Tips for international students

“Educators in Australia enjoy when their students are engaged and ask questions, because it shows you are eager to learn.”

As students begin university, many will be moving out of home for the first time, but for some, this move can mean crossing over to a new continent.

As an international student, not only are you contending with the difficulties of medical school, you may also be struggling to fit into a new culture.

This can mean learning an unfamiliar language, eating strange food and adjusting to a new home. You may also be miles away from any family, friends or support networks. This can make you feel isolated and lonely.

Despite the challenges, once you apply your medical school knowledge in practice, you will begin to see how rewarding it is to study medicine in Australia.


First and foremost, look after yourself

This point remains true regardless of whether you are studying internationally or locally.

Studying medicine can be overwhelming, especially at the beginning. Try to keep up with the lectures, but also don’t overstretch and burn out.

Set time aside every week for yourself. Reflect on what you can do to make your learning process more efficient. Learning the course content in medical school can be drastically different from how you learnt in your undergraduate degree or high school, especially if you studied overseas.

Do not be afraid to break old habits and be flexible.


Utilise the support offered by your university

Every university will have free support. This can include services specific to the needs of international students, such as help with your spoken and written English.

Many universities offer cheap trips and day tours around your local city so you can get to know the local area Your university will also offer a range of other general supports which can include counselling, peer-mentoring, advice on writing assignments, presentation skills, and techniques to improve your study.

The university library offers a great range of free resources if you are looking for extra support, including study guides, online tutorials and library guides.

If you are struggling in class, do not be afraid to talk to your lecturer or tutor. Email them questions or to ask for clarification if you are confused. You will find that educators in Australia enjoy when their students are engaged and ask questions, because it shows you are eager to learn.


Do not neglect your social life

While passing exams may be your first concern, remember it is the social activities which will truly enrich your time in medical school. Social events are especially important for students who live far away from their family and cultural networks.

While international students may find themselves drawn to other international students, don’t forget to make friends with the local students.

Talking with local students will improve your English skills faster and you will also get to know more about local Australian traditions and culture. Talking to more people can also help you become a better listener, and this is a very useful skill for a doctor.

Attend events in or outside university. A good place to start is to join the on-campus clubs and societies. GPSN is a fantastic way to bond with fellow students in medical school. There are also other university clubs focusing on special interests, such as academic, social or spiritual.


How to supercharge your study

Talk to your peers and the people in the years above. These people are your friends and allies — sometimes they may even mentor you.

Studying in isolation is not helpful. Remember, medicine is about people and about collaboration. It is not a mad science where you must lock yourself up in a dungeon and find all the solutions by yourself.

Instead, connect with people from your small learning groups or with someone who sits next to you in class. Form study groups and learn from each other — you can go through the lecture content or share how you best optimise your study method.

If you are ever worried about looking silly in front of your peers, remember that textbooks are there for you. 

Take note of the books your lecturers recommend. In most cases, it may be Talley and O’Connor or Robbin’s. A book that a lot of us found useful is USMLE First Aid for Step 1 and its cousin textbooks. These books are designed to help the American medical student pass their equivalent of Phase I cumulative exam (USMLE Step 1).

If you do not like reading, there are also numerous other online resources that you can find. Ask any second-year student and they should be able to name a few and tell you the pros and cons.

Once you have found the best way to study medicine and pass exams, you will find the OSCE clinical skills exam to be the next big hurdle. Do not let this scare you. Find a few friends and practice. While studying medical science by yourself can make you very knowledgeable, it will not work for OSCE.

This exam also assesses your ‘performance techniques’ as a doctor, so it is important to learn how to build a rapport with the patient. Frequent practice is the only way to be an expert, so start practising early.

By Charles Changhan Xu, medical student at ANU.

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