If you are interested in attending medical school, or for some stupid reason you’ve ever wondered or cared how your future physicians’ lives are during the four years they spend learning how to treat you, then you’ll find an honest report on the medical school experience below.
Now, I only started school last summer, but I’ve been in it long enough to know how things work in the preclinical years. Medical school is at times exactly what I feared, and at other times, the complete opposite of what I expected. There are many medical school misconceptions, and the reality of the experience is often different than you’d imagine.
Expectations vs. Reality
The Workload is Rigorous – The first time I heard someone describe medical school they said, “it’s like drinking water from a firehose”. Nonsense. I prefer a more elegant metaphor – “Studying in medical school is like drunk sex. You never finish. You just keep going until it’s not worth it anymore”. You can’t really prepare for or conceive the workload of medical school without experiencing it. That said, it’s doable. How hard is med school? Read my article to find out.
You Can’t Date in Medical School – There is a common misconception that medical school will eat your soul and turn you into a miserable human being who has no time for people they care about. A decent chunk of my class entered with significant others, and most are still together. As long as you can arrange periodic weekends together on a semi-consistent basis, you’ll be able to get all of your studying done, make time to talk everyday, and best of all, enjoy some sweet concubine action to quench your insatiable thirst after a momentary drought.
Most Medical Students Come Straight from Undergrad – A strong misconception among premed students is that taking a gap year or two to boost your application looks weak to admissions committees. I did in fact come to medical school immediately after graduating from college, but I’d say only about 30% did the same. Most of my classmates took time off to scribe, do research, volunteer, or anything else that could bolster their application. No shame in that.
You’ll Meet the Love of Your Life – Let me tell you, unless you are one of the token three to five couples per class who met at orientation, started studying together, made stupid cringe-worthy medical jokes in attempt to flirt, hooked up after the mess of your first post-exam blackout, started dating, experimented with awkward doctor-patient sexual role play, fell asleep drooling over pressure-volume loops hand in hand, and eventually tied the knot, you probably won’t meet the love of your life in here. The couples who do meet here seem pretty damn strong, so good for them. But I’d recommend looking elsewhere. Plus, I promise you won’t want to spend all day going to medical school, studying for medical school, and agonizing over medical school, just to unwind and talk about… medical school.
You Know What You’re Going to Specialize In – “I think I’m going to do dermatology. Wait no, I’m going to be an orthopedic surgeon. You have to finish at the top of your class to be an orthopedic surgeon? Okay, this is hard, perhaps Cardiology would be a better fit. Hold on, Cardiologists have to read these stupid little lines on graph paper for a living? Count me out. I made a perfect dissection in anatomy – general surgery is definitely my future.
*Googles easiest specialty that makes the most money*
Okay, I’VE GOT IT – I’m going to be an Ophthalmologist. Just gotta kill this exam first… How the hell did I get a 74%?! I studied SO hard. Fuck it all, I hate this, I’m doing primary care. Or pediatrics, I love kids. Ohhhh you have to tell parents their child has a rare, incurable, congenital disease that will kill them by their mid twenties.. Haha never mind. Running out of options here, lol. Maybe Emergency Medicine? Anesthesiology? Hematology?! Alright, I have no idea. I’ll figure it out in two years.” – every first year medical student I’ve talked to
You’ll Hate Dissecting Cadavers – The first time you step into the sterile anatomy lab and formaldehyde seeps its way into your skin, your heart rate will slightly spike at the view of a room full of stainless steel tables with plastic white coverings over what appears to be human bodies. Then you finally peel back the covers to reveal a room full of dead people, which makes you a little uneasy for a day or two, until you completely forget that you’re carving up the corpse of an actual human being. After a week, it’s not so bad.
Vaginal Exams – I did not know that after a few months of medical school, I’d be required to dig inside of a woman’s vagina with a tubular flashlight to find the cervix. I just did not know this. You should know this.
There’s No Homework in Medical School – Do you get homework in med school? Sadly yes. I’m a lecture-notes-exams type of guy, and I DESPISE mandatory assignments. I was immensely disheartened to learn that for a few more years, I’d be waking up at 6 am because I forgot to do that blood pressure problem set. And yes, I still totally bullshit them.
You’ll Immediately Learn How to Be a Doctor – Cue the “hey doc, what’s wrong with me?” and “can you fix this?” questions from family members after a couple months of medical school. Yeah, give me like, three more years and ask again. Or maybe ten. I have six clinical experiences each semester where I work with a doctor, in which I always seem to embarrass myself. If you need to laugh at someone, read this article about my first haphazard clinical experiences where I pretend to be a doctor.
The Best Students Will Make the Best Doctors – Your mastery of the subject you choose to specialize in, combined with your interpersonal skills, will determine how good of a doctor you are. Memorizing every enzyme in the Glycolysis pathway will get your points on your test, but it probably won’t do much for you when you start practicing.
You’re Going to Finish at the Top of Your Class – Getting an A in organic chemistry will make you feel pretty smart. Those honors chords at graduation will boost your self-esteem. And the medical school acceptance letter is just the cherry on top of an ego-stroking sundae. Then you get to med school and realize that everyone else did the same exact thing, and sometimes your strongest efforts might only be enough to get you to the purgatory label of slightly above average.
Classes in Med School are Mandatory – Save for a few schools, most have lectures that are posted online. We have a few mandatory events per week, but for the most part, I chill at home with a cup of coffee, watch lectures and take notes in gym shorts from the comfort of my kitchen table.
You’ll Lose Sleep – I never seem to get much sleep, but that’s my own doing. Aside from maybe exam week when you’re stimulated to the point of reading over notes until 3 in the morning before an 8 a.m. exam, if you have the mental discipline to put away all electronics and get into bed at a reasonable time, you shouldn’t worry about not catching your nightly Z’s.
All Medical Students Are Neurotic Nerds – “Bro, I was tripping balls at the Tame Impala show at Bonnaroo last year” – anonymous medical student, last Saturday night. Sure there’s some weirdos, but also lots of chill dudes here. Admittedly, I have become a total hypochondriac.
Medical School is Stressful – Don’t be a baby. Sure, exams are nerve wracking, but most med student stress is self-inflicted. If learning and taking tests gives you clinical anxiety, go meditate with some shaman in the mountains and chill the hell out. If for some reason you actually have true outside stressors (family issues, relationships, favorite football team lost this week, etc) on top of your schoolwork, then I actually feel bad for you.
Medical Student is a Prestigious Title – Sure, your family will tote around the “med school” phrase like a defining badge of honor at Thanksgiving dinner, but no one really cares. Also, as a medical student, you are not simply at the bottom of the totem pole in the medical community, you are buried in the dirt below the bottom of the totem pole.
It’s Only Four Years – Before you come to medical school, everyone will tell you that you are about to enter the most difficult and stressful phase of your life, but hey, “only four years!”. When you get to medical school, you realize that was a lie, as everyone tells you that this is the easy part and residency will make you miss medical school. Only after four years of school and 3-7 years of low-paying residency, do you make real money.
You Can’t Party in Med School – Can you party in medical school? I actually wrote a whole post on this. This was my biggest fear coming in… That I’d have to put the good times on hold for a few years while becoming a scientific monk, adopting the library as my personal monastery. Sure, thirsty Thursdays and Wacky Wednesdays will need to be dropped from your weekly schedule, but I’m currently sipping a cold one before going out after a long week.
So, I’ll see ya next time.