A Letter to Final Year Medical Students

Dear Final Year

On the eve of your examinations*:

I have been wanting to write you. I wanted to give you a “list of things to do” to survive your Hell Week, but time got the better of me and thankfully so, because trying to reduce your finals to a list of survival tips is a slap in the face of the hard work you have done, and will still do.

Base image by Angela Hart, click for link.
Base image by Angela Hart, click for link.

I remember well the angst leading up to those exams. Those were bad days: filled with self-doubt and moods and the impossible desire for twenty-five hour-days.

Here is what you need to know: everything you need to pass these exams is already inside of you. You may feel as though you only started studying this year, or three weeks ago, or yesterday; but you have been studying for this since the day you started medical school. You have an incredible brain that can soak up and store memories and retrieve them years later, and now is the time to trust your brain.

Now is the time to remember to breathe. It is the time to spend extra money on healthy meals and to eat as many study snacks as you need. Now is the time to nap when you can, because know that at night when it is time to sleep your brain will probably be too anxious to sleep. Now is the time to take care of yourself, and ensure that you spend at least half an hour a day (yes, even on exam days) on relaxation. Run, or do yoga, or watch youtube videos. I don’t really care, but you should do something to get through this week alive.

Recognise that the exams you are about to enter will comprise probably one of the hardest weeks of your life thus far. Recognise that you are more than prepared.

Recognise that these exams are 50% knowledge and 50% mind games.

The game is to convince not only your examiners, but yourself, that you are a safe doctor. You need to walk into that exam venue with the authority of an intern. An intern that knows that they do not know everything, but that they are competent to recognise and treat, and save lives, and to call for help when they are out of their depth.

MAKE your examiners believe in you. Act with the gravity required by the situation, but do not hesitate to smile. Say “I will” instead of “I think”. And if you are stuck, go back to basics. What are the principles of anatomy and physiology? How do you start with any patient? If it is an emergency, you start with ABCs. If it is not, you have a formula: history, observation, palpation, auscultation.

When your nerves scream too loudly for your brain to think, it is these formulae that will ground you.

Your examiners want to know that if you end up being THEIR intern next year, they will have a good team on their hands. Show them that they WANT you on their team.

You ARE doctors. You have been examining patients and planning their management, albeit with supervision, and you are ready. Now is the time to believe that, and gather together your energy and your wits. It is one week, and it will be a hard week. Be kind to yourself and be kind to your colleagues, and carry each other through this time.

At the end of each exam, lock it away. You can commiserate about it another day, but after each exam it is time to focus on the next. Do not break yourself down and for god’s sake do not freak out. Now is not the time for if only’s. Now is the time for accepting that you have done what you could do and to trust your brain, your abilities, and whatever else it is that inspires and carries you.

Recognise that at the end of the exams, you may need some TLC. A shopping trip or a nice book or a big piece of cake or perhaps a counselling session. When the time comes, do not hesitate to do what you need to do. These exams have a tendency to cause PTSD. You are not weaker for that.

Dear Final Year: YOU’VE GOT THIS.

Now go show ’em.

Your Colleague,


* Tomorrow students at my alma mater begin their first set of final exams. I can hardly believe that that was me just a year ago!


  1. pippajhh says:

    Thanks for this – as a soon to be graduate it’s nice to have some words of encouragement!

    1. barefootmegz says:

      You’re most welcome 🙂 good luck!

  2. Basically believe in yourself 🙂

  3. harveylisam says:

    Your exams sound far too intense for me haha. I have four weeks of all the time in the world to study for one exam, and that’s just the way I like it. But I very much appreciate the vote of confidence and the advice, even if it’s not strictly for me 😛

    1. barefootmegz says:

      Of course it’s for you, too! How is your studying going? I hope well! Keep up the good work 🙂

  4. daan says:

    Thank you for this excellent piece! Spot on and as it is!!! Dr Daan Struwig ……….very long ago qualified and nearing retirement, but with a daughter in finals……may life treat you well!!

    1. barefootmegz says:

      Hi Dr Daan, I’m glad you agree. Hope your daughter’s finals went well!

      1. daan says:

        Hi barefootmegz……….she passed her first section of the final ChB……:-)

      2. barefootmegz says:

        Excellent! Congratulations to her – and the proud parents of course!!!

  5. Dave says:

    Very encouraging, thank you!

    1. barefootmegz says:

      You’re welcome! 🙂

  6. I am only in second year, but I feel I am getting lazier. Thanks for putting me back on track!
    Very motivating. (:
    I also write, if you could check out my blog: Read Here!

    1. barefootmegz says:

      I’m glad you feel motivated! It’s okay to go through periods of “laziness”. We’re all humans. Will certainly check out your blog!

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