I speak from experience when I say it’s tough to have a job during term time. I also speak from experience when I talk about how expensive it is to live in St Andrews. I am lucky enough to have the help of my parents to fund me, and the government paying my fees – woohoo Scotland! However, I really do feel for anyone who just can’t make ends meet without working part-time while studying medicine.
Last semester I worked in a bar and I frequently wouldn’t finish until 3 or 4 am. Towards exam time it was just unbearable: I was stressed, tired and, if you ask my flat mates, extremely grumpy. I was lucky enough to still pass my exams, even if the grade did drop as a consequence. I just don’t know how others are able to work, study, pass exams, have a social life and not bite anyone’s head off!
My brain was never fully in either game. I found myself thinking about my upcoming shift in lectures and about stuff I should be revising while pulling pints. It was also so hard to sell cigars and cigarettes to customers without rhyming off the potential damage they were doing to their health. However, it wasn’t all bad; firstly, the extra cash was amazing and allowed me to do a bit of travelling over the summer (rather than having to use my whole summer to gain some cash). Also, it was nice to have something that seemed ‘normal’. Something that was outwith the tiny student community of St Andrews. In fact, I must admit it was nice to have a break from studying but still be somewhere you feel you are being productive. Working definitely has its benefits, but don’t just take my word for it – here are the thoughts of some other working students.
This quote comes directly from a 3rd-year medic at Glasgow University, who put failing and having to repeat his first year down to working. “I was working around 16 to 20 hours. Usually on midweek night shifts. Meant it was quite difficult to keep up with the workload at times, and with the night shift I was too tired in the morning to do any real work. Advice-wise I’d say make sure you don’t get taken advantage of by your employer and always know what comes first.”
Here’s some wise advice from one of our own 3rd-years: “I work four weekends out of five plus some Wednesday night shifts. I think it works out to about 25-30 hours per week. It’s a bit of a struggle to balance the two to be honest. I certainly think my grades could improve if I wasn’t working so much, so my advice would be to work as little as possible and definitely don’t join the police if you’re at medical school!”
A recent article in the BMJ spoke of one medical student who turned to being a male escort in his spare time to bridge the financial gap (Anon., 2012). I don’t know how frequently scenarios like this are happening, but for some it might beat slaving away for £6.50 an hour.
It’s in our nature to show that we are keen and capable, but this may be at the sacrifice of our real priorities. The university recommends that we only work a maximum of 10 hours a week. This is great, but what employer is going to take you on for that? And is it going to be worth it when you’re likely to be paid a minimum wage?
Here are some things to think about when getting a job: make sure it’s on your terms, your employer is clear about your position, and he or she can be flexible around exam time. Try to pick something that you enjoy, and can almost use as a study break. A set shift every week can be useful as it would allow you to plan your time around it. Don’t be guilt-tripped into doing more than you feel comfortable with. It can be done as many of our fellow students have proven – it just takes a bit of planning and commitment.
Anonymous, March 2012,Student BMJ 2012;20:e906