They say medical school are the four roughest years of your schooling life. The immense volume, complex physiology, and sleepless nights are a recipe for misery. Or are there? Here’s how you can actually enjoy medical school and even make it the best 4 years of your academic career.
I know I’m not the only one when I say that medical school was my favorite 4 years of schooling. Sure, high school was carefree and relatively easy, college was all about exploration and growing independent, but medical school offers something unique. Believe me when I say you aren’t doomed to being miserable for all 4 years.
My own experience was different from most, but there are still principles that will apply to you. College was fun and I did enjoy it, but the experience was tainted by some health and family struggles. There was certainly more free time and more partying, but the subject matter of classes wasn’t always focused on areas of interest. And while college pushed and challenged me, medical school helped me discover what I was capable of and grow into the person that I am today. If you focus on and appreciate these unique benefits, you’ll find yourself in a much better mental space. Here are the 4 factors that, if you focus on properly, will transform your medical school experience.
1 | Subject Matter
The first and most obvious difference from college to medical school is the subject matter you’re studying. As a college student, you have to deal with GE’s and other mandatory classes that have little to do with practicing medicine. However, in medical school, just about everything you study is highly relevant, and that alone makes the material more engaging. A big reason many students find themselves bored with class is the materials seem to lack relevance or significance. You may complain that learning some obscure organic chemistry nuance isn’t important. There’s much less of that in medical school.
There will be some unnecessary details and you will be studying much harder in medical school, but on average you’ll enjoy your classes more. And sure, you’ll enjoy some classes more than others, but that’s expected. I loved cardiology, neurology, and GI, for example, but I was less enamored by renal. You’ll find your own most and least favorite blocks. But at least you don’t have to do mandatory English classes or other classes that seem way out in left field.
The depth with which you approach each of these organ systems will also be rewarding in and of itself. It’s amazing to understand the physiology of every human that has ever lived, including yourself. When you come across information about the body or health, you’ll get a kick out of knowing exactly what’s being discussed and even being able to think a few layers deeper. You’ll look back on the process and be amazed how much about the human body you learned in a short period of time.
Once you get to your clinical rotations as a third and fourth year, you’ll be able to apply all the knowledge you’ve accumulated to patient care. That alone is incredibly satisfying.
2 | Focus
As a premed, it’s necessary to spend a considerable amount of time pursuing relevant extracurriculars. Between the clinical experiences, volunteer hours, leadership, and research, you’ll find yourself pulled in multiple different directions from an academic perspective. One of the underappreciated factors in medical school is that you don’t have to worry about any of that, except for research of course. Other extracurriculars are far less important for your residency application.
This also translates to much more control over your schedule, at least during the first two years of medical school. If your school has mandatory class, that’s generally just half a day, after which you can spend your time however you please. If class isn’t mandatory, many students opt to skip, self-study, and unlock even more free time in their day.
I have many fond memories of studying with my friends in the medical school after class, bumping hip hop late into the night studying for anatomy tests in the cadaver lab, and even the occasional late-night shenanigans when we felt mentally fried.
When clinical rotations rolled around, I realized how nice it was to have a flexible schedule. As a third and fourth year, you’ll have little control over your schedule. You spend most of your time in the hospital, you’re working on your own, and you can’t control who you’re on rotation with. Even if you are with your friend, you’ll be spending most of your time working with your residents and attendings, not your classmates. There’s something magical about studying hard with friends, having a shared struggle, and maintaining control over your schedule.
Your clinical years will have a different set of perks and drawbacks, but you’ll remain focused on becoming a better physician and learning the clinical practice of medicine. After all, it’s what you came to medical school for – to learn how to treat patients in the clinical setting.
3 | Peers
You may have noticed some change amongst your peers going from high school to college. That contrast is even starker from college to medical school. I was amazed by the diversity, talent, and character of individuals in my medical school class. It was impressive.
We had former Olympians, highly accomplished artists, mountaineers who had climbed Everest, and so much more. You’ll be surrounded by interesting and impressive individuals that you can certainly learn from. Unlike college, not everyone is going to be your age either. You’ll have many non-traditional classmates with prior careers and families who are now pursuing a passion, and they have unique life experience you can learn from.
And because you’re with people with similar life ambitions and goals, you’ll make many close friendships that will last a lifetime.
4 | Self Development
Lastly, medical school offers a unique stimulus for self-growth and development. Through the pressure cooker that is medical school, you’ll be forced to grow in more than one way.
Your resilience will develop rapidly to handle the ups and downs of medical school. Given the tight time constraints, you’ll find yourself pushing your own productivity and efficiency, building systems to get more done in less time that will help you throughout your life. But perhaps most importantly, you’ll find yourself facing more important questions about who you are.
College is very much about building independence, but many of us are still reliant on external factors of validation from our social groups. That’s simply part of the natural developmental process in late adolescence to early adulthood.
As you transition to medical school and push yourself further, you’ll find yourself becoming more comfortable in your own skin and have a deeper understanding of who you are. You’ll grow intimately familiar with your faults and hopefully grow to accept them. You’ll discover your strengths and lean into them to further improve and learn.
This was my favorite part of medical school, as it was during these four years that I became who I am today. I developed authentic confidence, knowing I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I grew more efficient, productive, and intentional with my time and energy. I explored dating and what I wanted in a life partner. I confronted fears like public speaking and overcame them. I loved medical school and I hope it can be a phenomenal experience for you as well.
The grind is hard, but remember your attitude and interpretation of events are more important than the actual events themselves. If you appreciate these four factors, you’ll be much happier throughout your medical school career.