Top 10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Starting Medical School

Ready! Set! Go!

Interview season is winding down and more and more budding physicians are clutching tightly to their hard-fought medical school acceptance letters (congratulations, you earned it!). I thought now would be an opportune time to reflect back on what I wish I had known before starting medical school. After all, that is what this website is about; me passing on my knowledge to you. Let’s try to boil it down to ten essential aspects of medical school that either you wouldn’t expect or are of such crucial importance you should be reminded of them.

1. You will have time for a life

Please, this is medical school. You will have no time for a life. Your time will be dedicated to weeding through intricate theories on the latest medical advances. This is actually what I was picturing upon matriculation to medical school. Wrong! Yes, medical school is hard and it is time-consuming (devouring?) but you will have time to do the things you love. It is all about time management. Determine what activities are most important to you and you can easily find time for them.

Photo Credit: couloir via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: couloir via Compfight cc

2. Ignore the gunners

People will give you different definitions when asked to define a gunner. I define them as the people who won’t shut the fuck up about their grades, their studying and essentially cannot talk about anything except school and how awesome they are at it. The truth is the majority of times these people are full of shit and likely have some form of personality disorder at baseline. Ignore them. Let the gunners gun. It is not worth your energy to compare yourself to them. Let their verbal diarrhea run in one ear and out the other (how’s that for a visual?). Here’s what you can do. Worry about you! Your job is to do what you have to do to succeed.

3. Attending lectures is overrated

The first several months of medical school there was barely a seat to be had in our main auditorium. There were vicious stare downs over who took whose seat*. Then, as we wised up, the lecture hall slowly started to empty out. You really don’t NEED to go to class. Why sit and listen to a professor drone on for an hour while becoming increasingly more proficient at Facebook stalking when you can be somewhere else? The truth is, you can review the same power point slides and listen to the same audio (at at least double speed) from the comfort of your favorite study spot and do it on YOUR schedule.

4.You stand a good chance of meeting your life long partner

Photo Credit: Kevin Conor Keller via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kevin Conor Keller via Compfight cc

I did. Picture this. Take approximately 100 highly achieving individuals who are mostly in their mid twenties. Put them in a high stress environment where they are together for 60 + hours a week. You better bet your ass there’s gonna be some hooking up! In fact I think I am going to pitch this to MTV.

My class, which I would consider a bit more incestuous than average, has on average 10 couples going on at any one time. Many of these relationships will fizzle but there will be some marriages within your class, guaranteed. Embrace it, it is great to have someone by your side that has to put up with all the same medical school bullshit that you do.


5. Review books are king

Medical school is a juggling act. You have to be studying for the most urgent issue, the next upcoming exam, while also being sure not to fall behind in your other classes. The easiest way to do this is with review books. Once you have grasped a basic understanding in lecture you will benefit from using these to reinforce the topic as well as present it in different ways which will increase your understanding. Some of my favorites can be seen on the right side-bar under “Survivor’s Picks” but you cannot go wrong with anything from the Board Review Series (BRS).

6. You will make sacrifices

Medical school is expensive not only monetarily but also emotionally.  It can be extremely difficult to see your friends from undergraduate living it up while you are spending the majority of your time with your nose to the books. You will miss out on some events that are extremely important to you. If medical school is anything it is a lesson in delayed gratification. I don’t mean to sound bitter (I’m not) I just want to express that this is a very real phenomenon. You have been forewarned!

7. You probably won’t be at the top of your class or get a 270 on the USMLE

The Hero Complex recently posted an interesting article about Hope. The premise is that you can hope for a lot of things but hoping for something doesn’t equate with actually obtaining it. Essentially, be realistic. I know, I know. You breezed through high school and excelled in undergraduate. Why would medical school be any different. You will rock this too goddamnit! Look around the room. All those people are thinking the same thing. If you find yourself somewhere in the lower half of the class do not get discouraged! Be realistic and remember…

8. Your classmates will be amazing people…

and you are amazing too! I am constantly humbled by all the amazing things my colleagues have done. Advanced research, volunteering, fundraising, these are the ingredients of a successful medical school applicant. Guess what? You are part of this elite group. Don’t ever forget, you deserve to be there too!

9. Research is (almost) mandatory

Photo Credit: estherase via Compfight cc

I will be the first to admit. I find conducting research boring. In general I would rather spend my time watching paint dry. But I do it. Why? Because people in academic positions (i.e. residencies) look upon someone with research under their belt in extremely high regard. If you have the to opportunity to participate in research just get ‘r done. You will not regret doing so when it comes time to complete your CV for residency applications.

10. Don’t study the summer before

This time of year the question always comes up. What should I do to prepare the summer before medical school? You already did it by being accepted! If the adcom didn’t think you could handle it then you wouldn’t be fingering that shiny new acceptance letter. Take the summer off, read books for pleasure, get drunk, visit exotic locations. Do not think about medicine.

