Before I started my journey through medical school, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting myself into. Boy was I wrong! I remember thinking to myself, yes, I’m sure it will be hard, and I’ll be pretty busy, but I get to SAVE LIVES! I truly never focused on any of the potentially negative or challenging aspects of pursuing a career in medicine. For so many of us, becoming a doctor is our DREAM, and we probably have a lot of different reasons why this is the career we long for. Although I’m so grateful to have chosen this path, there are so many things I wish I knew about medicine prior to beginning school. The glamorization of medical school and doctors in the mainstream media has perpetuated a lot of false ideals about the profession. I’d like to share a few examples of how medical school has been warped into such a different experience than the one I had, and why this can be detrimental to future doctors.
I’m confident that at some point in your life you’ve seen an episode or two of one of the many medical dramas available on television. Whether it be Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, House, The Good Doctor, or countless others, medical dramas are everywhere! These shows often depict a very skewed narrative of what it takes to become a doctor, and really only show what “sells”. I remember watching an episode where a brand new intern went into a code blue (cardiac arrest) and instantly saved the patient with the use of a defibrillator. Although it makes for great TV there were so many medical inaccuracies involved in the episode.
In addition to this, scenes like this give future doctors a false sense of hope that they can save everyone. The sad reality is that unfortunately only about 5% of code blue’s actually result in cardiac resuscitation, and even when they are successful, there are so many detrimental side effects. I could name about 100 more examples similar to this scenario, but you get the idea. The fact of the matter is, what you see on TV just is not real, especially when it comes to medicine.
As we all know, social media in general displays a very false depiction of everyone’s daily life. On any given platform you can choose only what you want others to see about your life. Some people have even taken advantage of this aspect of social media to boast and brag about their incredible lives. Over the past few years, with the increasing popularity of Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, medical students have joined the social media fads with a vengeance.
Often I will log into a social media platform and see medical students posting perfectly posed photos in their white coats, or an aesthetic photo of their study atmosphere. These pictures all seem so happy and positive. What these “content creators” often fail to add is the realistic ups and downs that come with the medical school process. Some of these posts may be intended to encourage others or to simply share their experience within the medical community. However, many of us often find ourselves feeling inferior or even jealous at how easy these posts make medicine seem.
Expectations Vs. Reality
There are many aspects of medical school and health care that I perceived so differently before starting medical school. I honestly never realized how important it was to do my own research on the medical school experience prior to signing up for such an insanely lengthy training process. Here’s a few examples of what my expectations were prior to beginning medical school and the reality. It’s a great idea for you to try and write down a list of everything you expect from the process under the following categories, and network with other medical students and physicians to get their perspective.
Prior to medical school, I would study heavily the week before an exam, and passively for a few hours sporadically. I expected medical school to be roughly the same, potentially just adding a few more passive hours during the week. The classic saying about medical school content is that learning it all is like trying to drink water from a fire hose. I ended up switching to a daily 8-hour schedule of self-study and lecture in the second week. I felt it was necessary due to the sheer volume of information we need to know. Depending on how quickly you read or absorb information this could vary for you.
Initially, I thought I would take the weekends off to enjoy some self-care time. I even thought I would potentially travel to visit friends and family. After my first semester examination, I worked through every weekend in an attempt to improve my grades. Quickly after trying this new technique I realized that more hours doesn’t always equal better grades. In order to try and avoid study burnout, I began taking Sundays off as a day to recharge. The concept “work smarter, not harder” became my very overused saying.
I follow quite a few medical students, some of them are my colleagues, and some of them are strangers. A year before I started clinical rotations, I would watch their stories. It seemed like they were constantly doing so many cool things. From the perspective these posts conveyed, I expected to be doing surgeries and cool procedures all the time. The reality, I did not expect was how much charting and paperwork the job actually entails. I would say about 40% of my tasks in clinical rotations have been patient care, while the remainder is documentation.
The final, and most challenging part of the reality of medicine is how much you miss. There have been so many milestone events that I have missed in the past few years due to medical school. For example, I missed my Dad’s retirement party because I had an exam that day. I even had to step down from being a bridesmaid at a close friend’s wedding. Maybe others are better at maintaining their schedule, but I found it very challenging with the workload and travel. Another challenging aspect that no one posts about, is the friends you may lose along the way. I had a few friends that were not as understanding of my busy schedule. Some of them took it very personally when I chose school over a social gathering.
The reality is, medical school can take over a lot of your life. It can be really hard to do everything. Try your best to maintain an acceptable social balance to avoid feeling isolated or losing connections with friends and family.
My best advice is to only follow medical accounts that are realistic and intended to encourage you. Also, take everything you see on tv or social media with a grain of salt. It’s more likely that the glamorous medical posts you are seeing are not the whole truth. No medical school is not glamorous, and the process has tested my mental strength on a constant basis. However, if I could go back and do it all over again, I still would in a heartbeat. If you’d like to chat with other medical students and hear more about real experiences, check out our Community page and stay connected! All the best!