Ten Things I've Learned about Medicine // 18 Months

A photo taken by my friend SS at a recent medicine social event. The flowers are for costume.

1. Experience matters

I’ve come to realise that your WAM is not so important as experience. Sure, WAM is nice and can help with certain applications, or Honours, etc., but in all honesty it’s the experience that really counts.

I’ve been growing increasingly worrisome because I’ve realised how difficult it actually is to obtain this experience. The ones that already have more experience than you will be able to gain even more, because they’re more likely to be selected for further experiences because a) they know how to apply well and correctly to get selected, and b) they tend to select people who have more to say, which stems from those who already have more experience. That leaves me feeling like a floundering fish which is not a pleasant feeling, and makes it very easy to give up.

I wish I had learned this earlier — I spent my entire first year doing very little — mostly trying to find myself and grow accustomed to the medical-student lifestyle, and now when I’m trying to branch out I’m finding it so difficult to even start.

2. Routine 9am’s

After an entire year of 9am starts, you start to grow accustomed to it. Yep, here we go, another 9am start — that’s just how it is. So every morning, you haul your butt out of bed to catch that 7am bus, and even so you may still be late to Uni (at one point in this Semester it took me two hours and fifteen minutes to travel to Uni, one-way. Yes, that’s four and a half hours a day. Yes, that often is more than the actual classes I had at Uni on that day).

What I mean, I suppose, is that the routine becomes so much more routine. No more complaints. The complaints we have instead are of 8ams, or specifically difficult days (such as 9-5pm non-stop, which really is rough because it’s hard to fit in time to eat — eating is, for obvious reasons, not allowed within labs).

I guess it becomes a way of life, and I’ve just learned to adapt to it.

3. Realising that you’re not so little anymore

With new freshers on the stage, it means we’re no longer the smallest fish in the pond. It’s actually quite interesting to see them go through all the stages of medical school that I found myself going through. Seeing them stress out for their first exams (which don’t end up counting), and then stressing again for their first real exams. Watching them ask the same questions as we did, and flash-backs to our confusion a year ago.

It’s refreshing and reminds me how far we’ve come in the last year. Of course, there are still many more big fish in the ocean — third years, fourth years, all the way to interns and Professors, but it’s weird to see others who are more clueless and less knowledgable than you are for once. And a little part of me instinctively wants to nurture and care for them — guide them through those scary moments that I, too, remember going through just a year ago. 

4. Applying knowledge and diagnosing friends and self

Yes, I have now been approached several times about potential health problems. And have also seemed to start diagnosing myself with simple illnesses. This, altogether, hasn’t been quite frustrating, more than interesting, actually. I feel that finding an opportunity to test and apply what you’ve learned is always an exciting moment, and there’s something quite like a sense of ‘pride’ when you tell yourself “it’s probably just a case of viral pharyngitis”. 

Though, of course, I always conclude with ‘My advice is that… you should go see a real Doctor’.
But it does make you remember how much we’ve actually learned in the time span of a year. And how bit by bit you start to see a medical practitioner start to emerge from the mess of Uni-student that seems to make yourself up right now. Though there’s a long, far, and arduous journey lying ahead, sometimes I turn around and remark ‘Hey, I’ve actually travelled somewhere in the last year or so’.

5. Being less afraid, but still messing up nonetheless. Real bad, sometimes.

Most definitely true. Perhaps this is due to ‘growing accustomed’ to the routine and life of a medical student, or knowing yourself and your own capabilities better (I have a better grasp on how long it will take me to prep for an exam, or finish an assignment), but things start to become a bit less daunting.

Speaking to patients is something I look forward to, rather than fear (most of the time; not always). Practical exams are more of a familiar thing — something that I just do, rather than something I fear and hype myself up for.

“It’s okay, it’s just _____” is a phrase that crops up far more often in second year, and you start to juggle more things at the same time. Less stress, perhaps, and more confidence, but is that confidence misplaced?

Because, despite all of the ‘familiarity’ of it all, I still mess up sometimes. There are still moments where I absolutely screw things up, down, and every-other direction possible to the point that everything is an entire giant spaghetti-mess of things. Yes, I am speaking from first-hand experience. There are moments when I still feel intense shame at how I’ve performed, and it often hurts even more because this time I can’t blame it on me being a ‘first year’, or this being my ‘first time’. And the fact that I was so much more confident initially, but still managed to flop, makes it an even bigger ego-kick. It can be hard to remember that although you may be bigger, more well-grown, and knowledgable than you were a year ago, there is still far more you have to learn.

6. Relaxing a bit more

With more acceptance of how things are, and more complacency, there’s generally a greater deal of time to relax. I guess making it through the first year alive and well convinces me, as a second-year, that the following year will be ‘okay’ too, and the year after than, and after that… 

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate, but let’s look at it from a more beneficial perspective for once. At least it means more time to relax.