That’s it. The top 10 things I wish I had known before starting medical school. In the end, you will always feel unprepared on your first day. Don’t be afraid; dive in head first. I thoroughly enjoyed 95% of medical school and you will too with the right attitude.

*Seriously, it was a mess. If one person moved it set off a chain of successive movements that would affect a whole section of seating. I always had a good chuckle from the back row!


Top 10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Starting Medical School — 124 Comments

  1. Your lighthearted insight and positive outlook on medicine really gave me that much more impetus to bite the bullet and study for my MCAT. Thank you so much.

    When I become an MD, I hope I get to work with incredible people like you.

    • Thanks for the kind words KazmiMDr! It takes a lot of willpower to spend your days attached to a desk while your friends are outside enjoying the summer weather. In the end you will find that it was time well spent! Good luck!

  2. Thank you so so much I just got accepted to med school starting this September and it is the summer before medical school and look where I am now searching the net about medicine. Your advices were needed cant thank you enough

  3. Thanks for your blog! I’m currently researching going into medical school and I find myself closing my eyes when I click on blogs like this, expecting the worst…needless to say I’m TERRIFIED but you just gave me some hope of being successful. I have a high sense of motivation to push myself to my greatest potential in every aspect of my life and feel this is road to take. Thanks again!

  4. Hey Survivor,

    Do you have any thoughts on PA school? I am about 3 months into it now and realizing that I might have made a mistake. I am nervous about attempting to go to medical school if I drop out (huge red flag)…do I just bite the bullet, finish PA school, and be okay making a decent living? Or, just go for med school?


    • Hi John,

      This is a completely personal question and not really something I can answer without knowing all the details. Becoming a PA is certainly one of the hot jobs in the healthcare field and as we need to take care of more people with less docs the services of PAs are going to be in demand. Complete PA school school and you’re on the road to a decent living. My thoughts, complete PA school, work at it for a few years if you still aren’t satisfied, go to med school. At that point they won’t see it as “quitting” PA school, they will see you as someone with some experience who wants to make a change.

      Survivor DO

  5. Hey survivor
    I’m applying to med school and I still could choose another major, so I read on a blog 10 reasons why not to go to med school 1) u will loose all yr friends 2) u will be sleep deprived, an under payed slave 3) You will get yourself a job of dubious remuneration. 4)You will have a job of exceptionally high liability exposure 5) You will endanger your health and long-term well-being and really a lot more I don’t wanna continue so I discourage any one I still could go to another major so I could still choose so would u please skim it here’s the link ( )
    I wanna go to med school but I’m afraid I would work in conditions like these

    • People are constantly bringing this article up to me. It seems to strike a cord for obvious reasons. Fact is a lot of these things ARE true to a certain extent but I think the author has sensationalized all of them and totally forgets to mention the benefits of becoming a physician. I would say his thinking and my thinking are at diffent ens of the spectrum, it is up to you where your thinking will lie.

  6. Thanks for this. As a junior who just transferred to a university from a 2 year school and is just starting to get ready for applying to medical school, I’ve been shaking in my boots. This site is giving me some encouragement maybe i really can do this.

  7. thanks a lot. i am in my second year. i started hating med. school . you brought me on the right track again 😀 i hope you will be the best 😀 and gunners are the reason for me being miserable and hate my school . their only interest is breaking other people into pieces

    • Sorry you’re having a rough time! I don’t understand why people can’t just do their own thing. If you don’t want to help others fine but I don’t get why you would try to bring ’em down. Some people are just douche bags. Hopefully the remainder of med school treats you better!

  8. Wow great advice! I’ve struggled my way through to third year and I’ve come to realize many of the same things that you wrote about. I’m by nature an over-achiever and I often find myself comparing with others. It’s a daily struggle to follow point #2. But I think I can do better if I focused on relaxing and just do what I have to to get by. Thanks for your article.

  9. Hi Survivor,
    First of all, you seem like a seriously cool person who would be an awesome friend! Second of all, you have no idea how helpful this has been. I’m still an undergrad and I’ve been questioning whether or not med school will really be worth it. I want to do something that will really help people, and I’ve always been good at my medical classes. However, making myself completely miserable (like some people say medical school and the medical field makes you) almost didn’t seem worth it. This has really helped to clarify some things for me. Thanks so much!… one last thing, considering your username is Survivor DO, I’m assuming you’re a DO rather than an MD. I’ve actually been leaning towards a DO for a long time, so I was just wondering what your thoughts on being a DO are?

    • Being a DO is great. Most people are oblivious to MD/DO. The people that do recognize the DO either tell me that they generally prefer going to a DO (although I doubt they would tell me the opposite to my face) or seem genuinely interested to hear about the difference in philosophy. Really what matters is how YOU treat patients, not whether there is an MD or a DO after your name.

