What is Medical School like? #illumedati


Hi everyone, it’s Medicine Mondays again. We’re going to switch gears and do some reflection on where I’ve come from, meaning my medical school years. I think a lot of undergrad (and even high school) pre-meds think about this question: “What is Medical School like?

**Apologies, this didn’t post like it was scheduled to for some reason.

What is Medical School like?

Stock Photo from: Pixabay

The answer to this question is complex.

You will hear many, many different answers to this question. However, the real answer will ultimately depend on you.


What do you mean?

Your mindset will guide which is the “real answer” to you. Are you an optimist? pessimist? or somewhere in the middle? (?realist)

The major problem with this question is it can really only be answered by someone who has “been through it”. However, if you recall, “The Track” for medicine is long. Longer if you fall off the track. The people who can answer this question are basically either residents or attendings. In general, residents are so busy trying to survive that they don’t really have the time to reminisce about “my days in medical school”. Even fellows and young attendings don’t really feel comfortable answering this question, I think.

Why?

Well. Medical school is pretty difficult. Early on in your career, you are still trying to find your bearings and gain enough experience to be confident. I think that is pretty common for young attendings to second guess themselves alot, and maybe even second guess why they chose medicine in the first place.

So that really leaves the mid-career attendings, late career attendings, and retired physicians. At this stage in your career you can recall the “good old days” of medical school. You have enough experience under your belt and enough confidence in your decision (assuming you’re still in medicine) to believe that you’ve made the right decision.

So what’s the inherent problem there?

The person asking this question, and expecting a serious answer, is probably between 16-25 years old. This would include high school sophomores all the way to college seniors, and those in post-bacc programs or graduate school. The earliest an attending would probably be able to answer this question is around my age: an early-mid career attending, so around 36.

So you’re looking at between a 10 year GAP in time, up to a 20 year gap.

This means that I can tell you about how medical school was for me. However, by the time you go, it may be entirely different for you.


Wait.. but won’t most things be the same?

Well, that may be true.

However, things have changed pretty significantly already. Medical school tuition (and student loan debt) continues to increase. Some medical schools are going to a pass/fail format of grading. Who knows what will happen in the next 10 years?

However, the state of mind a person is in will effect their ability to recall things.

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase: “The days are long, but the years are short.” It is usually in reference to parenting and raising children. However, I think you could use the same phrase for medical school. If you had asked me “how I was doing” in medical school. I would probably have something to the effect of “I’m surviving.” before running off to study. However, it’s been nearly 15 years since I was a first year medical student. Depending on my personality, I may recall the same experience differently.


So then, are you asking this question of an optimist? a pessimist? or somewhere in between (?realist)

I am going to attempt to split my own experience into those 3 forms.

Optimist

  • Medical school was an adventure.
  • It was difficult, but doable.
  • It was scary but interesting.
  • Everyday I was able to push past my limits.
  • I learned things I never would have known about.
  • I was able to experience things that I never would have been able to.
  • It was exciting to be surrounded by so many intelligent people.
  • I’ve made so many new friends.
  • My respect for physicians continues to grow.
  • I am continually surprised by how good people can be to each other.

I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to become a physician.

Pessimist

  • Medical school was an adventure.
  • It was difficult, almost impossible.
  • It was interestingly scary.
  • Everyday I was pushed to my limits.
  • I learned things that I didn’t want to know.
  • I was able to experience things that I don’t ever want to experience again.
  • It was scary to be the dumbest person in the room most of the time.
  • I’ve lost so many friends.
  • The respect for physicians continues to weaken.
  • I am continually surprised by how bad people can be to each other.

I am grateful for the opportunity to become an eternal physician.

Somewhere in between (?Realist)

I think the my answer is some mix of the above.

There are going to be things you like about medical school and things you don’t like. However, if you don’t like everything, well then maybe you should seriously consider not finishing.

Here’s my list, in the same format:

  • Medical school was an adventure.
    • But it was more of experience.
  • It was difficult.
    • The most difficult thing I had done, but only up to that point.
  • It was scary and interesting.
    • Sometimes it was more of the former, sometimes more of the latter.
  • Everyday I was pushed to my limits.
    • Sometimes I was able to overcome them, sometimes not.
  • I learned so many things.
    • Some of which I will remember forever.
    • Others which I want to forget, or have already forgotten.
  • I was able to experience so many things.
    • Some of which I will remember forever.
    • Others which I want to forget, or have already forgotten.
  • It was humbling to be surrounded by so many smart people.
    • It drove me to push ever higher.
  • I’ve made a lot of new friends.
    • However, I lost a few too.
  • I gained the utmost respect for my physician colleagues.
    • But sometimes I wonder how patients can be so mean (even violent) toward their physicians.
  • I am continually surprised by how good people are to each other. (Faith in humanity restored)
    • However, I am also continually surprised by how bad they can be. (Faith in humanity lost)

I am grateful to be a physician. I am fulfilled.

And yes… I would do it again. However, some of my colleagues probably wouldn’t.

I think the short answer is that Medical School is an experience. And like most experiences, it’s different for everyone.


TL;DR

What is Medical School like?

Which answer do you want to hear?

The optimist? The pessimist? Or somewhere in between? (?realist)

I think the short answer is that Medical School is an experience. And like most experiences, it’s different for everyone.

Medicine Mondays Sensei

-Sensei

Agree? Disagree? Questions, Comments and Suggestions are welcome.

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About Sensei

A young attending physician trying to navigate the mine field that is life after medical school…

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