What is It Like to be a Medical Student?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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The life of a medical student is generally full of highs and lows; peaks of success and valleys of stress, frustration, and anxiety. Though life for a medical student may fall into a pattern of attending classes, studying, doing practical work, and studying more, the stress and challenges of med school help students develop into competent professionals and adults. The experience of med school will change from student to student and program to program, but for all involved it serves as the testing ground to see if the medical field is really the best option for a student's future.

Most medical schools are four-year programs that commence following undergraduate studies. Some students have already begun studying medicine as part of their undergraduate training, while others have simply taken and passed entrance exams following graduation from a different area of study. Each year of a medical program provides new training expectations and requirements, as well as a graduated increase in responsibility.


In the first year, a medical student will likely spend most of his or her time buried in studying and memorization. In most programs, the first year of medical school is devoted to a theoretical understanding of the scientific principles of medicine. This typically means students will spend a lot of time in lectures and analytical classes, and must pass many rounds of rigorous examinations. Despite the difficulties, year one of medical school is one of the best chances to make friends and peer groups, since there are more large classes. Nevertheless, according to some statistics, 6% of students drop out of med school following the first semester.

A medical student, having survived year one, will often start getting clinical experience in the second year. This may include assisting with laboratory or research work and shadowing physicians. The third and fourth years may include duties such as studying with specialists, assisting medical teams of senior physicians, and working in a doctor's office, laboratory, or hospital. Students in their last two years may also spend a lot of time studying for their post-graduate examinations and learning about different internships.

During the course of medical school, a medical student can expect to be subjected to extreme levels of physical and mental stress. Clinical rotations may last more than 24 hours in some cases, regardless of whether the student must then get up the next morning to go to class. In addition, the mental stress of trying to memorize thousands of pages worth of material can quickly take a toll. Medical students may also be anxious about financial debt, and have difficulty keeping up relationships with people outside the profession. At times, it may seem like there are simultaneously too many and too few hours in the day for all necessities.

Above all this, a medical student may be subject to serious psychological and philosophical questions. A medical student will likely have to deal with life and death in many situations that challenge his or her beliefs about human existence. Part of the process of becoming a doctor involves creating a personal narrative and understanding about these issues. Nevertheless, in spite of all of these difficulties, a medical student truly has the opportunity to save lives, fix illness, and further the cause of medicine. For hardy souls with the constitution to withstand the pressure, the rewards and joy of being a medical student may outweigh the difficulties.



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