First times

Gaining confidence

Location: UK
Audience: Junior doctors Medical students
Updated: Friday 10 January 2020
Topics: Emotional toll of being a doctor
When you begin your medical degree you may find that, unlike at school, you are not always top of the class, but just one of many bright, motivated people. Read our advice on dealing with the feelings this may provoke.

The transition from studying A-levels to starting medical school is a stressful time for many. You will be trying to cope with moving away from home and friends, integrating into a new peer group, and there may be financial issues.

One of the areas you may not have considered is how it will feel to be among a group of high-achieving individuals - like you - but not being 'at the top' as you were at school.

Suddenly being a small fish in a big pond can present its own problems and how you meet this challenge can be an important factor in your early years at medical school.

You may also be finding it difficult to motivate yourself in your learning at medical school because of all the distractions around you and because, for the first time, you may find that you have to be self-motivated about your learning.

How should you make sense of your feelings when you are no longer top of the class? You may be disappointed in yourself and feel that you could do better, whereas the reality is that you are in a group with others of similar ability. It may be helpful to remind yourself of this.

And, at some stage in their lives, most successful people will have to come to terms with not being 'tops' and learning this lesson early on helps provide us with the skills to cope with similar challenges later in life.

To put matters in perspective it may help to ask yourself questions such as:

  • Does it really matter if I am not top?
  • Will my family and friends really think the worse of me?
  • In terms of my career, will it have a major effect?

When you ponder these points, you will realise that needing to be top is not as important as you originally felt it to be.

It is a positive attribute to be ambitious but if gaining top marks is your sole goal you may miss many of the valuable experiences and lessons along the way that could enrich your abilities as a doctor and thus benefit you and your patients.

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