It means I can go out and do other things that I also love; things that I wouldn’t have allowed myself to do during first-year University. I guess finally finding your footing and where you stand during these years of your life is a big thing that finally starts to set in stone during second-year.
Perhaps a part of me is less uptight as I was in the past, or has placed more trust in the course, the people around me, and most of all, in myself. Altogether it’s allowed this year to be more enjoyable and manageable, one step at a time. Sometimes, Manjekah, all you have to do is take a deep breath first.

7. Growing efficiency & team-work

I feel that with time, we’ve all grown in team-work. People are much more willing to take the initiative, the leadership role, to communicate with each other, and to overall be effective and efficient. Honestly, nobody has time for things that aren’t efficient.

Far more frequently do I find team-work just roll off so seamlessly and smoothly. “I’ll make the google doc” “I’ll write up minutes” “I’ll do some pre-reading on this”. Perhaps I’ve just been blessed with good team-workers, but things are quick-quick-quick and bang-bang, far more than last year.

8. Busy, busy, busy

Where do I even begin to elaborate on this.

Life has grown exceedingly busy — it never seems to end, does it?! Right when you think life couldn’t get even busier, it proceeds to do so without your permission.

Every week I almost have something on, and there’s an endless ‘to-do’ list that I never ever seem to complete (literally). My desk has been messy for years, and there’s always so much more I wish I could have time to do or devote time to, but sadly the moment never arises. There is always more to do, more things I need to spend time on, and more people to catch up with. And second-year has only seemed to compound that with greater expectations and pressures.

9. Holding on to what makes you you, because medicine changes you for sure

I am, most definitely, not the same person as I was this time last year. I can say that for certain. Whether or not that’s a good thing is subjective, but I like to think I’ve grown as a person.

What has been most difficult is managing all this but also preserving a sense of yourself and who you are. It can be very hard to remember what parts of you make up your own identity, because medicine becomes something that is a part of who you are. Is a ‘medical student at UNSW’ really all that I am? Surely not. I am so much more than that. But what am I, again?

With time-shortages it can be difficult to channel those parts of yourself. Reading, learning Spanish, photography, table-tennis… There are so many aspects of myself that have had to be put on hold because of the time and effort that a medicine University degree takes up. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t limited simply to a medical degree; I feel like this is a phenomena that happens as you grow older, no matter who you are or where you are. Times change and we have to change with them, and often it’s in these moments that we cling even tighter to the things that make us who we truly are.

10. You learn to cop what’s handed to you

This is the big one I learned this year.

So many things are not in your control. Take hospital allocations; all we can do is put a preference and hope for the best. There is always the possibility you could be forced to go rural for a year (which, happened to a friend of mine) and there is nothing you can do about that except suck it up and deal with it. Things happen that are far beyond your control and it is something that is not limited to the medical degree — this will follow you throughout your medical career. 

From patient to patient, outcome to outcome, there will be situations which are far beyond your control, and we have been taught from this young age of fresher-medical-student to simply accept it and move on, because there is no use whining about it. 

We just cop it.

I guess this leads onto my final point that a medical degree is hard. Earlier this year someone pretty much asked me ‘Why on Earth would you do medicine when it’s such a difficult degree? You put yourself through such a difficult degree and sacrifice so much! Why???’

And, to be honest, I found myself a little bit offended by that. 

Don’t get me wrong, medicine is hard. I admit that. But I certainly don’t feel like I’m giving up a piece of my own identity or integrity for this degree and career choice. Medicine is something I love and feel I would be blessed to be able to have as a job for the rest of my life. Medicine is something that changes you as a person and gives me purpose to wake up and haul my butt to work or Uni every single morning. Yes, it’s difficult, and we do sacrifice a lot, but we also gain a lot from the things we do as well.

I don’t know where this paragraph is going, but I do know that I’m busy, and have many things to do.


Congratulations if you've made it this far. Recently life has been very busy, daunting, exhausting, and exciting at the same time. I'm having a lot of second thoughts about this blog, again. Do I have time to update? Do people even read it?

I think as I'm growing older I'm finding there are a lot more things I'd like to do, and also starting to realise what things mean less to me. But, more on that later!

Hope you have all been well. This won't be my last post, no, but who really knows when it'll all end? We'll have to see! A Taronga Zoo and flashback post is in the making.

Much love, Manj.


  1. I read it Manj! It was great, definitely one of your best so far :D



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Hello! I'm a student from Australia. I like photography, am aspiring to be a Doctor, have fallen in love with many things that life has to offer, and hope to see more of it. I've been blogging for a while and over the years what it means to me has changed. Currently still trying to figure that out, but here I am in a weird hybridisation of photography, film, blogging, and the confusion of a young adult, you'll find me here writing about my experiences and life. Or whatever tickles my fancy. Whether that's entertaining or not is yours to decide. Stay hydrated, kids.