What they don’t tell you about medical school

Pattaranit Krongboonying is a first-year student at Bristol Medical School and an RMBF medical student volunteer. Here he shares three key lessons that have helped him navigate his studies so far.

Just like any other medical applicant, I still remember walking into medical school on my first day, feeling starstruck. Everything I had been working towards during the application cycle had finally paid off. As I sat down in the introductory lectures, I remember thinking to myself that this would be the time I thrive, and be the best possible version of myself.

However – after time has flown by, and I now near the end of my first year – I have gone through numerous instances of doubting my own capabilities and capacity to be a medical student. Times when I came out of a lecture even more confused than before I entered, or when my friends answered questions as if it was second nature to them while I sat there completely dumbfounded.

In this article, I hope to give aspiring (and even current) medics some key advice that I wish I knew before I entered medical school.

Yes, it is okay to not understand what is going on.

The jump from pre-uni education to medical school is often played up to be “the biggest jump in difficulty,” although some say that’s just an over-exaggeration to scare students. While I stand on the side that it really is a substantial increase, in terms of the scope and depth of knowledge required, I would disagree with the doomsayers that medical school is the end of the world. Many people I know came from the best of the best, and aren’t used to not getting a concept on their first try, or struggling to master a concept.

As such, I felt that it was important for me to highlight that medicine is a lifelong trade. With the ever-expanding scope of what you need to know, how to diagnose, etc, it is perfectly okay if you cannot grasp a concept immediately. We are human after all. To try and be perfect all the time, every time, is just not realistic.

What really matters is how you respond to the gaps in your knowledge. Instead of wallowing in negative feelings of not being good enough, perhaps it would be a good first step to be kind to yourself, acknowledging that this is okay and that you are going to try and take steps to resolve the problem. Ask your friends, seniors, and tutors for advice, and for help in tackling these gaps. With consistent diligence and effort, over time you will be able to tackle those difficult concepts that you weren’t able to fully understand at first.

You have a life outside of medical school.

Many medical students I know tend to be on one of two sides: either being fully committed 24/7 to medicine, or heading out for one too many parties or drinking socials. Both sides also tend to feel that the other side is too serious, or too casual, for their own good, often having a critical view to those who do not conform to their lifestyle.

I agree that medicine is a serious degree that requires large amounts of time and effort to be able to practise at the required level. But I also feel that if you let medicine fully consume your life, it becomes much harder to draw the line between being a medical student and being you. It is important to recognize that you are much more than just someone who studies medicine.

It is okay to take those breaks, it is okay to go out and have fun with your friends (within reason). Medicine requires you to know your limits and take quality breaks when required, to be able to perform to the best of your abilities. So head out with your friends on that picnic that you never got around to doing, and come back recharged and ready to tackle those lectures waiting for you.

It is okay to ask for help.

As a medical student, I always used to struggle with asking for help. I struggled knowing that I was not capable enough to tackle something myself, and that I came across as weak for reaching out for help. I worried that if I asked for help, it meant I was not good enough to be a medical student, and so I often kept to myself during difficult times.

However, over time, I realised that people were always nearby to offer you a hand as long as you are willing to put yourself out there to be helped. As the saying goes, “others can only help you if you are willing to help yourself,” and the first step is often just recognizing that you need additional support and that you should actively look for it.

Knowing when to ask for help demonstrates maturity and awareness of your limits, a key skill that will continue far into your career as a doctor. Even as a consultant or professor, there will be times that you will need to consult others for additional views. As such, I felt it was important to highlight that asking for help is not a bad thing, and that it is important to be kind to yourself when the time calls for it.


As my finals loom near, I still find myself repeating and practising these three pieces of advice on a near-daily basis. I recognize that medicine demands a lot from me both mentally and physically, and as such I try to compensate accordingly, by doing what I can to ensure that I am in the best condition to tackle this degree.

If you find yourself in a position requiring additional support, you can always reach out to your medical school for advice. And of course, the RMBF is an excellent source of help – from financial support for students in difficulty, to the Advice Hub full of articles written by doctors and medical students (like this one!)

Remember that we are human first and foremost. Be kind to yourself and everything else will work itself out bit by bit – even if it doesn’t turn out exactly how you expect.