Aim: The experiences and adjustments of students enrolled in Health Science First Year (HSFY) at the University of Otago (Dunedin, New Zealand) were explored to understand students' response to competition. The paper highlights the expressions of past and present HSFY students' impressions of the programme, their experiences, coping strategies and the lessons they learned from the programme.
Methods: Qualitative data were collected from past (n=15) and present (n=20) HSFY students who wanted to pursue medicine. Eight semi-structured interview questions were used to answer four research questions that aimed to answer the following: students' impressions of HSFY, students' experiences of HSFY; students' adjustments to HSFY, and lessons learned from HSFY. The interviews were analysed using narrative analysis to gain a greater understanding of their experiences and adjustment.
Results: The results indicate students perceive the programme as demanding and stressful. The highly competitive nature of the programme inhibited their engagement and involvement in other aspects of university life. Students identified their experiences as successes and challenges. In terms of adjustment, students used cognitive restructuring, self regulation and social support. Students learned that they need to balance academic and social life because spending too much time almost exclusively on academics didn't enrich their first year at university.
Conclusion: The nature of the learning environment impacts on students' holistic development. The competitive nature of the programme elicited undue stress on students. However, they had to employ strategies to help minimise the impact of stress on their functioning.