Being a straw hat in Medicine when you’re meant to be a shoe

For all the Friends fan I guess I don’t need ot explain this one but for everyone else let me catch you up.

It’s the first episode of Friends, Rachel (one of the main characters) has just left her husband to be Barry at the alter and she’s speaking to her Dad on the phone. He’s bemused that she would do such a thing and she starts to use the metaphore of a shoe to explain that that’s what everyone has told her to be her whole life and guess what: “What if I want to be a hat Daddy?”

I feel like Medicine is full of shoes. Old shoes, new shoes. Shoes that are a little worn out. All sorts of coloured shoes. Blue, brown and black are prefered and you can push the boat out a little bit on nights. As long as you’re a shoe you don’t upset anyone and things keep moving.

Like some of my peers a lifetime of wearing shoes doesn’t have the appeal it may once have had. I don’t want to work 9/5 for the rest of life, pay into my pension, do what is expected of me at work and then retire. It’s just not enough. I requires a very big sacrifice. I’ve decided that I don’t want to be a shoe at work anymore. I want to be a straw hat.

 

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Straw hats start business as a side hussle, produce podcasts, challenge the set natives. Straw hats bring their whole self to work not just their shoes. Straw hats are better doctors in my opinion. Sadly, sometimes spaces don’t allow straw hats and so people leave or even worse settle. I have seen it time and time again. Young Doctors who aren’t able to flex their true selves leave becaue they feel they have to be boxed into…well ..a shoe box.

“I wouldn’t wear a straw hat until I had passed all of my exams Salma”.

Then what? Suddenly you can? In the mean time you have lost times, energy and momentum. None of us are getting that time back. What a waste.

Med school and everyone else should embrace more than just the factory mentality of new pairs of shoes to fill the NHS work force year on year. We should be allowed the space to wear our straw hats at work too. I really do believe that if we are afforded this we really are our best selves are work. Patient benefit, management benefits and the world keeps on spinning.

Anyway, watch the space because I’m certainly going to be wearing mine a lot more. The shoes I’m currently wearing are beginning to pinch my feet.

Until the next post,

Salma

Claps for Carers: the great fling of 2020?

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I never thought there would be time when people clapped their hands, banged their pots and flooded my phone with messages of concern and appreciation just for doing my job yet here we are.

The strange has become the new normal. I’m slowly adjusting. I’m better at dodging passers by when I go outside to exercise and our outdoor to indoor “Covid possible” clothing station has full embedded itself into our home as if it had always been there. I have already forgotten what it is like to just come home and plonk myself on the sofa.

The other day I went to a supermarket after work and as is normal I walked to the end of the queue. I was on the phone chatting to my mum and within a few minutes a man approached me and said that he had discussed it with everyone else and they had all decided that I had to go to the front of the queue. He must have spotted by lanyard under my coat. He then (sticking to social distancing) marched me to the front where I was shown in and given a “thank you for all you are doing” nod by the security guard.

I was still on the phone and when inside I told my Mum what had happened. She stayed on the phone in silence with me whilst I had a silent cry next to some potatoes. It was all quite overwhelming really. The kindness. The public consensus that somehow I was more deserving of a place at the front of the queue than everyone else. The swiftness of action.

“I’m just not worthy of all of this thanks” is a sentence and sentiment I have heard and felt a lot. I’m not “on the front line” in the same way as my ITU or A&E colleagues. I’m a Radiology Registrar. I have not yet been redeployed and my patient contact is variable daily. Equally I don’t have the option of working from home. I have to go to hospital. If I’m told I need to be redeployed, I will go. I don’t think this makes me a hero. In my opinion this makes me someone who is doing their job.

When the claps for carers started a few weeks ago I was out there with everyone else. Every week it coincided with the end a walk my husband and I take before breaking our fast in Ramadan. We stood with strangers on the road and clapped like everyone else. These days I am slightly less enthusiastic. Not because I think it doesn’t matter, perhaps I’m just weary.

