|Getting started in Medicine
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Table of Contents
Some Words From the Chief Editor
Getting your gear!
-What to buy
-Where to buy
-Tools of the trade
-Where to buy
Laptop / PDA
-To buy or not to buy
-Lecture Theatres and Seminar Rooms
-Faculty of Medicine Blocks
Anatomy and Physiology Block
COFM Computer Lab
Medical Library Block
Medical Student’s Lounge
-Science and Medicine Co-op
Getting a Counselor
Choosing your Class reps
Community Service and Other Stuff
Life in Hostel as a Medical Student
Life in PGP as a Medical Student
M1, From a Non-Biology Student’s Perspective
Some Words From the Chief Editor
Hi, and congratulations on having entered Medicine! On retrospect, when I first got into Medicine I felt lost, because there were so many things about medical school I ought to know, yet didn't. And every senior seemed to be giving me some advice, which confused me even further. At that time I really hoped all this advice could be consolidated into one big book. That was my starting point for this comprehensive guide to ease your transition into medical school. By no means is this write-up exhaustive, because there are simply too many aspects of medical school to be described! Besides, many things are best experienced by one-self.
As quoted from a senior, ‘Medicine is the hardest to get in, and the hardest to get out’. Getting into medicine was never easy – you had to do well in school, have a reasonable CCA score, impress the professors during the interview and even have a bit of luck during the selection process. But once you’re in, it’s time to cut yourself a little slack. Medicine actually has the lowest drop-out rate compared to other courses here in NUS.
Of course, I’m not implying that you can sleep during lectures or do last-minute studying. Rather, you can be less uptight about the competition between you and your peers. After all, do remember that in five years, your entire class of medical students (whether they are your friends, your acquaintances, or your enemies) are going to graduate, and become doctors.
One of the first things you should do is ask yourself what you really wish to achieve in Medicine. Specify your goals. Do you want to get into the Dean’s List (the top students get their names engraved on the wall)? Do you want to reach out and contribute to the community? Do you want to play your favourite sport or even party away? Realise that none of these are ‘wrong’ choices, but rather, YOUR choices. Set your own goals, and strive towards them. It is very easy to fall into an endless viscious struggle to be the top student of the class. After all, we were all brought up in the competitive Singaporean educational system, complete with endless versions of assessment books and ten-year-series.
This often ends up pointless unless your goal was really to be in the Dean’s List. Think about the doctors in politics, the doctors who are martial arts experts (one even participated in a recent charity show), or even SEA games medalists. Those are the doctors who had their goals set and never gave up. Being top brains, it’s not difficult to excel in anything you set your mind upon. So really sit down and spend some time searching your heart for an answer to the question.
Needless to say, it would be helpful if you could get to know more medical students, be them peers, senior or even juniors, because medicine is really all about networking. Then again, don’t let people end up being mere contacts on your email address book or PDA. Go deeper than that. You could have a shy personality, but I think now’s the time to break out of the shell. After all, how can a shy doctor reach out to his patients? If you don’t start talking now it might be too late!
People are in medicine for different reasons. Some are in medicine for the money, others for the prestige, for their parents, or even because they truly love medicine or love people. None of these are wrong reasons. Medicine, not unlike religion, is a ‘calling’ as described by ancient Greek physicians. When Medicine calls, one just has to reply, no second thoughts about it. Having this diversity in people allows for different perspectives to be put forward in issues that physicians face. So, never belittle another’s reason for being in Medicine, but instead respect the values other people hold to as their own.
You would hear from many seniors that Year One is going to be your ‘honeymoon year’, that the workload is not really heavy. I concur with that statement; the workload is going to increase as you rise in the ranks of medical students. So be sure to make the most of the time and freedom you are going to get. Do something useful, don’t squander your time and regret at the end of your first year. For a few suggestions, do look in the community service section of this guide.
I’m going to take this opportunity to thank my peers who have been helping me with studying tips (one thing I profess I’m not really good at) for this guide. To Yi Yong, Chen Mei, Yanni, Wen Jie, Yong Cheng, Lionel, Emily, Eileen and Cuiling, thank you for taking the time to write those fabulous articles for the guide. I’m sure many juniors will benefit from your experiences and tips.
Lastly, just a disclaimer. The contents of this guide are meant only for students and practitioners of the Art, and are not to be released in the press or any other media for unauthorized reading. The comments are those of the respective authors and do not necessary represent the views of the medical community as a whole.
I wish you all the best in your medical career and look forward to working with you in the line.
In Medicine, we just can’t get enough of books. Buying books becomes close to an obsessive compulsive hobby. Most of us buy textbooks, but end up reading only one chapter… so my most honest advice is to consider carefully before you buy your textbooks (not as if you’ll listen anyway..) We even get so attached to our books we give our books pet names, names that even the librarians know and go by…follow through my book recommendations list to see our names for each textbook.
