Myth Busting: Expectations vs Reality of Medical School
The road to medical school can be long and tiring, so getting in might seem like finally reaching a promised land of sorts. While it is definitely a satisfying end-point, it’s only the beginning of a journey. As a result, it might be helpful to get a little insight into what you’re actually signing yourself up for.
Here are five expectations I had about medical school early on and the reality that I soon enough discovered.
Expectation 1: I won’t have time to do anything else
Everyone seems to have a preconceived notion that medical school will demand devotion of every minute of your life; this couldn’t be further from the truth.
While admittedly, there can be much more for you to study at times than your peers from other degrees, almost every medical student eventually lands a sustainable (and sociable) work-life balance.
The key is to prioritise, read course outlines for exactly what you do and don’t need to know and start working earlier in the semester (don’t leave it right until the end).
Expectation 2: There’s so much to learn throughout my degree
This one hit midway through my first week, when I sat in a monster embryology lecture with all these words I had never heard of; I was overwhelmed by everything I didn’t know.
It’s a great relief to realise that you don’t need to know everything by the time you graduate to be a great doctor. Your clinical skills, interpersonal skills and ability for self-directed learning will take you much further.
Your degree will teach you a huge amount about medicine, but doctors continue to keep learning for a lifetime!
Expectation 3: I’ll have all the answers as soon as I begin
To contrast the previous point, this expectation tends to come from family and friends. Well-meaning relatives might want to pick your brains about all sorts of strange symptoms you’d rather not hear about.
Try to manage their expectations early on. Let them know that you wouldn’t feel comfortable giving medical advice and defer any opinions to future you – the one with the Dr. in front of their name.
It is important to only speak about the things you do have knowledge of and perhaps redirect them to a qualified medical professional for more serious issues.
Expectation 4: I need to be top of the class
It’s not uncommon for those in medical school to have come from an environment where they were top of the class.
However, once you’ve been accepted, you’ll be in a group of people where everyone has excelled academically – otherwise they wouldn’t be there! This means that you might not always be top of the class, and that is okay.
In most cases, ultimately there is no real difference between a few marks. Most medical schools will pass or fail based on whether you will be a competent doctor. Isn’t that what we’re all here for anyway?
Expectation 5: Choosing to study medicine is the only big career decision I’ll need to make
Sure, studying medicine means you will most likely become a doctor, but this is not where the career decision tree tapers off.
There are so many options for how you can use your medical degree, both inside and outside of a clinical environment. This can be both exciting and vaguely terrifying.
Some people know exactly which sub-speciality or niche they would like to fill from day one. However, it is equally normal to have no clue, or it could change every other month.
Often, clinical placements, an open mind and trial and error will help shape your decision-making over a number of years.