Vaibhav Gupta on starting medical school

It was like going to a black tie event, except some people were in shorts and some dressed casually, with only a few holding up the proclaimed dress code (some didn’t even know why they were there, which explains the flip-flops). This is what going to medical school was like.

Having just arrived in the UK from Canada I had this preconceived notion that I would find myself at Medical School surrounded by studious, glasses-donning, book carrying, over-achieving geniuses who hurried on their way, with no time for hellos or chitchat.To my surprise, I saw relaxed, friendly people; some who excelled at sports, others who were part of bands and choirs, students who dedicated themselves to helping the less fortunate, and yes, even people whose specialty in life was drinking and partying.  I was beginning to realise this wasn’t a gathering of elite prodigies of the world; it was just High School 2.0.

In the lecture theatre of 250 new medical students, I saw the same diversity I used to see in my classrooms back in Toronto, the most multi-cultural city in the world!  It was refreshing to meet my new British classmates, as well as students from around the world.  Within a week, I went from having a local network of friends in the suburbs of Toronto to having contacts in England, Hong Kong, Sweden, Malaysia, Cyprus, Angola, Thailand, Romania, Indonesia, Lithuania, Kenya and beyond!

Finding similarities in our differences, the international students quickly formed a large group that sat at the front of the lecture theatre, filling up the entire row.  It seemed like our idea was quite foreign as well, because most of the other students fought for seats in the back row.

This was all too familiar: geeks in the front, cool kids in the back. It quickly became apparent to me that the motto of medical school was “Too Cool for School,” in that everyone pretended they didn’t do any work. Reputations were prioritized ahead of grades here, because it was more important to be a cool Doctor than to be a good Doctor.  As such, the rows in the lecture theatre became a reflection of the social gradient at school, so the further down the stairs you walked, the bigger the nerd you were.

The first week at medical school was a tsunami of information.  Lectures were scheduled all week, so as all the other Freshers became familiar with the campus bars, we became familiar with Lecture Theatre One.  In our breaks, student reps from the upper years would bombard us with flyers from the dozens of medic’s societies we could join; everything from sports like badminton, tennis, basketball and squash, to Wilderness Medicine, Surgical Society and Marrow, to my all-time favourite, Karni.  Karni, short for Karnival, is a story on its own.  It is the University of Nottingham’s student-run charitable organization, which raised over £688,000 last year. For all the good that Karni does, it surely creates a ruckus.  Most Karni events involved going on a coach to near-by cities dressed up in eye-catching costumes, and collecting money from local residents by any means possible.  If students didn’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts, they did it because of the unlimited alcohol and hangover guarantee provided on the way back from these “rag raids.”

Things quickly became routine: you went to lectures from 9am to 5pm, came back, (cooked if you were self-catered, as I was), ate dinner, and made plans to go out in the evening.  Whereas in Canada, the weekend was seen as the time to party, I found that at university in the UK, every night was a club night!  The next morning, you knew someone had gone out if they had messy hair, came in late, couldn’t stop coughing, and fell asleep in lectures.  Even the people who didn’t go out came to lectures like this because they couldn’t possibly afford to have anyone know that they had been doing work!  Reputation was everything.

I’m now in second year and when I look back at the beginnings of medical school, my mind surely paints a colourful picture.  Going to a club night and seeing students from first year straight through to fifth year dressing up as cartoon characters, transformers, Red Bull cans and iPods is not what I expected, but it was certainly welcomed variety.

As I make my way to lectures, I hear the first year students planning their fancy dresses for the night, and it seems all too familiar.  No longer is the idea of medical students drinking and partying like anyone else strange to me; this is all part of the diversity in student life.

Maybe next time I visit my GP, I’ll ask him about his vibrant days in medical school.

Vaibhav Gupta is a second year medical student at the University of Nottingham and writes on his own personal blog site