There’s also what we call senior’s notes. These are notes complied by seniors long long ago. Of course, these are unpurchasable. Get a free copy from your counselor (look out for the section on counselors), or pirate it off some other person.
In addition, some lecturers give out lecture notes. Others post their notes up on the web and expect you to download and print them yourself. Try to keep your notes organized, they actually ask questions from the notes. If you happen to miss a lecture get someone else to “take-away” notes for you, otherwise it’ll be bad if you realize you’re missing one set of notes one day before the exams.
What to buy
Anatomy (Human Structure and Development, SD Track)
In short, this subject track has 3 components: gross anatomy, embryology and histology.
Gross anatomy, the bulk of the track, deals with the structure of the human body – which artery lies where, beside which vein, above which nerve, etc. Of course there’ll be a great deal of medical terminology that comes along with it, but don’t worry, because over the recent years the syllabus has been revamped such that the overbearing details have been reduced, and bits of clinically relevant information has been added. This greatly adds flavor to the subject that used to be dull memorization. Gross anatomy has been often quoted as the ‘surgeon’s subject’, so if you want to carve out a (good) name for yourself in surgery, be sure to master this.
Embryology is the description of how a fetus develops from fertilization. It’s a minor section of the track, but it ties in nicely with gross anatomy.
Histology is the study of normal tissues in an organ. In this section you get to look at microscopic details of tissues and some cells derived from predefined sections and organs. Histology is a stepping stone to pathology, the study of disease-state tissues and organs, a major track spanning 3 years.
Anatomy is one subject track you’ll 100% need books for. In addition, there’s a set of senior’s notes called Lifern’s Notes (these are available at the Medsoc Webpage www.medsoc.org.sg under Online Notes)
There are two categories of recommended books, the Atlases and the Texts.
These are, like what you might have owned for Geography, a “map” of the entire human body. Nice to look at, carry around, and impress your non-medical friends. However, most good medical atlases, are, unfortunately lacking in descriptions, so you’ll have to end up obtaining a text to compliment the atlas.
Atlas Of Human Anatomy
(we call it: Netter’s)
This is a hot favourite among students. Costs a bomb though, around a hundred or so bucks, and is worth the money spent. This atlas contains the anatomical drawings by the late Frank Netter, M.D., and has almost every single anatomical diagram that you would need as a medical student. A CD version for this book is also available, you may want to look for it, although I’ll highly recommend the book.
A Colour Atlas of Human Anatomy
(we call it: McMinn’s)
This atlas is known to the students for containing good photographs of cadavers. As compared to Netter’s, McMinn’s contains less photographs, and less details, but it contains the bare essentials if gross anatomy. This book is recommended for the spots exam (check this out at the tips section), but, frankly, trips to the Anatomy Museum and good attention during lessons should suffice. This book comes with a bonus CD of photos and descriptions, so if you are a sucker for computer software, you may want to consider buying the book.
Colour Atlas of Anatomy
Johannes W Rohen
(we call it: Yokochi)
This book, like McMinn’s contains photographs of cadavers. The photographs in this book look as good, if not better than McMinns. However it doesn’t come with a CD, and it’s hardcover, so it’s pricely (I think about S$75). Like McMinn’s, I would only recommend this book for the spots exam, although it might not be necessary. However if you are an avid collector of medical textbooks (which many of us turn out to be), this is a classic to be bought and displayed prominently on your shelf, for curious family members to look and gross themselves out (now u know why it’s called gross anatomy?).
Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy
(we call it: Grant’s Atlas, what else do you think?)
This is a very little-used book by our students. The diagrams are hand-drawn, like Netter’s, but lacks the appeal of a Netter. However little snippets of information dispersed nicely throughout the pages make reading this atlas a pleasure. My advice: Just buy Netter’s, you have no time for this (I hope the author and publisher don’t come after me).
As described earlier, these are used to complement the atlases. You would have guessed, these texts only have good descriptions, and are lacking in good diagrams. These crafty book-makers are just out to earn our money…
Clinical Anatomy for Medical Students
Richard S Snell
(we call it: Snell!)
Well this is the most popular book among students. The text is organized in such a way such that regurgitating stuff out for essays are a breeze. However, it may not be first-timer friendly, as pictures are not placed with the texts (I had to flip around to refer to pictures, very troublesome). In addition, the clinical information is located at the back of each chapter, which some people prefer. I would recommend buying this book, or Moore, the next in this list.
Clinical Oriented Anatomy
Keith L Moore
(we call it: Moore!)