I don’t have a major grips with the clapping but the truth is we don’t need it to be appreciated. This is a unique time for eveything including the NHS. If this is the catalyst to make the British public more appreciative of the NHS on a whole then this can only be a good thing.  However, my hope is that like the solid boyfriend who still remembers to compliment you 2 years into the relationship, the British public end up having more than an affection filled fling with the NHS because claps or no claps we will and always be here and a bit of appreciation every now and then goes a long way.

Twenty-Something Girls vs. Thirty-Something Women

Last night I was suffering with a bout of insomnia so I decided to call on a higher being. Not God or Oprah on this occasion. It was an old Sex and the City episodes on YouTube. Carrie hit me with: “You know one thing we have over women in their 20’s? Cynicism”.

I fee like I caught that one pretty early on in my 20’s to be honest. Just speaking to some friends yesterday, we were reflecting on how we are now compared to years ago. I was saying that I was so bright and shiny before and now I either start off with a neutral or even negative perspective of people (it was overwhelmingly positive before) and then anything I see that I don’t like and I draw the line very quickly with a “yep not my kind of person”.

I never really thought of it like this before but most people approaching the end of their 20’s have been through some stuff. What I’m figuring out is how to stay bright and shiny whilst also being a smart and awake to reality. I know you can do both, surely.

Empathy and boundaries I’m learning are key. It is harder to dislike someone close up. Empathy for their circumstance and a boundary with their interaction in your life definitely help.

The other things girls in their early 20’s have over later 20’s or even 30’s is a lack of fear and consequence.

When I first started writing this blog in medical school, I didn’t care who did (or didn’t) read my blog. 5 views or 5000 made very little difference to what I wrote and at it worked out pretty well for me. Then something shifted. Peoples comments started to stick where they would just wash off me before and slow but surely I stopped writing all together. The words of Elbert Hubbart come to mind: “To avoid critism, so nothing, say nothing and be nothing.”

Everyone has an opinion but I guess the key is recognising that you get to decide how much you take on. Stopping something you love, in my case writing I’m realising is too much of a heafty price to pay.

Until the next post. (There will be a next post.)

Salma xxx

 

My hero: the Medical Sheroe

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Dr Anita Mitra aka Gynae Geek

 

As someone who is still quite early on in their medical career, I’m always looking for the next Sheroe to show me how it’s really done. My medical Sheroe hunting naturally continues into my social media life too where female doctors on social media give me an insight into the things that at times feel just out of grasp.

They’re the ones who are already doing some of the things I want to do. Dr Ailsa, a London based Oncologist, with her two children and her medical family who still makes time to work out. Dr Anjali Mahto, a London based Consultant Dermatologist with a career in medical writing who wrote a well acclaimed no nonsense book to educate the general public on how to get great skin.  Dr Anita Mitra, a London based gynaecologist with her evidence bases education on social media with a healthy side of weigh lifting who has also recently published a book!

 

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Dr Anjali Mahto Dermatology Consultant

 

I’ve never met any of these doctors, but know I can learn a lot from each and everyone of them. Sort of like an unofficial educational supervisor. Some of it I’m going through right now (who knew there was so much to weight lifting) and other things I will come across later on such as balancing having a family of my own and still doing well (trying to anyway) at work.

My education on the medical Sheroe (ahem, stalking) also extends to over the pond too where I have noticed some subtle differences. Whilst the work in America might not be that different their approach  to celebrating the medical woman has some differences and I would argue that we have a few things to learn from out American friends.

 

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Dr Ailsa, an Oncologist with her lovely family

 

I was having a look at my Instagram page a few months ago and saw the hashtag National Women Physicians day which is day held in America to celebrate the female doctor.

A whole day dedicated to celebrating achievement. There were posts from medical students  putting in the hours to badass mums juggling children and demanding careers. All whilst trying to drink 8 glasses of water a day or whatever we’re meant to be doing now, looking like they’ve slept, exercised, done their pelvic floor exercises, replied to all of their e-mail and made sure their children are washed and dressed all whilst trying to get enough fruit and veg in for the day. Yep. The easy life of a medical woman…

It got me thinking. Women do a lot. Women in medicine being no different. Even me in my unmarried childless state with no dependents, I always feel like I’m juggling so many balls. Audits, interviews, exams, simulation sessions, home life, make sure my family are ok. It never ends. So why not indulge in a little pat on the back every now and then and dare I saw it a little internal brag!

