Chronicles of a Med Student: Time for a Reality Check

Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner

I was about to burst with excitement the minute I started medical school. I’m pretty sure I was actually giddy: like so many other pre-meds, I had dreamt of the day when I would finally put my pretty white coat on and actually start learning about things I cared about (that’s not to say everything I’d learned previously was useless—it absolutely wasn’t, but it wasn’t what I wanted). It felt like the longest road just to get to this point and I couldn’t even begin to fathom what was to come. It really was like the journey had ended…instead of just begun.
Before starting medical school, I had seen doctors walking around the hospital I had worked at for a short while being all doctor-y and it was just so cool to imagine being in their shoes one day. Their lives looked so perfect and what they dealt with every day was completely and unimaginably awesome: they got to save lives and help people, all while looking so darn put together. I wanted that and so much more. Hence the aforementioned excitement. But then school actually started and it was hard. I know I mentioned this idea before in a previous article, and the notion has perhaps made its way around the premed world, but medical school is hard. It’s hard in terms of the sheer volume of knowledge you are required to pick up on a daily basis. Conceptually, I don’t find it that tough to grasp, but keeping up with the material is where the hard work and stress and sweat comes in. I find myself exhausted at the end of every single day. Dealing with this day in and day out is hard. I can guarantee that every medical student, regardless of level of passion for medicine, has asked themselves at some point: is all of this worth it? Is it really worth all of the money, time, effort, and sacrifices it so righteously demands? I myself am among those who cannot see themselves doing anything else with their lives, and I still think that. Imagine my surprise when I first found out I felt that way. It’s not me; it’s just how it is. And it’s a fair consideration for anyone who may be on the fence about applying and/or going to medical school. I’m trying to keep it as real as possible here: I have had to sacrifice spending time with friends and family to study, take on giant student loans, and spend hours upon hours poring over books and PowerPoint slides in order to cram all of this material into my head. It’s a lot of work.
I want to say all of this ends after the first two years of medical school where studying is paramount to everything else and training ceases to be as tiring. But make no mistake: the third and fourth years are tough in terms of time commitment and sheer physical capacity to work. As is residency. As is real practice. Where does it end???
The answer is that it doesn’t. That’s just the hard reality of it and sometimes it deserves to be looked at. It never ends and as long as you are a practicing physician, these demands will be placed on you and you just have to suck it up. I no longer see just the “cool” in seeing doctors walk around the hospital. There is obviously a lot of hard work behind those white coats—long years of schooling, effort, and sacrifices. Now I see the creases on their faces, the long expressions when they are about to deliver bad news, the mounds of paperwork that await them in spare moments between patients. Medicine, like most things, is about both the bad and good. While entering the profession, I saw more good than bad and that’s what drove me to it. But to stay here, I have to not only recognize the bad, but more importantly realize that it is the good—the peaceful expression of a patient no longer in pain, the gratitude of those who just underwent a life-altering surgery—that keeps me going. That is what makes it all worth it.
About the Author
Adelle is a 1st year medical student who loves to hike, bake chocolate chip cookies, and doodle on the corners of papers.