Student life, but not as we know it
Many medical students are shocked by the demands of their course and how far removed they are from typical college life
BEFORE SETTING off from her home in Tuber, Co Clare to begin life as a medical student in NUI Galway some four years ago, Christine Kelly’s aunt (a doctor) let her in on a secret well known to medical school graduates throughout Ireland.
“The people you meet on the first day of college will end up being your best friends for life.”
It is a piece of fortune telling that has rung true for Kelly (21) as she shares with her classmates the experience of travelling what is a long and testing road to becoming a doctor in Ireland.
After selecting the very brightest from each Leaving Certificate year, medical schools demand a type of devotion to study from their students that is a far cry from the perceived “student lifestyle” of late morning sleep-ins, carefree afternoons and a greater familiarity with the route to the local off-licence than the walk to the lecture hall.
“In general, our class would spend a lot of time in the library. If we had a test early in the morning you would nearly have to go in and fight for a seat in the reading room,” says Kelly.
Spending so much time together does have positive benefits as uncommonly strong bonds develop between the students. Kelly, who knew nobody in her class before entering “pre-med”, lists the people she met then as her best friends now.
Part of the reason for this, she says, is the fact that her classes take place away from the main campus in a building attached to the hospital. It is a reality that she blames for being “the main defining factor that makes people think that medical students are different”.
“It is more isolated. Not that we are lonely or anything out there but it means that your options for lunch and stuff is just with your class and you end up spending most of the day with people who are just exclusively medicine.”
Coupled with the extra study demands that are imposed upon them, opportunities to enjoy the typical social life of a student are few and far between.
“I think I am missing out – it is things like commerce ball and when that is on and everyone in the whole college is going and you are the only one who is not.”
For her classmate Alan Griffin (23), who went to secondary school in Galway city, there is also the challenge of balancing demands placed on him by friends who remain close by.
“It is definitely very hard to balance a social life with medicine,” he says.
“I’ll be missing out on time with my Galway friends because we are forced to spend so much time with medicine.
“I try to see the lads in my spare time but it is getting harder I think as we are getting older.”
For Kelly, similar challenges exist for staying in contact with her friends back home.
“They are working at the weekends and stuff and that is when I am free and when they have stuff on we have exams because we have exams the whole time so it is tough.”
As a result, even when the chance to let their hair down arrives, medical students tend to end up doing it together.