Being a doctor is more than a job to me. It’s a life long commitment (that I have happily chosen) but it’s definitely not the easy route and as life get busier, exams get harder and more is expected of me, I just have to do better at each step. This goes for all of us.

All the more reason I say, to stop and smell the roses and pat myself on the back for how far I have already come and how much I have achieved. I might not be doing it all with perfect eyeliner and the cutest outfits like I want to, but every day I get up I try my best. I show up.

So here’s to us. The medical woman. The tired women. The woman trying to balance it all whatever that even means.

Mostly, here’s to the woman who keeps trying. If you’re like most of the Sheroes I have the pleasure of seeing around me everyday, you probably don’t tell yourself enough but you’re doing great.

Until the next post,

Salma xxx

PS: Go and follow these ladies. They are brilliant.

@dranjalimahto

@dr_ailsa

@gynaegeek

Dr Roberts: Inspirational Women

Why is Danielle an inspirational woman?

At medical school, I was surrounded by “high achievers”  but what is most impressive to me, are the people who are brilliant and humble. My friend Danielle is one of them. At the end of 4th year, she was the top ranking student in the whole Medical School. And she didn’t tell a soul. I lived with her for 5 years and she never boasted about how great she was. I once asked her why and she said “I don’t share too much, unless it brings praise to Jesus”. I rest my case. We could all (including me) learn to be more like that!

I asked Danielle a few questions, have a read below!

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Tell us a bit about yourself

Danielle: I have just qualified as a junior doctor…which has been my lifelong dream, so I’m really excited about that! But more importantly, I am a proud mum of a beautiful boy and I am a strong Christian.

You are one of the most driven people I know. Where does that come from?

Danielle: Throughout my life, focus and determination has been my hallmark. But it’s interesting because I wouldn’t describe myself as being overly competitive. I mainly compete against myself! I always strive to better myself and disappointment for me is when I fall short of what I know I can achieve. I am never satisfied with stagnancy; but rather work to make sure I am moving forward in one way or another. For example, I took 2 years out of studying when I was pregnant and when my son was a baby; but in that time I passed my driving test, I achieved my Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award and I completed the British Sign Language Level 1 course. We all have 24 hours each day,the difference between success and failure is how you use that time. I always plan how I will use my time, and that leads to productivity; rather than watching the hours pass by being wasted.

For people with children who also want to study, what tips can you give them?

Danielle: As you can imagine, it’s not easy at all! My advice would be to look ahead, because at the time all you want to do is be there for your child and you would happily sacrifice your desire to study. It’s true that there is nothing more rewarding than staying home and spending every minute with your child. But you also have to think about the long-term. I knew that I would be able to provide a better life for my son if I got a medical degree. At the time you feel like such a bad parent and that your child hates you, but you have to fight those feelings and hold on to the reason why you are doing it. For 6 years, I travelled back to London from Bristol every other weekend to spend time with my son. Every Sunday when I would leave to go back to Bristol, I would feel so down and dejected. So many times I would be sitting on the train fighting back the tears. That’s when I would pray for God’s strength to carry on. At the end of the day your children will be so proud of what you have achieved, and those short years of struggle will be long forgotten.

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What kept you motivated at medical school when you had a child too?

Danielle: My passion and motivation stems from my childhood dream to become a doctor. If you have a dream and you are serious about it, then the desire to achieve it will drive you to do whatever it takes. Similarly, if you don’t have a dream then there is nothing to strive for. Also, children can be a massive motivator. I was always determined to complete medical school; but the added pressure of having to achieve in order to be able to finish studying quickly and get back home to my son, just pushed my drive up several more notches! I wouldn’t allow myself to fail because I owed it to my son not to. Everyone thought I just wanted to be the best, that I was chasing that number 1 ranking, but actually I just wanted to not fail! With each exam, my thinking was “the closer I get to 100%, the less likely I am to fail”! I just wanted to give myself as big a cushion as possible because I wasn’t going through all this emotional pain and struggle, and putting my son through it too for nothing!

Do you have any tips for work experience for medicine for those with no medical contacts?

