ask questions and address any doubts.


For me, the group work sessions have been great because working closely with people every single day really helps you form friendships. It has been hard getting to know each other as this term has been largely online, so these sessions really helped with that aspect. Beyond this, the university made sure that we were interacting not only with each other, but also the older years and students from other courses such as pharmacy and optometry as well. We are all paired with mentors from the year above and have been assigned academic families (who are there to look out for us), giving us the perfect chance to interact, build bonds and learn from our seniors.

So, what am I most proud of so far?


1.    My communication skills

The first term at medical school has taught me a number of skills, the biggest one being communication. We have had to do presentations so regularly that presenting in front of a group of people no longer fazes me the way it did before. I'm slowly mastering the art of speaking confidently and improvising when put on the spot. Even my daily conversations are improving; I’m becoming better at listening and speaking and that’s because of medical school, and perhaps even the pandemic. This is because we've grown accustomed to reading body language and following cues from people online. In fact, during placement when I asked my GP educator what it’s like to do over the phone consultations, he said that it’s made him a better communicator and that medicine is all about adapting.  

2.    Surviving the challenges of first term


Whilst the journey has been great so far, I absolutely did have breakdowns and did feel overwhelmed by the workload multiple times. It can often get too much and every year at medical school brings its own challenges. First year is hard because whilst you're trying to adjust to the jump from A level to university and the increasing workload, you may also be familiarising yourself with a new city, living without family, having to make new friends, and also, surviving a pandemic. And that can be stressful. So, something I've learnt is that it’s okay to fall a little behind sometimes - especially in your first term because you’re figuring everything out, and you’re figuring out HOW to study. Not to mention you may be comparing yourself to others which I’ve since learnt is something you really, really shouldn’t do.


3.    Getting stuck in and maintaining a strong support network


To cope with the challenges of my first term, I would try to get myself involved in as many opportunities as I could, so the work didn’t take over my life. I also made sure that if I was struggling, I shared it with one of my friends, one of the older students, my personal tutor or the medical school. I’ve tried to keep in mind that there’s always someone there to help - it’s a team effort and that’s the beauty of it. Don’t try and do it all alone when you have the option of sticking side by side with other amazing people throughout the journey.

Finally, the biggest lesson I’ve learn this year is that being kind to yourself is essential to success. As aspiring medics, medical students and doctors, it’s in our nature to be hardworking, and that’s great. But, if we put too much pressure on ourselves or beat ourselves up over small things, like not waking up early enough or not being as productive as possible, then we really won’t be able to give each day our best shot.


So, looking ahead to the new year and the next term, no matter what stage we're at in our education, let’s make a point of appreciating our own hard work and being that much kinder to ourselves.


Happy new year!

Author: Sana Khan

Editor: Latifa Haque

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