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The Hardest Parts of Medical School (According to Students)

There is no way around it: medical school is a challenge. It’s a very difficult experience that’s meant to weed out those who can’t handle the pressure and responsibility that it takes to have people’s lives in your hands. But with hard work and the right preparation, you can get through it. In the spirit of preparation, we reached out to some current medical school students, doctors, and educational forums to bring together a list of the hardest parts of medical school. Hopefully, this list can help you see what’s coming, and be ready for it. The Hardest Parts of Medical School Achieving Balance One theme that comes up again and again is that balance is exceptionally difficult to achieve as a med school student. Med school is something you could compare with a marathon that keeps going and going. Every hour that you don’t spend studying could be a big hit to your ability to keep up with the material. Saying goodbye to unstructured free time is a big issue, and even maintaining simple good habits like exercise and proper diet can be tough. Time Management A similar issue that many med school students and doctors speak out about is time management. Many med school students have a great deal of work to do just to stay on top of things. One poster on studentdoctor.net wrote that the hardest thing about med school is “accepting the fact that you can do your absolute very best and study your tail off only to barely break the class average on exams.” Another wrote that one of the challenges is accepting the fact that you’ll never cross everything off your to-do list. Life Outside Med School Another common issue that students bring up as a difficulty is social isolation. Free time often becomes a thing of the past when you start med school, so relationships can suffer. If you’re used to getting a lot of social support, having plenty of time to hang out with friends and family, and attending lots of parties and functions, you’ll probably miss that after starting school. Medical students also have to deal with a lot of change and uncertainty. Often, going to med school involves moving to a new city. Then, just a few years later, residencies mean moving again (and again, and again). It’s not a good formula for a life of uninterrupted stability. The Boards The board exams to become a certified medical doctor are universally regarded as one of the most difficult parts of medical school. The first exam, the USMLE Step 1, is one of the hardest. Luckily, your knowledge of basic medical science will be about as good as it’s ever going to be at this point. You’ll have the ability to pass the test if you’ve studied hard, and be able to move on. The Step 2 exam (usually taken during the 3rd or 4th year) and the Step 3 final exam (usually taken during 4th year or after graduation) will provide serious challenges as well. Starting Clinicals Third year is a big transition for most medical school students, since you’ll likely be transitioning to being a working student, and you’ll be interacting with patients extensively for the first time. This brings a whole new set of challenges around communication, professionalism, and workplace relationships. It’s almost certain that 3rd year will be a humbling experience in which you spend a lot of time listening to and learning from those who are older and more experienced than you are. This video from students at Albert Einstein College of Medicine is a good introduction to this subject: Memorization The amount of knowledge that one is supposed to learn in medical school is huge. Many classes will come with 1000 pages (or more) of material that you’re supposed to memorize. Taking in that amount of information has been described as trying to drink out of a fire hose. If you’re not careful, it will blow you away. To many students, the simple problem of memorizing and retaining information is among the most difficult parts of medical school. This is one reason why Brainscape is a great companion for med school students; you can design and share your own adaptive flashcard sets to help you memorize and master material faster. If you’re getting ready to take the MCAT to apply to medical schools, Brainscape offers an MCAT study tool that will help you prepare for the test. 

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