By Rebecca Limb, Law PhD student at the University of Warwick
Studying a degree is a challenging endeavour for anyone. However, for a student studying in conjunction with a medical condition that requires regular hospital admissions, appointments, and treatments, this challenge is particularly difficult. Despite the hospital becoming your regular study place, it is possible to be successful in your degree, and the skills you pick up along the way are lifelong and extremely valuable.
1. “If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters – stay cool” (Claire Cook)
When beginning university it is easy to believe there is only one way of completing your degree – plan A. This is the ideal that you must attend all your lectures, seminars, join every club and society the SU has to offer and spend your free time being a stereotypical student who loves a good night out. However, in reality, plan A is not realistic, it is not representative of the student population, and it is not always the best plan for those battling a medical condition. Personally, finding out there was a plan B (and C, and D…) was a relief. At best you can adapt the ideal and your personal circumstances to create your plan of action. This may include listening to recorded lectures instead of attending them, teaching yourself from hospital using books and documentaries, then catching up with your tutor and lecturers once you return to university. Everyone completes their degree is a different way. Embrace your way and don’t compare it negatively with others- after all, it’s your journey!
2. “Everyone has limits. You just have to learn what your own limits are and deal with them accordingly” (Nolan Ryan)
Part of following your own route is being aware of your own limits. Experiment with different methods of socialising, studying and undergoing medical treatments to find an alternative way of doing things without aggravating your health condition. For example, find out how many hours you can study for, when is the best time to work in the hospital, how many breaks you need, what social activities enable you to have fun and enjoy university life. Everyone has limits, but it is important to be aware of them so you don’t aggravate your condition. Don’t be afraid of them, embrace them.
3. “Communication – the human connection – is key to personal and career success” (Paul Meyers)
Having a medical condition that results in periods of hospitalisation means communication is crucial both academically, personally and medically. Be open and honest about how your condition impacts your day-to-day life and the realities of spending a great deal of time in hospital. This enables your tutors, lecturers, medical professionals, friends, and family to understand a potentially unique situation through your eyes. As such it becomes easier to resolve any difficulties faced along the way. For medical professionals, it is extremely helpful for them to know you are a student and how your medical treatment impacts your life. It may be possible to adapt your treatment to suit your life as a student. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help from medical professionals, tutors, support services at university or friends and family. Honest and effective communication is vital both as a student and in the workplace.
4. “Always defend your right to heal at your own pace. You are taking your time. You are allowed to take your time” (Unknown)
Everyone recovers from procedures, operations, and events in their life at different paces. Give yourself time to recover and don’t rush back. The fear of falling behind, having to catch up is real, especially in the run-up to deadlines and exams. However, it is best to wait, heal and then work when you are ready. This way what you achieve is meaningful and will not have to be redone. Taking time out can in itself be academically rewarding as your brain has been quietly working away on a problem whilst you recover.
5. “But it’s about quality not quantity” (Cathy Ilani)
It is irrelevant how many hours you work. What is of importance and eventually assessed is the quality of your work. When your hospital is your study find a quiet, peaceful environment away from the hustle and bustle of a busy hospital environment to study for short periods of time. At the beginning of each session set personal goals that must be completed by the end of each session. Keep a diary so you know you are on track and plan each session in advance. It is surprising what can be achieved in 30 minutes!
6. “Sometimes you need the bad days to appreciate the good days – make the most of those good days” (Unknown).
Finally, use a good day to catch up and get ahead so when there is an inevitable set back, bad week or an emergency visit to hospital you don’t have to worry as you will already be ahead. However, don’t overexert yourself or aggravate your condition. This requires careful balancing and an awareness of your own limits. Nevertheless, take the opportunities when they arise to get ahead to enable your next hospitalisation to be guilt free.