Can you have a life in medical school? If you’ve read my previous posts on How Hard is Medical School and Medical School: Expectations vs Reality, you’ll know that I have mentioned that it is certainly possible to “have a life” during these years.
While I briefly addressed the topic with short anecdotes, I’ve been messaged with several questions regarding social life, improving your bench press, partying, hanging with friends, and anything else that constitutes non-medical related activities during the years of medical school. Therefore, it is appropriate to elaborate on the topic in full.
The main question is, can you have a life in medical school?
First, we must define what it means to “have a life”. Of course, certain sacrifices have to be made. If “having a life” to you means starting every weekend with Thirsty Thursday, getting trashed on Friday and Saturday, while capping it off Sunday Fun Days, then no, you will not have a life. While partying is a big factor for a lot of aspiring premeds who are still in the joyous bubble of booze-soaked college life, I understand that other factors may be of concern, so I’ll do my best to field all topics that might fall under the vague phrase of a “life”.
Can you have a social life in medical school?
For most people who aren’t extreme, reclusive introverts who hate the world and aspire to live off the grid in some Montana wilderness cabin 100 miles away from the rest of humanity, having friends and social interaction is an integral part of life.
When you get into medical school, you’ll probably be invited to join the “Alaska College of Medicine: Class of 2021” Facebook page. You’ll probably click through the profiles of your future classmates, assessing which will be your potential future BFFs in the making. In fact, at a bar last Saturday, I actually had a guy say to me, “I saw your Facebook picture with the Bonnaroo arch in the background and I just KNEW we were going to be friends!” Hell yeah bro.
While medical school attracts smart people (i.e. nerds), you’re bound to find people you can connect with. Your first week of orientation will be super weird. Everyone’s nervous. You’ll shake 50 hands a day and meet countless new people. A few days later you’ll have an encounter with someone, extend your hand and say, “hey, I’m John”, and they’ll say, “dude, we already met” because you’ve met so many new people you’ll forget you ever met them in the first place. You’ll have the typical stupid introductory conversations where you tell each other where your from, what undergrad school you went to, what your favorite color is, all that boring shit.
By the end of the week, you’ll start to gravitate towards certain people. You’ll discover what you have in common, whether that be your eagerness to hit the bars to get a feel for the new city, or your love of French art-house films. Within the first few weeks, you’ll stop trying to talk to every single person in your class and you’ll settle into a circle. I don’t care whether you enjoy spending your Friday nights ripping tequila shots til’ 2:30 am or having a low-key cup of coffee and getting home by eleven, you will start hanging out with people as long as you’re a mildly socially-adept human being.
Would you look at that, you now have friends <3. Even the most intense, “I’m going to finish at the top of the class and get AOA” types have to find time to unwind and do something that isn’t school related. Everyone’s busy, everyone gets stressed at times, and everyone needs a break.
Can you party in medical school?
On my first weekend of moving into medical school, I was a bit apprehensive that my classmates would be nerdy like most of the other premeds I knew in undergrad, afraid to go out and experience the pleasures of taking tequila shots at 4 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon because they equated drinking with stupidity.
On the day before the first day of orientation in the summer, a girl in our class invited a bunch of people over for a daytime cookout/mixer/party. Being me, I rolled into the apartment adorned in a USA bro tank with a case of Budweiser in hand, anticipating some daytime fun with my soon-to-be friends. Coca Cola 2 liters. Waters. Hot dogs. WHERE’S THE BEERS? Not an alcoholic beverage in sight. Sickening. No one was drinking because we had orientation the next day. Yeah, ORIENTATION, where you go sit in a seat and learn pretty much nothing other than a reiteration of the school’s mission statement for 6 hours. It was a sad state of affairs, and I was both embarrassed and worried that this would be the story of the next few years of my life.
However, after that orientation-week mood of trying to make good impressions, everyone chilled the hell out. We spent the remainder of the summer bonding by drinking by the pool, buying each other shots at the bars, and living life like normal people. Despite the initial weirdness, most of my classmates turned out to be everyday people who like to party just as much as me, some even more.
So now that we’ve established you’ll make friends who drink, how does that balance with the rigors of med school?
