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Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Medical School: A Survival Guide - Part 1

You, yes you! Are you interested in a career in medicine? Are you interested in knowing more about medicine? Or being a medical student? Are you simply a regular reader of this blog? Are you lost and slightly confused by this sudden and unwarranted barrage of questions? Do you require medical assistance?

If so then sit down, apply pressure to your gaping wound and read on, the magical healing properties of my amazing literary prowess shall tend to you as I give you a whirlwind tour of the ups, the downs, the further downs, and the rock bottoms of choosing to do a medical degree, all divided into handy, deadline-filling chapters for your ease.

Medical school is hard. Like really hard. I think they use tungsten or something, definitely don't try biting it. There's long hours, tough material, strict rules and a very unusual collection of colleagues to deal with, so if you think you want to do it, it's best going in knowing the basics. I am, obviously, an expert seeing as I have survived a whole year, so listen to my every word and take it as gospel. There will be a test.

"Would you all pass your answer sheets back up to the front, please."
Without further ado, let us begin our endless journey into the fiery chasm of medical school. I'll be using my university as a template but I assume in my infinite knowledge that these things apply at least to every single other medical school in the world.

Chapter One - The Place

I go to Dundee University. For those of you who are not from Dundee or are lucky enough to have never passed through or heard of it, here is a map of the university campus that I definitely did not lift straight from Google Maps:

Also handily displaying every part of Dundee you don't want to go to in grey.
A nice, big uni campus. This is literally the beating heart of Dundee, the whole city has essentially become completely student-oriented. If you need something, it'll undoubtedly be somewhere near here. You'll probably live here, or at least very nearby. Along with everyone you've probably met up to this point.

Here is the same map including Ninewells Hospital, where the medical school is based:

That's a good 40 minute walk from the hospital to the campus. The sad truth is that most cities were not designed to accommodate for the poor sods who, in general, have no car, a crushing hangover and need to make this nightmare of a pilgrimage every day. Sure, there's the bus (or even a bike). But that's money (and energy), and spare change is to a student like Unobtanium is to a steroid-fuelled space marine. Extremely valuable, hard to come by, and protected by very violent smurfs.

You can feel the murder in his eyes...
Some medical schools might be luckier with a lot of classes taking place on campus, or even a nearer hospital, but in general if you choose to study medicine at any given university, you might as well pretend you've gone to a completely different one to any of the people you might know studying a different course. You are alone. And in Ninewells, no-one can hear you scream.

As for the hospital itself, you've got a whole world of pain waiting for you. Y'see, hospitals are very organic beings. They've usually been around for a long time in some form or another, and they've sort of just evolved to fit their needs, with extra floors, wings, departments, wards, clinics and torture chambers added and removed as and when it has been deemed necessary. That's great for the overall functioning of the hospital, but a wholesome source of angst for a student who had probably arrived having only just got the hang of the layout of their old high school.

"I'm too young for this!"
This is extenuated when you get on wards or clinical placements around the hospital where you don't have a herd of equally as confused-looking students to follow. You've usually got to try and find this place all by yourself, with nothing but a Doctor's name and a ward number to help you. 

You set out on your expedition, wary yet hopeful, and find a sign for your ward. Success! This will not be as hard as expected. You walk down a long corridor and up a set of steps, pass through some double doors and- Shit. There's a door with a keypad. You don't have access to such advanced technology! You shuffle about for a bit until some guy in a lab coat lets you through. You wander around inside this wing for a bit until you realise there isn't an exit, stumbling through a corridor of offices before bursting back out of the door you came in again. But wait, this isn't the same hallway, you must have taken a different turn. You need to get one more floor up but there are no stairs. You frantically walk-sprint down another corridor, ending up on a ward which doesn't seem to have a number, doctors and nurses staring at you as you clutch the front of your newly ironed shirt now drenched in fear-sweat. You trip and land on a patient's bed, an old woman yells. A nurse asks if you're OK. You scream a series of incoherent words before passing out and falling against a clinical waste bin.

True story.

Actually, the true story had more minotaurs in it.
Hospitals are labyrinths, but with less awesome music and David Bowie, so you're bound to get lost. Even if you're in the right place and need to find a bed, a chair or some of the ever-present hand sanitizer, it is almost certain that they will vanish. The important thing is to not panic and find a nice-looking doctor to ask for directions. That said, consultants are usually too busy to notice you and nurses are annoyed by you before you even approach them. Your best bet is junior doctors, they usually still retain a faint glimmer of a memory of what it's like to start studying medicine so they should be sympathetic. They're usually the ones in the harness, carrying a small hillock of files, being whipped by the other staff and conscious patients.

This is the one and only time it is a good idea to approach a person in a gimp costume.
We've not even touched on the usually binary heating situation in these places (one minute you're using your nipples to carve a path through the ice, the next you're carrying your notes around in a camel-back), what an anatomy lab looks like (don't lean on the body bags and you'll be fine) or why a single microbiology practical will be set in a lab approximately as difficult to get to as Hitler's dinosaur factory on the moon, but these pale in comparison to the last, and most important place you will find yourself in:

The lecture theatres.

They put in another red chair for each student who takes their life here.
Lectures will be getting their very own part in this mini-series, but I thought it important to mention them here. Lectures are your bread and butter, they are your alpha and omega, your Riff Raff and Magenta. You will spill blood, sweat and tears in these rooms. You will probably get more sleep here than at home. Lecture theatres will be your home. You will by all accounts die here.

"I think perhaps you'd better come inside..."
All I can do is make you aware of the inevitable. You may not like these places and their very strict unspoken etiquette, but you'll certainly grow to know them, even need them. Maybe, just maybe, you will someday love them.

Circle Of Dante's Hell Most Similar To

Limbo (The First Circle) - 
Finding your way around medical school, you will be surrounded by those much smarter than you; scholars, doctors, philosophers, possibly even a dude with a snake's tail who judges you. You will pass through seven gates to approach your destination, but there is still a long, long way to go. 

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