  10. Good day Survivor D.O.! There is one thing I’ve notice when it comes to blog postings by some DO/MD’s. Many of them choose to stay anonymous, as you yourself have decided. Is there a reason for this ? Is there some sort of penalization that you will face if your colleagues or medical associates find out that you are expressing your positive ideas on a blog?

  11. This was great input thanks! And I love that you are brutally honest. Love it :) I’m like that and I could totally relate. I could feel that you are a genuine friend telling me these things in person, not some obnoxious med student who thinks he is a know-it-all or anything.

  12. hey. I’m a highschool student extremely interested in coming into the medical field. All i’m concerned about is me being ignorant and not knowing some of the things i need to do. I have a few appointments to talk to physicians on what i need to do. But the extra info helps alot. I’m doing this program at one of the schools in colorado where i can train to be a emt and get certified right outside of highschool. If you could get back to me, that would be fantastic.

  13. As an incoming MS1 who has always avoided the “gunners,” I really appreciated reading an honest, optimistic take on medical school life. I have many non-medical interests and hobbies that are important to me and while I know sacrifice is inevitable, I am happy to hear there are people like you still living well, roundly, and with enviable nonchalance and positivity. There are so many negative voices on this topic that serve to discourage students and hopefuls alike; thanks for breaking the mold. Currently living it up during my “last summer,” traveling, camping, playing music, hanging with friends, reading frivolous books, drinking copiously, and yet still looking forward to eventually getting to work this fall :) Cheers and good luck to you and all similarly inspired readers.

  14. This article is really nice! You were so insightful, and i love how you explain everything lightly. In other words, short and sweet. I’m a senior in high school currently, and i wish on applying for med school because it’s what i’ve always dreamt of doing so. I’m gonna study hard and smart for it. Any other tips to lift up my fiery spirit? :)

  15. You’ll be an amazing doctor.I can tell that
    When did you decide to follow this path?
    I am a junior and i’ve struggled ever since 7th grade with this choice and i still can’t get med out of my mind.
    I am just afraid that i can’t learn this much and i will lose my passions: violin and painting.

  16. Nice and informative….. Successful communication is key in every successful learning …. Medical School is best performance depends on Medical .Understanding your subject and having good knowledge on your blog topic is always essential for a successful blog… Thanks for this post…..

  17. Hey Surviver D.O,
    I’m in 11th std. right now and I aspire to be an oncologist. I want to get into AIIMS,New Delhi,India(of course I’m an Indian.)which is not a piece of cake,for sure.I’m good in biology and physics but struggle with chemistry.Can you please give me some tips on how to “MASTER” in chemistry.I would also like you to tell me how to handle such great pressure during days in med school. Please.Thanks.(:

    • helo piyu. i belive i am good chemistry. to do so look up the chemistnate on youtube if you have struggles with certin procedures. thank uo

  18. Thanks for the article survivor …I am in senior high school my passion is reading things send topics of biology , of courses this means that I should join medical school but still I am not quite sure , I really need help

  19. Finally a blog with a positive attitude blogger. You rock! I was questioning whether or not I should do it being a wife and mother to a 2 yrs old reading all these horror stories but you really gave me hope and made me see that there is a light after the tunnel. You’re GREAT!!!

  20. thanks for the info buyhs! so lobe ro read thesea articles that will help me prepre for my future as a doctor. it gives me a little confidence and spirtuality if you will hehe.

  21. Hi
    I really loved your article. It was a great motivation for me. I’m 25 and master student in chemistry in canada( I’m international student here). I really want to study medicine but everyone keep telling me that I couldn’t because they are not gonna accept my bachelor degree. Or I’m too old to start medicine.:(
    I need helps to figure it out what should I do, if anyone could help me, I would appreciate it.

  22. Thank you. Your article made me atleast feel a bit better. But the truth is I am having such a terrible terrible terrrriiiible experience with med school that I wanted to quit so many times these past few years. Also, I am not studying in US or Canada or anywhere near there. I am in one of the sucky place in South Asia and med school here is absolutely different from what it is actually suppose to be. I had some health issues during my 2nd year and have been struggling to keep up since. I am suppose to be doing my final year now but haven’t had the confidence or motivation to do it. Sigh!
    I wish i had done alot of research before I joined the school here.Though my ultimate goal is to try for USMLE, I am having doubts on myself. I guess i need to read/connect with medical students in states or Canada or elsewhere more and understand what my future in medicine should look like and not get discouraged by the sad and disappointing place that i am stuck in.
    I look forward to reading more from you.

  23. I just wanna you are amazingly funnAAAAyyy!!! Thank for making it optimistic. This article really cheered me up and me feel my dream is possible :)

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