Ultimate tips for freshmen

These are my ultimate tips for freshmen in Gdansk. 

Make sure you read the syllabus for each subject as it changes slightly every year.

Anatomy and Histology are the biggest subjects of 1st year. So these should be on top of your priority list. Failing either of them means that you must repeat the 1st year. Failing more than 5 ECTS altogether will also get you stuck in the 1st year.

Anatomy – 18 ECTS

  • Attend all lectures. Presence will be checked randomly. Not having your name on the presence list might be used against you in the future.
  • Don’t worry too much if you can’t understand the lectures. It’s a very passive way of learning and it doesn’t work for everyone. Personally, going to lectures didn’t help me at all. I attended because it was mandatory.
  • Try to study a little bit every day. It is hard to do it but consistency is key in anatomy. You need to learn so much new vocabulary that is impossible to do it in a few sits. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
  • Prepare the labs. Check the weekly calendar available on our extranet and read about the topic in advance. Are you too exhausted to read the anatomy book? Spend at least one hour looking at your atlas of choice the evening before the lab. Memorising some of those pictures/names will help you a ton.
  • Take notes during the lab. Be concise. Writing too much will damage you because you will not be able to see how the different structures are pinned.
  • Breathe before the practical exam. If you crack under pressure your entire exam will be ruined. Look carefully at what is in front of you. 99% of the anatomical structures will be paired so the first thing to write down when you look at the pins is ‘right’ or ‘left’. Fail to do it and you will be given zero points. Let’s assume that the first 2 pins are located in an arm. Decide whether you are looking at a right or a left arm. Once you are sure, write it down on both pins, number 1 and 2. The same goes for X-rays and MRI’s. Look at the margin of the sheet. The letter ‘P’ stands for right and ‘L’ for left.
  • Team up with someone. Joining forces with someone else will ease your pain. Share notes, brainstorm the difficult topics and quiz each other as much as possible. Do you want a priceless tip? Make pin-tests for each other with flashcards and a maximum of 30 seconds per pin (instead of the 45 seconds that you will be given in the real exam). I was scoring around 55% in practical exams before I decided to practice at home with friends. After trying this approach my score shot up to 90%. The more pin-tests you do, the better you will become at it. In addition, your chances to score high from the very beginning are increased.

Histology – 9 ECTS

  • Start studying with BRS. It is your best weapon to attack this subject. The recommended book is enormous, tedious and difficult to read. However, you should study its pictures and tables. They are amazing and constitute a great summary.
  • Be well prepared for the weekly tests. It is the best thing you can do for yourself. Once you are two weeks away from the colloquia you will only need to review.
  • There is no limit regarding how detailed you can go. The more you know the better.
  • Write your notes from the very beginning. I used Quizlet as a tool since I like flashcards. Your notes will be gold when the time to study for the final exam comes. The same is valid for anatomy.
  • Pay attention during your labs as you will go through the microscopic slides only once.
  • Once again, breathe when you are about to take your practical exam. You have more than enough time to look at the slide under the microscope and figure out the correct answer. 1 minute per microscope. So no stress.

Biophysics – 5 ECTS

  • Students will be divided into groups of 3 people for the lab classes. So be smart when choosing your group members. You don’t need to be a genius to do well in these labs but you need to be structured, punctual, and somewhat prepared. Reading through the lab report the evening before will do it. 9 labs must be passed out of 10 labs in order to be admitted to the final exam.
  • Lectures are not mandatory except for 1 or 2. So if you feel that you are wasting your time, skip them.
  • Study the topics covered in lectures, even if you do not attend them. There is no book you can rely on to study on your own. I watched a lot of youtube videos in order to understand many of the topics. Youtube is the future.
  • Take the midterm test. It is stupid to not do it. Usually, you have nothing to lose.
  • Pay special attention to the last seminar. It might save you on the final exam.

Medical Chemistry – 3 ECTS

  • Try to attend lectures. Attendance will be checked every once in a while and that might save you in the end of the semester.
  • The subject is not difficult. However, it is tricky. There is no book you can read on your own. Focus on the material available on the extranet.
  • The labs are not very demanding but they are time-consuming.
  • Pay special attention during the seminars. Most of the tips concerning the exam will be given here.
  • Please memorise all the amino acids and make sure you know how to draw them before the final exam. Chances are you are going to be tested on that topic, directly or indirectly.

Embryology – 2 ECTS

  • Get your hands on Dr Najeeb’s videos. They are priceless.
  • Lectures are not mandatory. On the other hand, seminars are.
  • You will be tested at the beginning of every seminar. Having a total average of 4.5 exempted us from the final exam. It’s worth a try especially if you start strong. Be reasonable though. I don’t think it is worth to hurt your anatomy or histology scores because of a 2 ECTS subject.
  • You might be forced to cram the entire course in 3-4 weeks due to the high tempo in anatomy and histology. Do not freak out if that happens to you. The way things run around here makes it impossible to be on top of every subject unless you stop sleeping for a year. 3-4 weeks of intensive study are usually enough to pay for your bail. 

Basic Polish 1 – 2 ECTS

  • Aim for exemption if you are good with foreign languages.
  • There will be small tests throughout the entire year and 2 oral interviews (one at the end of each semester). If your average is equal to or higher than 4.5 by the end of the 2nd year you will be exempted from the final exam.
  • Usually studying the evening before a small test is enough to get the top grade.

Medical Biology – 2 ECTS

  • Once again seminars are mandatory. Lectures are not.
  • You will be given one question at the beginning of each seminar testing you on the material from the previous week. For every correct answer, you will get an extra point that you will be added to your final score. It might save you. So if you manage to keep track on it, do it.
  • 2-3 days of intense study before the final exam is enough to pass with bright colours.

You will get more information on how to pass the following subjects once you start your studies here.

  • Electives – 5 ECTS (1st and/or 2nd semester).
  • Informatics and Biostatistics – 2 ECTS (2nd semester).
  • Sociology of Medicine – 2 ECTS (1st semester).
  • History of Medicine with Elements of Philosophy – 2 ECTS (2nd semester)
  • Molecular Biology – 1 ECTS (1st semester).
  • Hygiene – 1 ECTS (1st semester).
  • Nursing Care Activities – 1 ECTS (2nd semester).
  • Workshops in Psychology – 1 ECTS (1st or 2nd semester).

They are nothing to worry about but they require some hours of boring, and many times, unnecessary work. Nobody knows why we have certain subjects (for instance hygiene) but that’s usually not up for discussion.

Moreover, the number ECTS do not necessarily truly correspond to the number of hours you must put into a subject in order to succeed. Embryology is 2 ECTS but it requires many more hours of study than Sociology of Medicine.

I could not have been more honest about my 1st-year experience here in Gdańsk. Hopefully, these tips will help you knock your 1st year out at the first round.

Keep in mind that 99% is hard work. 1% is whatever you want it to be (luck, intelligence, karma, you name it).

To finish this post and I would like to refer the Chinese proverb by Lao Tzu, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’.

This is your first step towards becoming a doctor. Congratulations! Make it memorable.

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October in a nutshell

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