What I wish I had known starting my third year

by Anna Murray

Tips on making the most of your third year from someone who's been through it

Location: Northern Ireland
Published: Monday 5 October 2020
anna murray


  • Third year is a completely different experience to the previous two years. It is completely normal to feel overwhelmed at the start. The way you learn and the way you organise your learning is all new. Do not be too hard on yourself for the first few weeks and just focus on how you are going to organise your time
  • This is the first year that you are split up from your tutorial group. Although this can be difficult, it also allows you to make more friends and have different experiences. See this as a good thing!
  • Make time to see your friends, especially those you have been close to in the previous two years as they have been your peers and support so far in your time at medical school. It is also an opportunity to compare notes and experiences with friends who are on other attachments that you have yet to start
  • Don’t panic about moving to peripheral hospitals. There is usually a great group of students there and it is another opportunity to meet new people and experience cities and towns other than Belfast
  • Third year is a really enjoyable year. I definitely felt privileged to have the opportunity to experience life in the hospital and learn from patients. This year makes all your learning during the previous two years feel worthwhile and meaningful! It is most definitely nothing to be afraid of but is something to embrace!


Learning in third year

  • Keep on top of the content throughout the year. This means you are not panicking at the end of the year.
  • Have a look over some of the content before starting the specialty so that it means something to you the next time you hear it. Bedside teaching, theatre and clinics make more sense and seem less daunting if you can cement your knowledge in advance, not start from scratch!
  • There are some great online resources which you can use to supplement what is on the portal. These include: PassMedicine textbook, Almost a Doctor, Dermz.net, and Allistair Scott Notes.
  • The information on the portal alone is not sufficient enough for exams, but do not go out and buy lots of textbooks as this can be expensive. Definitely invest in the Oxford Clinical Handbook as this will come in handy throughout your entire medical career.
  • Use the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) website for the most up-to-date guidelines e.g. colorectal cancer referral criteria.
  • For SBCP (Scientific Basis of Clinical Practise), invest in the Oxford Handbook of Pathology. It contains each disease outlined in the lectures on one page per-disease. Use this book to note the key words for each condition as the exam involves recognition of these key words
  • For me, I found it useful to revise the relevant SBCP topic alongside the clinical topic to get a better feel for the subject. There is also a lot of repetition between the two, which helps to cement your learning. Studying SCBP and clinical practice together also prevents you from making duplicate notes.


Career – ThinkAheadMed in third year

  • Ask questions! If you are interested in a specialty and have the opportunity to speak to doctor in that field, ask them about it: Why did they get into that specialty? What did they do in medical school to enhance their CV? What they don’t like about the job? What is the work-life balance like? What are the opportunities that come with that specialty - research and travel, private work? Are there any projects they know of in which you can get involved now as a medical student?
  • Audits: Ask about these on the ward and try to be eager in clued in for them
  • Consider Intercalation. It’s an opportunity to get extra points for your trainee programme and demonstrate commitment to a specialty you are interested in
  • Don’t worry if you don’t know what you want to specialise in by the end of third year. There are still a range of attachments to experience in fourth year. There are many F1/F2 doctors who do not yet know what they want to specialise in. Just take into consideration which specialities you have enjoyed and which you did not and work from there.