For Christiane, who asked a Really Big Question

Dear Robyn,

I am from Trinidad and I got accepted into medical school at Mona. Could you tell me all that I need to know concerning medical school and how to care for myself while I am in Jamaica? Tell me how you managed because this is a new experience for me and I could use all the help and advice I can get.

Dear Christiane,

First off, congratulations on getting into medical school! (Or condolences, depending on how long you’ve been following this blog).

I want you to know that there is no simple answer to your questions. Five years into medical school and twenty-odd years of living in Jamaica and I’m still figuring most of this stuff out. A lot of your experiences here will be trial- and trial- and trial-and-error because they will likely be very unique experiences. (It is best to embrace this fact from now).

The best I can do is give you a few sweeping generalizations. (If you would like more specific answers, please leave specific questions in the comments)

I don’t know where to begin so I’m giving you your very own blog post (yay!) for people to comment on and share their own bits of advice. My hope is that this will turn into a giant crowd-sourced repository of advice for surviving and thriving medical school at UWI Mona (your place to shine!) much like my other (massively supported, I love you guys) post on medical school. (I will love you guys even if there is no support on this post).

I’ll kick-start the discussion with what I’m hoping are the starts of answers to your very valid, questions and share the links to some posts where I’ve gone in depth on a few topics.

New experiences are scary! And exciting! There’s so much potential, so much could go wrong; you want to run towards it with your arms wide open or hide with your teddy bear in a blanket fort (the teddy does not judge). I understand your need to feel prepared, but there’s no possible way to prepare for everything. What follows is my (hopeful) guide to keeping you alive and reasonably sane.

Medical School

See my (mostly) comprehensive post here: What is UWI medical school like?

Generally speaking, medical school = university + dead bodies and loads of studying.

Aside from the dead bodies, it’s pretty much like any other science major. Get used to the smell of formalin, and studying all the time. If studying all the time is your bag, congrats! If not, you will need to do some degree of adjusting.

First year med students hit the ground running with the sheer volume of information they’re expected to absorb and regurgitate, and the sad part is you will forget most of it. Later on in your 4th and final years some of it will actually start to make sense. Accept this fact from now.

Keep yourself healthy. This means physically, emotionally and mentally. Eat right and get some kind of exercise – foster the good habits early, or you will end up being the intern with a stomach ulcer who collapses on the job (true story).

Have appropriate outlets for your emotions; suicide is a very real danger for people in this career. Some/most med students study hard and party harder as a way of stress-relief. Find your stress-reliever and hold on to it with both hands (and feet, and your teeth too. Don’t let that fucker go).

Medical school is very self-directed; what you put in is what you get out. You should have a reasonable idea of what you want and what kind of doctor you want to be. The guiding light in med school is not passing exams, it’s being a clinician. You’re going to need to prioritize your activities (academic and co-curricular) according to the type of person you want to be when you graduate.

That sounds a little heavy.

My point is, when you’re confronted with decisions that seem hard or information that seems pointless (a lot of it will seem pointless in first and second year, it’s hard to tell the difference) the choices you make now will influence what kind of doctor you are five years down the line.

I’m not telling you to stay in the anatomy lab until midnight every night (unless that’s what you want to do – no judgment there), just be aware of the difference between your short-term wants and your long-term wants.

And make friends. Making friends in medical school is awesome. You need people to get your weird med school jokes, and to commiserate about how horrible this all is and why didn’t you just do business.

Taking Care in Jamaica

Jamaica is pretty much the same as everywhere else, except slightly scary and dirty and people harass you if you’re not from here. So, pretty much the same as everywhere else.

Stay clean, keep hydrated and don’t be an obvious target*. If you need to eat, bear in mind that food is expensive here (blame the IMF and our sliding dollar). If you need somewhere to live, you can read my post on student housing.

Hang out with people who don’t do medicine (you will need the break). Living on hall is a good way to meet those people. Get involved! University is a much more fulfilling experience when you’re involved in things you’re passionate about with people who are similarly passionate.

Something I wish I had known – you can do whatever you want as a medical student, especially in first and second year. Med school is not an amputation of your life outside of medicine. You can write songs, start a charity, go to Literature classes, join a professional dance company. If it’s your passion – go for it!

I hope I managed to answer at least some small part of your questions.

Much love,



*Not being an obvious target = keep your wits about you, read all the campus security bulletins/advice, trust your instincts (unless you have bad instincts, in which case I would suggest not trusting your instincts). 


Advice from my classmates include:

First, would be not to worry about getting all the books that are required. The library is reliable and you will meet fellow students that will help you, so travel light if you can. Always have a working phone with credit. Take time to enjoy what the island has to offer, and be balanced with work, family and friends.

And of course. . .

Don’t. Go. 

Run as far away as possible.

8 thoughts on “For Christiane, who asked a Really Big Question

  1. Dionne Henry says:

    Dear Robyn, I’m currently applying for Medical School at UWI Mona however I’m a bit confused as to what should go in my autobiographical medical sketch. How can I make a lasting impression on the person who will be assessing it? Also, I’m near the completion of Sixth Form. I’ve gotten an acceptance email for The faculty of Science and Technology which I’ve accepted ( who wants to be left out in the cold lol) but my interest lies in the faculty of Medical Science. Should I do a year in the faculty of Science and Technology or just do a year of the Pre-Med program, in the event that I don’t get an acceptance for Med. Thanks in advance :)




    1. I’m really not qualified to be giving advice about your autobiographical sketch, so I will point you in the direction of resources like your school counselor and good old Google.

      In my own humble opinion, I think you want to talk about the reason you’re applying to medicine, on the background of any other relevant details about your life. I wish I knew the secret to making a lasting impression though (one that isn’t inappropriate, that is).

      For major decisions like choosing between SciTech and Pre-Med (which, admittedly, I’m unfamiliar with) I use pro-con lists. This might involve some research on your part. Also talking to people who are actually doing those things helps. At the end of the day, the decision is yours.

      Best of luck!


  2. Christiane says:

    Dear Robyn, I know I’m late but I’ve just read the entire post you did for me. I just want to say thank you very much!! It was very helpful and it answered most of my questions. However, for now I am requesting deferral because I’d much rather stay in my home country. It’s a lot more difficult to get into med in Trinidad but I’m still trying. If push comes to shove then Mona is where I’ll be. Still, thank you for your time and effort. I really do appreciate it :)


  3. Kimberly says:

    Hi Robyn, I recently applied to UWI mona mbbs program however I have not received an acceptance letter but I did however receive a registration number. Is this normal even though my application is still being processed?


    1. Hi Kimberly,

      If I remember correctly (and this was 5 years ago so bear with me) we got the registration number to allow us to check SAS for the status of our application. But I’m going to double check for you.


  4. Justyne says:

    Hi Robyn, I received a provisional acceptance to Mona for the MBBS program as I am awaiting results from CAPE. I applied for housing but have not received a reply. I did email them and was told that my application is still pending . Do you think I would receive an acceptance for housing and at what time did you get accepted into your hall if you lived on campus for your first year?


    1. I moved on to campus in my third year. You should usually be finding out in late July/early August because you need move onto hall by the last week of August. You won’t get a reply until you are fully accepted to a programme of study, though.

      Best of luck!


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