Medical School: Expectations vs Reality

Medical school at times is exactly what I feared,  but some days it is the complete polar opposite of what I expected. There are many medical school misconceptions, and the reality of the experience is often different than you’d imagine.

EXPECTATION: More Diversity

I genuinely thought there would be more black people; 10 black people in a year of 300 isn’t enough and that’s the truth. As a result, I struggled to settle into my new City and University having come from an area that was a lot more diverse I felt incredibly out of place. I guess with time I have adjusted to it but it would be nice to have seen more people like me in Medical School.

EXPECTATION: More stressful/ Unbearable Workload

To be honest most stress I experience is self-inflicted because I have high expectations for myself and try to always be on top of everything.

The funny thing about Medical School is that if you feel you have nothing to do, you should be worried; there is always a clinical examination or procedure to practise, a case to be re-read or an assignment that is due, so in a weird way stress becomes comforting as you know you’re on the right track.

The workload is crazy because you never quite finish. You can’t really prepare for or conceive the workload of medical school without experiencing it. The best way to make it doable is to stay organise and structure your time.

EXPECTATION: Library everyday

Going to the library after a 9-5 day is probably the last thing you want to do. I don’t like the library and it took me a while to realise that. I thought that was what all Medical students do but I soon realised that it wasn’t the place for me. This taught me to be way more disciplined as I chose to study at home so I learnt to make my environment more conducive to productivity.

EXPECTATION: Less Competition 

You would think that after the crazily competitive application process the competition would slow down but in reality it only gets worse and less overt. You find that people are constantly trying to one up each other and feel the need to repeatedly remind you of their accomplishments.

EXPECTATION: Lectures are mandatory

In my Medical School our lecture attendance is not recorded so you don’t have to attend. Most, if not all of our lectures are recorded and posted online, the only negative is that they tend to be posted a week later. We only have a few mandatory sessions per week.

EXPECTATION: The best students will make the best doctors

Being studious in Medical School is necessary and tenacity is very much needed but you will find that it is Your mastery of the subject combined with your interpersonal skills, will determine how good of a doctor you will be. People tend to forget that ‘People’ are a huge aspect of Medicine so being able to communicate and interact is very much essential. You find that the student who is able to remember every enzyme involve in that irrelevant biochemical pathway may struggle greatly when it comes to communicating to a patient in Layman’s terms.

EXPECTATION: Cadaver dissection is torture

On the first day the intensity of the formaldehyde odour will be the first negative association with cadaver dissection. Then you enter an eerily silent room with white body bags dotted on stainless steel tables around the room, you’re then confronted with a room of lifeless bodies unsure how to react. If you’ve never seen a dead before I guess the best way to overcome your fear is to become overexposed to it by being in a room with 30 odd cadavers. Overtime it gets better, you notice the smell less and crack the odd joke to lighten the task ahead of you and after a few weeks you forget that you are dissecting the cadaver of a real human being.

EXPECTATION: 9-5’s everyday & No Social Life

This was my biggest fear, I thought that I’d have 9-5’s every single day but this is far from the truth. You do get the odd weak where you start at 9am everyday but most days you finish early or have a 2-3 hour break in the middle of the day so it is bearable. With that being said, you do have the time to make the most out of your social life, whether it be going to the gym, playing sports, being part of societies or whatever it is you life to do, the only way you will have the time for these activities is to make the time for them. Most Medical Students have a pretty vibrant social life as they say “Med students work hard and party even harder!”

EXPECTATION: You know what you’re going to specialise in from day 1

I wanted to be a neurosurgeon when I first started Medical School which I find laughable now. I really just change what speciality I want to go into according to the most recent case I encounter or most skill I’ve discovered i’m good at e.g. my precise dissecting skills definitely mean I should be a surgeon but my ability to stay calm under pressure means Emergency Medicine is the way I should go.

EXPECTATION: Sleep deprivation will become the new norm

To be honest this was me in my 1st year, I’d go to bed at around 3 am on most days and wake up at 7:30 for my 9am lectures hence why me falling asleep in lectures was a regular occurrence. But it’s safe to say I’ve learnt my lesson now and I am an advocate for going to sleep on time although I don’t know how long this will last *fingers crossed*. Being organised and self-disciplined is honestly enough to change your sleeping pattern.


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