A Letter to First Year Medical Students

The South African academic year commences in January, and last week thousands of students around the country went to university for the first time. Among them are our future doctors.Welcoming them befalls someone else these days, as my time in student government is long gone. But I couldn’t help writing my annual “letter to the newbies”. (If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll have seen that I write something like this practically every January.)

dear firstieDear Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed First Year Medical Student

Can you believe you’ve made it? Can you believe you’re here? Well, better start believing, because it has begun!

Perhaps becoming a doctor has been your life-long dream. Perhaps, the idea only came to you in the last few years. Neither of those is superior to the other. Neither of those makes you more or less likely to succeed. Learn that now, and remember it.

Throughout your medical career (which has now STARTED!) people will try to pin down a special formula for the reasons some fail, and others don’t. I wish I could tell you it’s about passion. It’s not. I wish I could tell you that it is all about hard work. But it is not just that, either. (Truly, hard work is required, but you know that already.)

The truth is that medical school is about finding your balance – of life, work, and wellness – and finding it quickly.

But this letter is not about the five to six hard years ahead of you. This letter is about YOU, right NOW.

I want you to take a second to recognise that you will never again find yourself in this position. Right now, you know little or nothing. You are medical-school-naïve. You have so much to learn. You have so many firsts ahead of you. You have so much experience to gain.

Take a moment to appreciate that.

Knowing nothing is not a curse. Being the most junior of juniors is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a beautiful moment in your life, if only you cherish it. Of all of us, you have the most to gain. In the coming months, your life-experience will increase at an exponential curve with the steepest gradient.

As a final year student, I am grateful that I am nearing the end of medical school. But if I could return to a single moment in the past five years, it would be that moment of lying fallow, just before my mind was ploughed and enriched and became verdantwith new information.

There is something pure and promising in where you are now. Find it and remember it, and seek out moments like it.

One last thing, Little First Year: remember that you are FIRST a student, and only THEN a medical student. In South Africa, chances are that this is your first time at university. And that in itself is a time of great uncertainty and growth and fun andhomesickness and crises.

Medicine will try to induce growth by all the means it can. It will pull you and stretch you and drag you around in an effort to mature you as soon as possible. And you might “grow up” sooner than your non-medical peers, because you will see things they won’t.

But you are first and foremost a student, most likely fresh out of high school, so don’t let anybody tell you that you should be all grown up. You have as much right to this exciting first year as your peers.

Hold tight to who you are. Be young. Be excited.

Your colleague



  1. beckireads says:

    That is a really awesome and inspiring letter.

  2. peace says:

    *goosebump all over my body*
    That is really beautiful. Thank you.
    P.S. I have just started my final year as well.

    1. I’m glad you liked it, thank you! Yay for final year, good luck with yours! May we both get through the year in one piece.

  3. jennduroy says:

    This made me think back to orientation week and the firsts a medical student experiences. So many memories. Like drinking from a fire hose. To many more first and memorable experiences.

    1. Drinking from a fire hose! That’s pretty funny.

  4. Nicole says:

    Ahhh I wish I had seen this last year, but I can still totally relate to it. You write very well and you are so motivating! I’m in second year now and I can definitely vouch for the “exponential curve with a steep gradient” that my learning has taken. It’s crazy, looking back, but I’m definitely excited for what’s to come!

    1. Thank you Nicole! This is very sweet of you. I’ve had a few years of practice to be motivating 😛 Grey hairs, and all that!
      Congrats on getting to second year. It’s a tough year but I am sure you will be fine. And your learning will continue to climb for sure! Stay excited. Second year’s theory overload can really dampen the spirit, but just know how awesome it will be to apply all that knowledge when you get to rotations!
      Great to meet you 🙂

  5. Mzwakhe says:

    That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard in life!!!..

    1. Really? I’m glad you liked it 🙂

  6. Thank you so much.. I wish I had read this earlier this year.. Anyway, first semester is over for us (first years).. I’m enjoying the experience!

    1. Ah, I’m sorry you didn’t see this earlier this year, but I’m glad you liked it anyway. Hopefully it will help future first years too. I hope you’ve been well! And congrats on getting through first semester. Here’s to many more successful semesters!!

  7. This is fantastic ! Your blog is so amazing 🙂 I had the chance to meet a sixth year today at an event held by the surgical society and she was as inspiring as you are ! Good luck in your last few months as a student intern !

    1. Haha, so… funny story… that sixth year was me 🙂 It was really great to meet you. Your enthusiasm inspired me 🙂 I wasn’t sure if I should attend the event, and now I’m glad I did!

      1. Wow ! What a small world this is 🙂 I still can’t believe it ! You actually inspired me to start blogging , something that I had been wanting to do for a long time but had been invariably putting off .It was great meeting you, knowingly this time 🙂

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