Is Medical School Hard ? Is medical school really difficult?

textbooks for Med School

Is Medical School Hard? Well, it is really hard, in a nutshell. The all night study marathons that you are most likely going to go through before your school exams and viva is an arduous task in on itself. You add board certification exams on top of them and you get to a point where if you are not studying everyday, passing the boards and getting your degree becomes almost impossible. There are no parties and hangouts in med school. The only hangouts you are probably going to go to are group study sessions, that’s it. None of that party life you enjoyed in college is gonna be possible in med school. This is just the top of the cake, below I have mentioned several reasons why med school becomes very hard as you start going through it.

Academic difficulty of Med school

To be honest this is not the main reason reason why i consider medical school to be hard. As all higher stem fields are very challenging to grasp and understand. But the academic difficulty in med school comes from the fact that you will continuously need to gulp in larger amounts of information. And on top of this you have to actually retain that information and be able to apply it as soon as possible. In the emergency situation the time between a heart stopping to actual death of the patient is not more than 5 minutes. So you need to be able to act quickly. In the emergency situation you as the doctor will be responsible for all the orders to save the patient’s life. You need to quickly guide your staff into the measures needed to save the patient’s life on the spot. This is where the academic difficulty of med school comes into place. No other job requires academic recall and it’s implementation on the spot. Many people find it hard to actually retain large amounts of important information in their active memory. In med school your colleagues and seniors will probably teach you ways so that your active recall is on point, even if it is 3 am on a Sunday shift. So you need not worry as much about the academic side as many others in the list below.

Difficulty in getting hands on opportunities in Med school

The ability to perform an important procedure on a patient to save his or her life is an important part of medicine. Usually you would be required to perform a bunch of these procedures and learn them on mannequins. But doing procedures on mannequins is way different than performing them on a real human. You need hands on experience and lots of it. Usually in the setting of the emergency you will rarely find chances to perform these important procedures hands on. This is because the attendings and residents want to do these procedures themselves in order to save time and to not risk any harm to the patient. There fore finding opportunities to do these procedures during med school therefore becomes very challenging. You need to build trust and show competence to your residents and attendings. Building this trust can become hard if you have an introverted personality. An introverted personality is very common among medical students. As most medical students are like me, huge nerds. 🙂

So this can be a daunting experience that makes med school harder.

Building a physician’s attitude as a medical student

Today’s students are tomorrows doctors. So students need to build the physician’s attitude, ethical and counselling skills which are a very important part of a doctor’s job. A doctor’s profession is based on trust. It is this trust that a patient will let you examine him immediately and allow you access to his most private body parts. A physician needs the proper skills to build this trust as quickly as possible, so as to benefit his patients, in a timely and productive manner. Most students coming to the field are not aware of these skills and hence tend to feel shy in important conversations with the patients at first. It takes time, effort and persistence for them to build up these vital skills.

So In general hurdles like academic knowledge acquiring, procedural skill building and acquiring a physician’s attitude alone are not that hard. But when you combine them together and put a limit of 4 years on this it can become really hard for students to overcome. Nowadays a new culture is taking place where med school seniors are instructed to guide new students in the ways to overcome these hurdles effectively.

Peer pressure in Med school

Peer pressure is a good and bad thing, but it depends on the state you are in. If it is good then, it helps to shape you. If it is bad, then it causes you alot of stress. In med school most of your colleagues are also top grade students who qualified with flying colors all their lives just like you so, you have no bragging rights now. You are also competing with your colleagues on a regular basis. Most people are cool, but sometimes the gunners can make you feel bad about yourself. Most students can cope with the peer pressure, but for many it requires some time. In med school, you don’t have time to work on yourself and I find so many students who get depressed by this. They are always stressed about their grades as they keep on comparing them to others. I always advise my students to not pay too much attention to others and focus on yourself, alone. This way you can come out of the stressful situation and gain confidence in yourself. This advice has worked so far in my case as I have most of the students, overcome their stress. The peer pressure can be immense if you keep on stressing about it. But if you start working on yourself you find yourself overcoming that same exact peer pressure and rising to the top.

The Pimping Culture in Med School

This is an old tradition. It is a learning tool if employed in the right ways. Many attendings will constantly pimp you (ask you difficult questions) in the middle of the rounds or during a procedure. This builds your analytical skills and allows you to think on the spot. This also forces you to go home and study so that you can answer the same question better if it come up another time. But this also comes with an element of ridicule if you don’t know the answer. Many students feel ashamed if they don’t know the answer in front of other colleagues and this culture causes them intense stress. This culture is on the decline, as studies showed very high stress levels among students due to this. But it is still practiced in a vast majority of places. So this is one thing you will have to keep in your mind.

Feeling alone in Med School

Most students come to join a med school from far away places. The are away from home, and in a very foreign place. So, they feel home sick and alone at least in the initial six months until they develop lasting friendships. This is a very stressful time among students, and most will suffer from stress.

As I mentioned above about the introverted nature off many medical students this time can become very tough for alot of students and they start to feel alone. Some students even develop depression during this phase so it is advisable to prepare yourself for the initial 6 months before hand.

The Debt burden of Med School

Medical school is expensive. It brings you under alot of debt. It will take a long time to get rid of this debt even when you start working. It is a natural tendency of humans to feel guilty and stressed under such a load. It is a feeling that needs to be experienced to be able to explain. So if you are not exactly certain about med school and the debt you will be under yet, take an year off. Think about it, while you work a 9 to 5 for at least an year. MCAT doesn’t expire for an year in most countries so you will have time to think nonetheless.

The imposter syndrome in Med school

Ah, the final problem, which every medical student will face is the imposter syndrome. Most people feel they are out of place as soon as they enter medical school. Most students don’t talk about it openly. So it is an internal guilt in everyone’s heart. Which is why it can become stressful. But believe me, we all have faced this. You need not worry about this one. The imposter syndrome will go away. If you feel stressed by it, talk to a close friend of yours, who is a confidant. Or ask a resident or attending. I am sure who ever you end up taking to will always help you in this regard.

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Referenced from PubMed.

Sapira JD. Why is medical school difficult? Or, if it isn’t difficult, why it should be. South Med J. 1979 Nov;72(11):1453-5. doi: 10.1097/00007611-197911000-00030. PMID: 505081.

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