“They” weren’t kidding this time. This stuff really is hard.
Every teacher I have had has always warned me about how much more difficult the next level was going to be. For example, in 5th grade, we were told that no teacher would let us write in print after 5th grade. The strange looks I got from high school teachers when I wrote in cursive prove that this was certainly not the case. I know they all meant well, and were trying to motivate the students to rise to their best. I suppose a part of me considered that the medical school warning was a hyperbole just like all other warnings I had received about the next step.
For all the skeptics: medical school really is hard. The amount of information we learn in a class that spans 4 weeks would easily take up an entire semester of college. We have had single 1 hr lectures that covered material cover multiple chapters in an undergraduate biology textbook. I have heard the analogy many, many times that learning the required medical school material is like trying to drink out of a fire hydrant. After one semester, I cannot think of a more fitting analogy.
OK, maybe they were kidding a little.
Medical school is entirely different than undergrad, and all other schooling I have had. The quantity of information is enough to make anybody’s head spin. That being said, it isn’t particularly difficult information. I have found that in the last few months I have felt overwhelmed and have dreaded reading page after page of dense material but have not been deeply confused (nowhere near the neuron-knotting, migraine-causing confusion that only Organic Chemistry can cause).
I imagine that a major reason I feel the information is easier is probably because I now compare it to the difficult college courses, instead of my former self comparing the difficult college courses to my easier high school classes. However, there was certainly not a large increase in difficulty. Also, we typically get to focus on one class at a time. At UT Southwestern (this is not true of all schools), our tests are often fairly spaced out. We get the luxury of being able to focus on one course at a time. We have to still keep up with other classes, but usually don’t have anything analogous to those terrible undergrad finals weeks or that week before spring break where every professor wanted to give you a test.
I suppose you could say that medical school studying is an endurance race, rather than a series of sprints. We are still trying to drink out of that fire hydrant, but thankfully we can focus our energy on just one fire hydrant (two at most).
Medicine is a huge field. Scientists have learned so much. Wait, we still don’t know anything?
The rate at which medical knowledge expands is mind boggling; much of what I have learned so far will be outdated by the time I graduate. My first response to this was shock at just how much work scientists have done. In the last century, the last 50 years, even the last 5 years, medical knowledge and outcomes have greatly improved and the rate it continues to improve is astounding. The flip-side of this is that what we know is still just a drop in the pond.
In college, we were often taught the material that had been proven for a very long time. In medical school, we are now being taught by the people doing the research, and therefore are learning on the cutting edge. The cutting edge is very exciting, but students also begin to realize how far we have to go.
Professors often talk about trying to tailor courses to teach us the material they thing we will need to know in 10 years, when we are practicing. They then admit that they have no idea what we will need to know in a decade, as the field is changing so rapidly. Next they confess that some of what they are teaching will be proven wrong in a decade. Only now do I fully believe that a career in medicine equals a lifetime of learning.
Medicine is awesome.
This field is unlike any other. It is unlike any other in many ways, I suppose, but what I really mean by this statement is that no other field provides the privilege and responsibility that goes along with seeing someone at their most vulnerable. In no other setting is it acceptable to ask a stranger about the most private details of their life. Even as a first year medical student, patients trust me and often take down their protective barrier. The science behind medicine is incredibly interesting, and the privilege of practicing medicine is one that I hope I never stop appreciating. I am definitely in the right place.
Medical school is not easy, and is certainly filled with its ups and downs. Thankfully, there seem to be many more ups than downs. I feel like other students may have differing perspectives, and would certainly choose a variety of other things to reflect on. Personally, I could continue writing on this subject for some time, and give the gritty details of what I think of every aspect of medical school. I will spare you of that though. That said, I am sure that these thoughts will mature and morph as I progress, and I will be sure to keep you updated.
Latest posts by Mark Munns (see all)
- The Unequal and Unfair Healthcare Business ‘Model’ - March 8, 2012
- Should We Treat the Patient or the Patients? - October 4, 2011
- Would You Like a Personality With That? - August 11, 2011