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From First Year to Final Year: What I Learnt With Hindsight

Apr 28, 2021

Written by Elli Izrailov

Elli is a final year postgraduate Monash medical student, with a love for general practice, rural health, mental health, and memes.

At the end of their medical degree, a medical student looks back on the vital lessons one can only see with hindsight.

It was 7:50am, I was packing my belongings into my locker in the common room before the 8:00am ward round, when I noticed two women off to my right whom I didn’t recognise. 

“Ah, third years.” I thought to myself. And how could they not be? With their youthful faces, their uncertain postures, awkward smiles – the ensemble was as much part of their uniform as the stethoscopes around their necks. 

I overheard them asking each other if either knew where they needed to go for the morning, and that was as much of a cue as I needed. 

“Third years yeah?” 

They both nodded. 

“Is this your first day on the wards?”

Shy laughs.

“Do you know where to go?” 

Nope.

“Which wards are you on?” 

Gen Med! The both of them. Which was fortunate because that’s where I was heading. I told them to follow me as we made our way across the hospital to where they needed to be for rounds. 

Over the five minutes it took to get from the common room to the gen med ward, they asked me a deluge of delightful questions which reminded me just how little they knew about the hospital, which, in turn, reminded me of how little I knew when I had just started my first clinical year, which, granted, had only been two years earlier. 

They wanted to know how the team worked, who’s part of the team, what were they expected to do, how could they make the most of their placement, etc. 

It was all so, refreshing to say the least. 

Later during the week, I would see many more wide-eyed third years; unsure what they should do, where to go, and even what they know. 

On hindsight being 20/20

The striking thing that came to my mind was just how much I have changed over the past two years. As medical students we strive to do the best we can, to the point that we carry a negative bias with us at all times, ruminating on ‘what we don’t know,’ rather than ‘what we know’ or ‘what we’ve learnt.’ I know personally that I had severe doubts as to whether I’d learnt anything during medical school thus far. 

But I must say, there was something so invigorating and so relieving about seeing the third years on the wards for the first time, seeing just how far, in hindsight, I’ve come, and how far the rest of my colleagues have come too. I do have to give credit where credit’s due, first year clinical students do know a fair few things, but the chasm between myself and them feels real. 

I decided that seeing these third years has shown me three things.

  1. How much I’ve learnt.
  2. How much I still don’t know.
  3. How much confidence I’ve gained. 

Now I am not the best student, I try, but despite all my trying, I think at best I come out average. Sometimes on ward rounds a consultant will ask me a question and I’ll know the answer straight away! The feeling of ‘adequacy’ is so overwhelming, that the ego and self-esteem inflates and is self-sustaining for the next few days. However, there are definitely times where I am stalling and stumbling when the consultant asks: “Is this rate regular or irregular?,” “does parathyroid hormone follow positive or negative feedback loops?,” “do you know the name of this sinus we can see on the superficial surface of the dura here?.” 

At the end of my medical degree, especially looking back on my junior colleagues at the beginning of their clinical years, I can say I have learnt a thing or two, and even if I’m not right when I’m being grilled by a senior reg, I have at least learnt how to be confident in what I do and what I don’t know. 

And with that confidence comes a familiarity; the familiarity of being in uncomfortable situations, introducing yourself constantly to strangers, often feeling like you’re all over the place and observing and adapting to new situations. At the time, it always felt like a struggle, but in hindsight you see just how far you’ve come.

I think there’s a point to being mindful and giving yourself credit for your past actions. Seeing the third years on the wards has shown me personally just how much I’ve grown and how much my colleagues in final year have grown as well. I know where the holes in my knowledge are and what my other faults are, but that shouldn’t stop me, as well as any senior medical student or junior doctor from realising just how far they’ve come in such a short period of time. 

P.S. To any third year I have taught who is reading this piece, I must say that 10 weeks after that first day, you can really see how much you’ve learnt and how much more comfortable you’ve all grown. Keep on doing what you’re doing, and even if it seems impossible, I promise you that one day, looking back, you will see just how far you’ve come. 

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