Dear first-year self

Advice to my first-year self

A letter to my first-year self

Dear first-year self,

You probably feel like you can conquer the world right now, and you deserve to feel that way. Hold onto this feeling because it will soon get busy and you’ll find yourself at 1am wondering why you’re memorising the kreb cycle even though it doesn’t seem relevant to any clinical scenario ever!

Know that you’re in for a tough, exciting, challenging, rewarding, invigorating few years. You’ll still be having fun, but I promise you will study harder than you have before. Speaking of studying, you should download a Pomodoro Technique app right now, it will revolutionise your study!

The people you meet in medical school will be the ones who will share ward call shifts with you. Soon, you will have many in-jokes. Study in groups and use the strengths of others — not only will you share the learning load, but you will make life-long friends.

A whole bunch of opportunities are about to cross your path — research, student clubs, teaching, and extra learning experiences. Welcome them all. You might think you know how you want your career to progress, but things are about to get confusing. Have a go at everything you can. Even if you don’t love whatever challenge you’ve taken on, I can guarantee you’ll learn something useful in the process.

Always keep in mind that you still need to pass medical school.

Don’t take on so much that this becomes a colossal task!

Remember that medical school will come to an end. Invest time in things outside of medical school — your friends, family, and hobbies. Don’t make the mistake of telling everyone you’ll resurface in four years. These things help keep you grounded and happy.

Finally, first-year self, there will be times when everything is difficult and it all feels pointless.

Everybody has days like these, particularly around high-stakes exams. But if your bad days begin to outnumber your good days please talk to someone.

While not many people will admit it, lots of us struggle, and that’s completely okay.
Above all else, enjoy yourself! Medical school will be hard work, but it will also be fun and rewarding, and so very worth it in the end.

In hindsight,
End-of-residency self

About the author


Dr Nicola Campbell is a GPRA member who served as GPSN National Chair in 2015. When she graduated in 2015, Nicola was voted most likely to write a textbook. While this has not yet happened, we are sure she is well on her way there!

She is completing residency at Toowoomba Hospital in regional Queensland and commencing psychiatry training as her advanced skill for rural general practice in 2018. Nicola is interested in junior doctor wellbeing and education. She is a part of the JMO forum of AMA Queensland Council of Doctors in Training. Nicola is a Going Places Ambassador at Toowoomba Hospital.

A letter to my first-year self


Dear first-year self,

Welcome to an intense marathon of learning and experiences.

To start, pace yourself. Have a look at your learning blocks, break them down into digestible pieces and ‘To Do’ lists and then start chugging away. It’s easy and normal to be overwhelmed by the enormity of knowledge you need to collect. It’s also ok to struggle with concepts the first and even second time around. Buy some quality coloured pencils and an art book to make learning enjoyable. Find some giant whiteboard material from Bunnings and “mind map” those difficult and complex learning points.

Look after yourself first and foremost. Prioritise your study as well as time for family, friends, extracurricular activities, fitness and sleep. Give yourself permission to leave the ward round at 2pm for a nap if you need but also to stay late if you’ve come across a fantastic learning opportunity.

Make sure you keep an eye out for your friends who may be struggling. Many medical students and doctors struggle with their mental health owing to the nature of our work and personalities. Be ready with an open ear and refer them on to the right services when they need it. Don’t give in to the competitive nature of medicine. Help your classmates by sharing knowledge, resources and opportunities.

Be wary of the weight you place on the advice of others, including mine. Each rotation you’ll hear rumours of scary consultants, intimidating exams and mind-boggling topics. Each year the people above you will tell you it only gets harder. You’ll be bombarded with opinions on how to study and which knowledge is the most important. Approach each challenge with enthusiasm, kindness and an open mind, and don’t buy in to the negativity.

Finally, just do your best, remembering that your best will change from day to day.

Love from,
Your future self

PS Fry an egg on the sandwich press in the common room. Whack it on some rice and top with white pepper, chilli flakes, oyster sauce and sesame oil. It’ll blow your mind!

About the author


Dr Claire Chandler is a former GPSN member who served as the GPSN National Chair in 2016. 

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