Finishing a close second among the popular texts is Moore, whose style of arrangement of information beats Snell. Moore also places the diagrams and bits of clinically relevant information on the relevant pages, so not much flipping around is needed. There are also apparently more coloured diagrams as compared to Snell. However, Moore is much costlier, much more unwieldy (it is really thick! I have some friends who cut up their Moore into smaller portions and bound each together), and if you are short of time you would most probably not be able to finish reading it. Yet I would recommend buying this book, as the arrangement of information takes beginners into the course very smoothly, and it contains way more clinical snippets than Snell.
Snell or Moore?
This has been a much debated question. Many of my friends have bought one, only to realize that the other is better. My advice is to take a look at both books first, before rushing into buying. Or else just buy both. Or if you could get a senior to loan or give you one then buy the other. What I did was I read Moore (from the library) for a good overview, and then I read Snell (my own book) for exam preparations.
Last’s Anatomy – Regional and Applied
Chummy S Sinnatamby
(we call it: Last’s)
This used to be a hot text among the older doctors. However this newest edition written by Sinnatamby has removed a lot of stuff, so it has become a concise text with only the bare essentials. For a newbie this text may prove difficult, but seasoned anatomists would like this text. You may like to check out older editions of Last’s (written by McMinn) on the library shelves. This edition was written before the syllabus cut in UK and is a better concise text.
(we call it: we don’t call it anything. In fact we don’t even think of using it)
This book is the grandfather of all anatomical books. As it covers anatomy by systems rather than by regions, it is not very useful to us. Buy it only if you are going to run a medical library.
Essentials of Clinical Anatomy
Keith L Moore
Anne MR Agur
(we call it: baby moore)
This book is gaining in popularity, however it is still only the condensed version of Moore. In terms of details, it is still better to get a proper text. You may want to use this book as a quick revision before the exams.
Clinical Anatomy: An Illustrated Review With Questions and Answers
Richard S Snell
(we call it: baby snell)
This is another one of those condensed books. Personally I’m not fond of this at all, because it is too thin to be true. Don’t waste your time.
Texts for Embryology:
There’s only one recommended text here, which is Langman’s. Basically a text is not required as there are good notes and good lecturers taking you through this sub-track. But if you really must…
Langman’s Medical Embryology
(we call it: Langman’s)
Buy it to get a full picture of what is going on during development. As the embryology syllabus has been drastically cut, some things you learn may not piece together. You could just assume that is the case (since you will not be questioned on integrating embryology) or read this book to satisfy your curiosity. The latest edition of this book comes with a CD.
Texts for Histology:
As far as we are concerned there’s only one good text for histology (Wheater’s) around, and it’s an almost must-buy. This is because you most probably won’t be paying attention during your histology practicals (who does, anyway?), and would want something to fall back on. After all, who owns a microscope and tissue preparations at home?
In addition, you may want to procure this set of photographs of tissues which have been floating around for a long time, for revision.
The anatomy department has also been kind enough to put up their slides on mednet, for students to go through. However the stuff posted has no descriptions, so a bit of imagination is necessary.
Wheater’s Functional Histology
(we call it: Wheater’s)
This book has great pictures, and explanations that go along with it. As I have mentioned, it’s an almost must-buy, unless you plan to live with the other aids I have listed above (which is not too difficult).
(we call it: Junqueira)
This book has a lot of text, and will satisfy any information-hungry people out there. It’s also reasonably sized, and you can bring it around with you wherever you go. However all the photographs are in black and white, and it’s not very helpful studying histology in black and white.
Bloom & Fawcett’s Concise Histology
Don W Fawcett
Roland P Jensh
(we don’t call it anything. we don’t use it)
Hardly anyone uses this book, although it’s one of the newly recommended books. We would rather stick to our Wheater’s, I guess. But this book is colourful, and comes with a CD of pictures and questions. Take a look! It may be the choice of the new millennium.
Physiology (Systems Biology, SB Track)
Physiology is the study of how various systems of the body work under normal state. This an important track because a clear view of what normally goes on is essential before disease-state processes can be adequately described.
Notes will be given for most of the topics in physiology, but they are insufficient because the exam essay questions test both depth and breadth. Hence textbooks are required. However the tricky bit is that there is no one good textbook – each is good for certain chapters. My advice is not to be greedy. Stick to the textbook of your choice. Only when you feel that it is very inadequate then photocopy supplementary notes from other textbooks.
In addition, senior’s notes are available for physiology. The notes actually address the syllabus point by point so some of my friends ended up using it. It’s a smart way to get by things, but unless you read a textbook, the chapter won’t seem a coherent whole.