Danielle: The road is harder if you don’t come from a medical family. Opportunities won’t be handed to you on a silver platter, so you have to seek them out yourself. That means making lots of phone calls and writing lots of emails. But if you show passion, people will happily help. Have an open mind about work experience. You should try to get a placement in a hospital, but also think outside the box and cast your net wider. Elderly care homes, orphanages, homeless shelters etc. The key is how you reflect on your experiences and what you learn from them. Any experience of working with and caring for people can be related to medicine, and as long as you can make the link then you can successfully talk about it in your personal statement and interviews.

When you achieve so much, how do you stay grateful and humble?

Danielle: By remembering it’s not because of how great I am, but because of how great He is! I’m talking about God. My faith in Jesus is my rock and it keeps me grounded. With each test and struggle I pray for God’s help and He has brought me through every time. My gifts and abilities come from God and so I boast only in Jesus…. not in my own strength.

All grown up
All grown up

 

Since I last shared this blog post, my dear friend Danielle has completed an academic foundation job in London and has begun a masters programme. She has also just got married.

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I hope her story helps to inspire you too!

Until the next post!

Salma xx

transitional state:med student to doctor

Having recently officially completed my years at medical school, I have been receiving a lot of congratulations from friends and family. It has been lovely. But in amongst this I have noticed a few funny reactions!

Below I have shared a few. Can any of you relate? Let me know!

1.) People have started to ask intrusive questions about my love life (or lack of) which is followed swiftly by the “well don’t you want to get married?” Erm, give me a break aunty I have never met before!

2.) People think that you can now fix your own medical problems. Erm no. Dear family member, if I come to you with a funny spot on my finger I expect your full sympathy and theory on what could have caused it. Telling me “you’re the doctor” is unacceptable.

3.) People make assumptions (incorrecty) based on how much money you will be earning. You go from being the broke student to the millionaire in their eyes. FYI I’ll probably still be broke. Just dressed better.

4.) You will be told not to think you are not anything special. “Even doctors have to cook for their family”. Groundbreaking information.

5.) You will have to sit through and politely nod at several versions of “that time I was ill: season 1-9”.

6.) Without even asking, someone will tell you “my family are all doctors” or “my neighbour is a doctor”. Shout out to the Pakistanis for this one…

I hope no one takes offense to these!

Until the next post!

Salma xxx

ps: have a look below for a bit of nostalgia.

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Post exams! Not quite photo ready
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When you are unexpectedly given the afternoon off! I shall miss this..
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Cheers @ Graduation Ball.
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“Let’s try and take a nice picture take #1”

“Get off my boat. Please.” A tale of lost friends.

In your 20’s, at uni, you are surrounded by friends. There is always someone to go shopping with or to that exhibition. But at some point you realise that you have accumulated people in your life who don’t add anything. If you think of life as a river and your life as the boat, without realising it, people hop onto your boat. People who aren’t going to help you paddle when things get tough. When you have to deal with not getting that promotion you worked really hard for or the illness of a family member, whatever. If they aren’t helping, you don’t need that in your life. Hear me when I tell you these people need to go. You do not need dead weight.

You might not be able to identify these people straight away, but a crisis is usually the way I get that clarity in my life. Who is there for you when things go wrong? It may be surprising, but I’d rather find out now than later.

Those people to have fun with are something else. They are people to have fun with. And we all need those. But this isn’t an investment. These people won’t show up for you when things go wrong and to think otherwise is foolish in my opinion. But those friends who do show up for you are diamonds, and should be treated as such. Some of my friends I have known since I was 4 years old (hi Kourtni). Those friends who would hop on a bus to see your Mum in hospital are the ones who will paddle with you. Wouldn’t you rather spend more time with them than waste time running time for people who will never show up for you like that.

Time is a gift and you can choose to invest it in those friends, or run after people who will never paddle for you.

Just a thought.

Until the next post! xx

The start of a beautiful thing
The start of a beautiful thing
Thanks for posting this Chrissie! Kourtni sitting at the front with another good egg, Rosa.
Thanks for posting this Chrissie! Kourtni sitting in the front with another good egg, Rosa (to her left)
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GCSE “revision” in Victoria Park
My surprise part before heading to uni.
My surprise party before heading to uni.
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Celebrating Kourtni graduating

 

 

How to stay focused

No matter what is going on in my life. Exam season or no exam season. A busy day or a lazy day, the underlying mission of my day is always “how can I be better”.