To quote the legendary Jeffrey Lebowski (The Dude, His Dudeness, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing), “Luckily, I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind, you know, uh, limber“. Swap “drug regimen” for “alcohol regimen” and Mr. Lebowski’s words echo through eternity with philosophical wisdom, a philosophy which I subscribe to. As a budding doctor, I have learned that it is absolutely imperative to work out, socialize, and adhere to a strict drinking regimen for your health. Mental health, that is.
Personally, I feel that I am able to speak for the partying aspect of medical school, because while I love to drink as much as a freshman experiencing college freedom for the first time, I’m also very driven to perform well in school. Now, I attend a medical school that has a systems-based curriculum, meaning that we learn about the anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, etc. for an organ system (cardiovascular, respiratory, and so on), then take one big test on the subject, usually once every four weeks.
So, let’s map out my drinking schedule in one of these four week spans:
- Exam Day – On the evening after an exam, most med students embrace their inner Johnny Manziel and get absolutely wrecked. You haven’t had a drink in like, twelve days, making you feel like a monk deserving some irresponsible behavior. It is an obligatory drinking day in the life of a medical student, and one that’ll often end with you waking up fully clothed on top of your bed covers with a Jimmy Johns wrapper on your nightstand.
- Weekend 1 – Coming off a recent exam and thirsty for some ethanol-induced bliss, the first weekend after a test is usually characterized by a weekend-long bender, where you feel like less of a med student and more like a college student again. Day drinking on Saturday is a must, but regardless, you can go out both Friday and Saturday night without the stress of an exam looming over your head. You deserve it.
- Weekend 2 – You’ve spent a week learning material for the new block, but the exam is still 3 weeks away. While you need to study, its important to stay sane by going out on one of the weekend nights, and studying the other. You can go out twice if there’s an occasion that calls for it, or if you killed it during the previous week.
- Weekend 3 – Pretty much the same as weekend 2. Exam is getting closer, but you don’t feel the urgency quite yet. Still, I’d say you can typically go out one night.
- Weekend 4 – Exam week stress is in full force. This is time to lock in and spend all weekend studying. You work your ass off, kill the test, or marginally pass, or fail. Regardless of the outcome- win or lose, we booze.
So: 2-1-1-0-death. Rinse and repeat. I’ve found this to a pretty good formula for doing well in school, while ensuring that you save some time for the important things in life.
Sometimes a classmate will throw a party, and sometimes you’ll just hit the bars. In addition to these typical happenings, you’ll also have fun events scheduled, like med school prom, where you have the opportunity to get all dressed up and feel like an adult, while taking pulls from a flask in attempt to hit the point of being loosely drunk, while not a sloppy mess who is breathing 96% ethanol into your professor’s nose while trying to keep your balance.
Aside – I have a friend at a top 15 medical school in the country, and judging by her snapchat stories, she parties more than any other medical student I know. So, the amount of free time you have is NOT correlated to the ranking of your school. As a truth, medical schools all teach you the same information, so it’s not like the rigors of medical school change all too much with the ranking or competitiveness.
What if you don’t drink?
Not everyone likes to spend their free time partying, and that is completely understandable. While many medical students do like to drink just as much as the rest of the world, I assure you that there are plenty of students who don’t partake in these activities, or only do so once in a long while.
So, if you like spending your free time watching Netflix, reading books, building puzzles, or whatever the hell you enjoy doing, you can sigh in relief that you won’t have to completely give up what you enjoy. And, you will still find plenty of friends whose values align with your own.
Yes, you can have definitely have a life in medical school.
You’ll have time to play Battlefield 2. You’ll have time to work out. You’ll have time to watch Game of Thrones. You’ll have time to drink. You simply have to prioritize what is important to you. For example, if you’re a dedicated lifter and want to maintain or build your physique, you may have to say no to the bars in favor of the gym on a Friday night. With that said, yes, you can have a life in medical school, whether that be a social life, a sex life, or a fitness life, is entirely up to you. So if someone starts talking about medical school and gives you some doom and gloom bullshit about how you’ll have to sacrifice everything you love in life to learn science, tell them “Soze said you’re wrong”.
Subscribe to the timeless wisdom of Jeffrey Lebowski, and you’ll be able to handle med school while enjoying your life outside of it as well.