So You Want to Go to Medical School


Several years before I applied to medical school my daughter became ill and had to be admitted to our local teaching hospital. Twice a day, the head of the Pediatrics department would make his rounds followed by an impressive entourage of about a dozen residents and third year medical students rotating through pediatrics. As they stood in my daughter’s room, the head of the department would pepper his followers with questions about my daughter’s condition, prognosis, treatment, and other relevant medical knowledge. Standing in the back of the group was a third year medical student who looked incredibly awkward, especially after he mumbled and stammered incorrect answers to several questions directed at him.

A few years later, I found myself on a third-year pediatric rotation at the same hospital and realized that I was “that guy.” As smart as my mother thinks I am I was in full mental vapor-lock unable to recall the simplest item of medical knowledge.

It is a popular misconception reinforced by inaccurate stereotypical descriptions of medical students in the popular culture and wildly inaccurate medical school guide books that medical school is incredibly difficult and can only be successfully undertaken by a student with a photographic memory, the stamina to study sixteen hours a day, and a robotic obsession with medical knowledge. While it is true that medical schools are full of students who fit that description, there are an equal or greater number who are just slightly-smarter-then average regular people.

My purpose in writing this blog is to share some of my experiences and observations about life in medical school and residency from the perspective of a guy who is not at the top of his class and likes to keep stress to a minimum. I also hope that when you arrive at medical school you will have a fairly good idea of what to expect and how things really work. I want to show you that while you must study, if you are efficient and disciplined you can get by without studying long into the night on a regular basis. (But by no means am I going to give you easy study tips or a fool-proof studying system.)

I also want to pass on some essential information about third and fourth year which will not eliminate all of your stress or the awkwardness you will feel the first time you show your face on the wards but will at least give you an idea of what you are supposed to do.

Additionally, I want to make you aware of some of the potential pitfalls of the residency match so you will not make some of the mistakes I made.

Let’s get a few things straight, however. First, you will have to study in medical school. Someone who spends his undergraduate years trying to get into medical school and then blows off studying is a fool and will find himself as one of the tiny elite who are kicked out of medical school for bad grades. (It happens but not as often as you think.)

Second, you should know that many residency programs in highly selective specialties almost always require excellent grades and high class rank. If you want to do Dermatology or Ophthalmology as a specialty then I wish you luck but maybe you need to be reading a different blog.

Keep watching this blog for updates.