I extend this to every aspect of my life and this mission to be better could range from learning a better way to look after my skin to a better technique to perform a clinical procedure. Whatever.

If I see someone doing something well I always think, how can I do that? How can I better myself? It’s not a competitive thing with that person, it’s purely me wanted to improve myself.

My friend once commented that it must be quite tiring being me, and I do understand her point, because always  trying to be the best in every aspect could be tiring. But it’s only tiring if you don’t accept that you will fail. Because no one is perfect.

I fail to be the best me all the time. If you have seen me around exam season you can vouch for the less than best Salma coming out. Less Carrie Bradshaw and more Coco, the homeless sister they never let on screen. But even getting half way there, ok, a quarter of the way, is better than where I started off. Which suits me just fine. And I’m not afraid to fail.

Obviously my motivation fluctuates. And on those days that I feel like I need an extra boost I will actively work on re-focusing on what is important to me and getting my life together or “fixing-up” as I call it.

I thought I would share what I do help keep myself focused as it might help on of you. I would love to hear what you do.

1- Look at “Project 2015”.

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At the start of this year I sat down with a folder, some A4 dividers, A4 lined paper and a pen and tried to divide up every aspect of my life.

My first page instead of “resolutions” has “Main aims” that I want achieve by the end of the year. Some are very specific and some of more general. I would love to share them but I think I already share a lot of myself on this blog and would prefer to keep this to myself.

An example could be:

Buy a car

Run a 10 K

Since this is on my first page, I see it every time I look at my folder and it’s a good little push to fix up if I’m way of target! Things might change and that’s fine, but it’s always good to re-evaluate.

Next I divided every section of my life up. I have a section for everything that is important for me. Over 20 dividers…what can I say, I care about a lot!

An example of sections I have are:

Finances

Relationships- to make sure that I give my friends and family enough time. I made a list of all the people I want to spend time with to make sure that it is never too long before I see someone. I am generally quite good at keeping in contact but it is useful to have a list.

Religion- things I want to do more often, or learn about

CAPS – a logbook we had to fill out at Med School…

Usually looking at this folder is enough to help me get back on track. It helps that I have already spent the time dividing up my life (or trying to).

Obviously, these dividers don’t solve all of life’s problems but it helps having them in small chunks!

This is the first year that I have ever done this but it has really helped so far. I use to envy super organised people and it has been a real effort for me to try and be more organised but it is worth the effort.

2- If I’m really stuck I will listen to a great TED talk.

I tend to listen to the same talks again because there is a message that I feel I need to get.

One of the best TED talks I have ever watched is “Why 30 is not the new 20” by the brilliant Meg Jay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhhgI4tSMwc

It is terrifying and but also very motivating for me. Guaranteed that at the end of the talk I will want to go for a run or eat some goji berries and do some yoga. Ok I exaggerated, but you know what I mean. It gives me a clarity of thought that can get lost in the general noise of life.

If that hasn’t helped (and that would be very unusual for me) I will watch some Oprah Super Soul Sunday.

Just as a little disclaimer, this might sound like a lot of organisation but my life isn’t a cardboard cut out of perfection! It is messy just like everyone else’s, but I just wanted to highlight some of the useful things that I do in my life that help me out. I think if you have something to work towards, it makes getting what you want a lot easier.

Until the next post!

Salma xx

A tale of egos and instagram

Recently I had a little break from social media. Well Instagram and Facebook and anyway.

I was using them too much and I concluded that it wasn’t very healthy. I noticed that apart from the obvious unnecessary time consumption they were also making me quite vain. Or were bringing out the vain side of me. I’m still not quite sure if Instagram made me like that or I was already like that.The 21st century chicken and egg conundrum perhaps! A break away, too many “babe, you ok” WhatsApp messages later, I was back, but this time I had changed. I am trying (the operative word being trying) to use social media more responsibly from now on because for something that is just a ‘bit of fun’, the negative impact to someone else and indeed to ourselves can be very real.

