When I first started medical school, I was much like most of you. I didn’t have much of a clue of what I was really getting myself involved with. Here are five things that I learned from my medical school experience, and five things I wish I would have known before starting.
1. Your Life Will Change
Medical school and the practice of medicine in general occupies your life. It’s not a job, but rather a lifestyle. Be prepared to work long, grueling hours throughout medical school and residency. Depending upon your specialty of choice, those hours might continue. Be prepared for these changes, and note that your free time will decrease dramatically. I wasn’t ready for this.
2. Medical Training is Inefficient
Not only do you get slapped in the face by having to stick around at the hospital for no reasons at all as a student, but your time is generally wasted. Yes, you’re paying thousands in tuition and you get repaid through the most inefficient use of that time imaginable. Instead of keeping you at the hospital sitting around doing nothing, your time is better spent in an environment better suited for studying. I don’t want to hear “well, you can study at the hospital while sitting around” either. Sure, you can study at the hospital but for all of you that have tried it you know it sucks. Just when you’re getting in that study zone, some resident sends you on a task in boredom hell. There’s nobody around that thinks studying at the hospital is better environment than a quiet library somewhere. If you do, you’re delirious.
3. Many Residents, Attendings, and Nurses are Asses
I didn’t say they all were, but many of them are. Sure, there are the cool residents like what Panda seems to be. But in general, you’ll be faced with some of the most unhappy and angry people that you’ve ever come into contact with. This brings up an interesting question, too. Why does medicine in general produce some of the most malignant personalities? I think that’s something you have to examine while looking into a possible career in medicine. If the majority of people are so unhappy, there has to be something wrong somewhere down the line. If you put yourself in front of these types of people day in and day out, you’ll start to become them. I wasn’t nearly as cynical as I am now prior to starting medicine. Some of the cynicism is waining at this point, but a lot of that stems from the fact that I’m no longer in the presence of dickheads all day long.
4. Many Patients Are Ungrateful
Most medical training institutions cater to the indigent population. From what I’ve experienced, many of these people are ungrateful. They treat you like shit and expect the best care possible, even though their ability to pay for services is nonexistent. You would think they would be appreciative of anything they could get for free, and many of them are. There are still the ungrateful ones that tend to stand out like a sore thumb. There’s nothing like being berated by your team and then going in to get further beaten down by some homeless guy with pancreatitis due to his excessive alcohol consumption. Instead, they should be thankful they’re able to receive medical treatment due to a self-inflicted disease.
5. Volunteering Will Not Show You Much
I thought that I was ready to go to medical school after a few of the typical volunteer experiences that most medical students complete prior to applying. Boy, was I wrong. Most of the volunteer experiences involve shadowing other physicians. While getting to see what they do all day, it doesn’t really immerse you into the lifestyle. This portion of your medical education will come around year three. Unfortunately at this point it’s too late. If you hate it, you’re already in a considerable amount of debt (for most students) and you’ve already put in too much time to simply quit. In order to really see what medical school and medical training is all about, here’s what you need to do:
During a summer between your college years, seek out a training hospital close to your house and ask them if you can spend an entire month shadowing a PGY-1 or PGY-2 OB/GYN resident. Work the same hours as the resident does, including call. Get involved with as many things as they’ll let you do. If it’s 3 am, you’ll probably get to do a lot. If you’re still fired up about medicine, you’ve just had a more realistic taste of what your life is about to transform into.
Hindsight is 20/20
If I would’ve known those five things above, and especially did the “extended” volunteer experience with an OB/GYN resident, I would’ve never wasted four years of my life to attend medical school. It’s sad to think that a one-month “boot camp” experience could have saved me thousands in school debt, but it’s the truth.
Know what you’re getting into, and know it well.