Textbook of Medical Physiology
Guyton and Hall
(we call it: Guyton)
Guyton’s a really good book for the study of physiology. It contains very lengthy discussions on experiments how to prove things are so, though they were all performed on animals. I may be an animal rights activist but if given the choice between clamping my carotid artery or my canine friend’s, I would gladly let Mr Bow Wow go first. The writing style of Guyton also makes his book sound like an old grandfather story (or an extended nightmare, for those who really cannot take him), and after a while you might find him draggy. However, for lack of a better book, I would recommend this book or the next in this list, Berne and Levy.
Berne and Levy
(we call it: Berne & Levy)
As with anatomy’s split between Snell and Moore, the physiology-studying community is torn between Guyton and Berne & Levy. Berne, unlike Guyton, is more to the point, and has nice boxes of clinically relevant information, which serves to retain interest after long spells of dry information. It is rumoured that the true strength of Berne actually lies in the chapter of gastrointestinal physiology and endocrinology, but I was unable to verify that personally due to a lack of time (yes, I was stuck with grandfather Guyton).
Guyton or Berne & Levy?
Choosing the right physiology textbook for yourself is very important. You would not want to realize that you have bought the wrong textbook halfway through the year, and purchase the other. As both have very different writing styles, getting used to each one will take you some time already. So my advice would again be to check out both books at your own leisure, and figure out which is the writing style you prefer. Do not simply stick with the crowd. In addition, some chapters require supplementation from other texts, so try not to use that one textbook exclusively as well.
Pocket Companion to Textbook of Medical Physiology
Guyton and Hall
(we call it: Baby Guyton)
Have I mentioned that book-makers are out to cheat our money? After the long-winded (Papa) Guyton, they decided to come up with a condensed version, that’s so handy you can really read it anywhere you go. The portability of this book is commendable, but I would seriously not recommend this book as a staple. However using this as a revision for exams (after reading the Papa Guyton) is a good idea, provided of course you finish the Papa Guyton in the first place. The only thing is that Baby Guyton is very costly (>$40 for such a puny thing?) and it has several mistakes, so don’t take everything he says.
Review of Medical Physiology
William F Ganong
(we call it: Ganong)
This is a really good book for physiology considering it covers much depth into topics. However, unless you have something to supplement your basics with, I would not advice using this book, as Ganong takes you into the heart of the matter thinking that you already know your basics. Some friends I know use this book, in addition to senior’s notes and lecture notes, and I think it’s a pretty good idea.
(we call it: Silverthorn)
Silverthorn is only good for basics – read it to get a general idea of things. It’s also very colourful and full of diagrams, which makes it easy to understand. However its lack of details makes it a dangerous book to rely solely on. If you feel lost in a certain topic, it might be good to pick up a copy of Silverthorn from the library, read it before going back to your chosen text.
(we call it: NMS)
NMS is used for gastro-intestinal physiology. Some of my friends went a bit further and read it for the other chapters, and they said it’s actually quite useful as a revision. NMS also has nice questions at the back of each chapter, which can help to boost your morale and give you security.
Biochemistry (Structural and Cell Biology, CB Track)
Biochemistry is the study of the chemical processes that take place in the body, from muscle contraction to fat metabolism to genetics. Many people will tell you that biochemistry is useless for clinical practice, but I would beg to differ. Biochemistry gives you basics to tackle pharmacology, a 2-year track, and if you actually pay attention to the clinical details of the metabolism topics, you would be surprised how many of these pop up during paediatrics. In addition, the final integration of all metabolic pathways gives one a sense of satisfaction when you finally see how everything clicks together.
In this track, the lecturers will always give notes to supplement their lectures, and for many topics, if you just intend to get by (pass only, that is), notes and a little bit of attention during lectures is sufficient. However, for the more insecure ones, here’s the list of recommended texts:
Biochemistry (Lippincott’s Illustrated Reviews)
Pamela C Champe
Richard A Harvey
(we call it: Lippincott)
This is the good simple book for biochemistry. There are diagrams everywhere, clinically relevant information are well arranged, and it’s highly portable. If you were to only purchase one biochemistry book I would strongly recommend this. The thing is that the pages of the book seem to fall out very easily, and soon you might end up having to bind the pages together.
Basic Medical Biochemistry
Marks, Marks and Smith
(we call it: MMS)
This is the second most popular biochemistry book among medical students. The book contains much detail, and is useful if you want to attain a greater understanding. There are also amusing case studies in the book, which tend to resurface in CA MCQs or even essay questions.
Textbook of Biochemistry with Clinical Correlations
Thomas M Devlin
(we call it: Devlin)
This book is lesser-used, but personally I enjoyed the book. Colourful diagrams are all over the book, and there are nice boxes with interesting clinical information not described elsewhere. However this book is really thick, and there’s not much time to plough trough all the information presented (most of it is irrelevant to the syllabus), but if you enjoy buying comprehensive books for occasional reference, do consider this book.