Our lives on social medical can become so fake that we now have to attach hashtags to show when something is real. You know the #nofilter or #nomakeup or #noediting. #Justsayin. There is nothing wrong with showing your best self, or best parts of your life, but something about the fakeness of it all irks me and no more so than when I feel like I am being a victim or perpetrator of it. Both of which I am gulity of. We all show our great meal, but not the pile of dishes we have to wash up. It’s a small example, but this sort of selective sharing, because let’s be honest, we are all hiding more than dirty dishes, must be having some sort of negative impact.

Hence my new resolve to only show that which serves some sort of purpose. For example, sharing a picture of me looking great will only inflate my ego (which I don’t want to do) or make someone else feel bad on some level because they may not be looking great at that moment (again I don’t want to do this). Like when you pick up Vogue on a Sunday when you’re looking a bit rough. Bad idea. But sharing a post about £1 lip sticks (you’re welcome ladies) might actually help someone. And that is something that I want to do. You might will definitely catch me slipping, or selfying (is this a word, and if it is, oh dear) but hopefully not for too long!

Have you ever thought about how you use social media?

Me walking away from social media into the land where apparently a hairbrush didn't exist. Frightening stuff.
Me walking away from social media into the land where apparently a hairbrush didn’t exist. Frightening stuff.

Inspirational People part 5

Today’s blog post has a slightly different feel to it.

There are a lot of things about being a Medical Student that aren’t talked about and repeating a year at Medical School is one of them. For every “passed my exams” Facebook status, every year there are a people who have to deal with having to re-take the year. For whatever reason.

This post below was written by someone I know who has been there and come out the other end. I hope it can help someone.

I have put in the inspiration people section because seeing someone deal with something like this and come out of it the other end is inspirational to me.

Have I seen you before?

Repeating a year can be frightening, embarrassing and frustrating or it can give you a second chance – a chance to take things slowly and start again. Press the refresh button and rewind. When you enter E29 or Lecture theatre 1.4, half the year have no idea of your back story and the other half may have vague recollections of you from their original year. Both sets of groups will be making assumptions about you and questions will arise, but remember it is not their information. It is yours.

You can go through the year in two ways: 1) Tell people you are repeating if they ask or 2) Don’t tell them anything.

Accepting that I had to repeat the year was most helpful in tackling the way I would handle the year again. Having the perspective of what the year entails and the knowing the terror of exams was key in forming a timeline in my head. Use this to your advantage to keep on top.

Another important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There will be other people in your shoes. Support one another.

I went through 4.5 (second 4th year) telling people I was repeating as I had met somebody who had done the same in my first fourth year. I thought that showed a lot of courage and honesty and I respected the way they handled it. However the first person on my placement that I told would never let this fact go. They took it upon themselves to inform the rest of the group or act as a constant reminder at any chance they got.

Keep in touch with your friends from whatever year. They are sanity. Don’t cut yourself off no matter how embarrassed or disheartened you may feel. Make new friends as well. When your old friends are gone after their graduation, knowing you still have people around for your final year will be a comfort.

Turn to things which de-stress you. Whether this is friends, family, books, music or religion. You will need something to take your head off of medicine. Don’t assume that you need to be studying 24-7 to pass after failing. You just need to find a balance.

Having your notes from the previous year is helpful, but don’t rely on them alone. Make new notes or add to your existing ones. Go to the lectures you feel are appropriate, especially ones that you knew made no sense the first time around. Have a timetable or plan from day 1. Stick to it as much as you can but remember to relax as well. You don’t want to burn out.

When revising try and understand things rather than memorise. Having revised them the year before, the topics will make more sense and may take less time to get through them. Keep revising until you are satisfied and start early. Do everything before you did the year before.

At the end of the day, believe in yourself. Ignore what others may assume or even say. You may have failed once, but looking at what you failed and why will be more productive then blaming the system. Learn from the previous year and make changes.

The mantra that worked for me was written on a post-it note by one of my friends:

Step 1: Accept

Step 2: Challenge

Step 3: Persevere

Step 4: Be unafraid

You will get through.

Aawaz would like to thank the writer of this post for such honest and helpful insights.