Medical school was rough, but also some of the best years of my life. Many expectations I had were rooted in common misconceptions about medical school. In this post, we’ll debunk those myths.
1 | You Have to Be Really Smart
Many believe that you must be incredibly intelligent to make it through medical school. I’d argue that’s not the case. Work ethic and discipline trump intelligence in medical school.
I’ll give you an example. One of my good friends is a brilliant guy. As a result, he skated through high school and Harvard with minimal studying. He was able to rely on his excellent critical thinking and reasoning skills to perform well. Once he got to medical school, however, he was in the bottom quartile of the class, as he didn’t have the work ethic to study. His critical thinking didn’t help him much, as medical school subject matter didn’t rely heavily on reasoning – it mostly requires memorization. And memorization requires repetition, no matter how smart you are.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re not smart enough for medical school. If you’re not doing well in school, it likely has little to do with your intelligence, and much more to do with your study strategies, time management, and work ethic.
2 | Your Social Life is Over
Students believe that your social life is over once you start medical school, at least if you want to do well. While your academic responsibilities and pace of learning are much greater, you are also doing fewer extracurriculars. Overall, you’ll have less time than you did in college, but it’s not nearly as bad as most make it out to be.
I was able to go out with my classmates a couple times every month, was able to stay active and pursue new sports like surfing and cycling, and enjoy other social activities with my friends.
The first year and the second half of fourth year offer the most flexibility with your time. Socializing during your second and third years will certainly be more challenging, but it’s far from impossible. In fact, I would urge you to put in the effort to make it happen, as bolstering and maintaining a strong social support system is key to success in med school.
3 | Your Step Score is King
Third, students overemphasize the importance of Step and underemphasize the importance of other factors. The competitiveness of your application for residency is not simply set by your Step 1 score. While both Step 1 and Step 2 are incredibly important for your application, there’s much more to it than that.
The most influential factors will vary based on the specialty you apply to. For example, studies polling program directors of plastic surgery residency programs concluded that applicants’ letters of recommendation were the most heavily weighted factor.
Don’t ignore the importance of performing well on your clinical rotations, either, even if the specialty you’re rotating on isn’t what you plan on matching into. For example, getting honors in psychiatry looks great for those applying to plastics, because much of plastics relies on foundational principles in psych.
AOA status, research experiences and publications, and appropriately preparing for your interview are also important factors that can greatly influence your competitiveness for residency.
4 | If You Don’t Do Well on Step, Your Career is Over
Like any standardized test, there’s a normal distribution to the Step and COMLEX exams. By definition, not everyone can have a stellar score or perform above average. And that’s ok. If you don’t do well on Step, your career isn’t over. I know several students that matched into very prestigious programs, some even in competitive specialties.
As stated in point 3, your Step score isn’t everything. Strong research, letters of recommendation, and clinical rotation grades can make up for lackluster boards.
5 | Passing is Good Enough
Next, many students believe the bar to aim for is to just pass. Several medical schools today are on a pass/fail system. As they say, “P = MD.” It’s great that the pass/fail system reduces student stress, but don’t let this be an excuse to not push yourself to do the best you can. Studying hard and learning to the best of your ability will serve two purposes: first, you’ll be establishing the foundation for the care of your future patients. The purpose here isn’t to only earn an MD, but become a competent and effective physician in the process.
Second, studying and performing well on your boards will become that much easier as well. It’s no surprise that students who performed well in medical school classes were usually the same students that performed well on Step, and match into strong residency programs.
6 | You Can Be Good at Everything
Getting into medical school is insanely competitive, and as a result, many students are type A overachieving personalities. Medical school will be a wake-up call for these students – medicine is a rapidly expanding field and it’s impossible to be the best at everything. The further you go along in your medical training, the more your interests and studying will become specialized at the expense of other areas in medicine.
I can tell you a great deal about surgery and nuances of technique, but I’m not the best person for managing bipolar disorder. And I’m ok with that.