Can You Go to Medical School While Working Full-Time? (4 Reasons Why It Could Be a Disaster)

Technically it could be possible to go to medical school while working full-time. Provided you can find an institution with a schedule flexible enough, possibly an employer too, it might just be able to work. But I would never recommend it.

Practically-speaking, most med schools are about a 60 hour week commitment between class and study. And that’s just the preclinical years. Once you begin rotations and placements your schedule is at the mercy of the hospital. As well as whatever emergencies that throws up.

So I’m 99.99% sure it’s never going to work!

But if that’s not enough to deter you here’s more…

Certain med schools, as part of their university policy, forbid students to work (Kansas City University etc). Then there’s the real risk of failing out when work eats into precious study time.

Why Would Anyone Want to Go to Medical School While Working Full-Time?

Probably the biggest question here is why. Why on earth would anyone want to take on the stressful pursuit of studying medicine alongside a 40 hour a week job? Isn’t that madness?

To tell you the truth, as someone who works part time (not including this site) during med school, I kind of get it. It’s about money. The one thing that, for most of us without scholarships, free state education or free rides, concerns us the most. 

What with the average cost of a year’s tuition at a private US school being north of $60,000 and all

But there are maybe some extra reasons you might not have considered too. Namely, nontraditional students (like me). Those who have financial pressures beyond their education; taking care of their kids, spouse or older family members (not me, thank god) for example.

Maybe working full-time (or as close to it) is the only option here. Granted you’re resolute enough not to want to quit.

Can You Work And Go To Medical School At The Same Time?

Where full-time work may make things impossible, a couple hours work each week needn’t be too much of a problem.

If you’re lucky enough to have a very flexible job, one that lets you choose your hours (hint: online work), then it becomes even easier still. 

The potentialities here do come down to your med school schedule though. As well as how things are structured (curriculum, how much your school is year round etc). 

So perhaps you can only work weekends or during the breaks between blocks. So long as your class, lecture and rotation commitments allow.

As for the most common jobs in med school? Usually they seem to fit into two categories:

  • Research-related or lab-based work
  • Tutoring

And while there’s obviously a lot of scope beyond those two, it’s important to note; some jobs go better with med school more than others.

But more on this later.

What Are the Benefits of Working During Med School?

Before most students yell “dude, just get a loan”, it’s important to look at what the benefits of working can bring.

Aside from the obvious one of being able to help cover living expenses etc, here’s a few extra:

  • Added opportunities: especially in lab roles if there exists the chance to get publications and mentorship. The value becomes even more than the cash per hour equivalent.
  • Sanity: having a life outside of med school could just help keep you from going stir-crazy in the bubble.
  • Exposure: To the world and people outside med. Maybe even helping you come up with innovative business ideas to start in med school that could help solve other real world problems.

There’s even some benefit to jobs like tutoring also. Especially, just as this article in the Student Debt Diaries suggests, it can help you better ringfence and organise your time. As well reminding you to focus much better when you do study…

When Working During Med School Is Probably a Bad Idea: 4 Reasons for Disaster

As I’ve already suggested, working full-time doesn’t make a lot of sense. But maybe even working part-time is just as bad.

The key question to ask first: is a job likely to make a dent significant enough in your medical educational debt? 

If you run the math, factoring in hourly rates and projecting them against your future earnings as a doctor, the answer is usually no.

But here are some extra reasons why working could be a bad idea:

  • Goes against med school policy: Some schools may find even secret student work grounds enough for probation and possible dismissal if discovered (it pays to check).
  • Damages residency applications: Time spent at work is time spent away from study. Can you afford to falter on things like your Step 1 score or class grades when your heart is set on competitive specialties like surgery etc?
  • Stress: Medical school is a job in itself. No human has enough time to go all-in on both pursuits. There are just too many loose variables that could only add to the overall stress and overwhelm.
  • Free time: Would the benefits of a job overrule those of having free time to explore other pursuits and interests? Striking a balance is very important in med school should you hope to survive.

Finally you’ve also got to think about the other side of the fence also. That of the expectations of your job and your employer.

Can you really give them a fair deal when so much of your life is dictated by the goal of becoming a doctor?

Advice For Working During Med School

If you are deciding to go down the road of working in med school, then know that you’re not alone. I’ve actually never stopped working (in some capacity) since day one.

As for advice on how to approach it, here are a few tips:

Starting Out: Maybe hold off on starting a job or carrying your old job into med school when first starting. It’s important you get an idea of the commitment first. As well as more of an insight into how much you can handle.

Some students even recommend holding off on work until the first round of exams too. Usually preparing for them is more intense.

Be Responsible With Money: Obviously the way you finance med school is entirely your business. Generally however it’s not going to be cheap. The money you do earn? You don’t want to fritter away on needless expenses. Prioritize at every step.

Go For Flexible Jobs: The more you can set your own hours (especially come rotations), the better. The same goes for finding things you can do remotely, or from University libraries – anything that cuts down both commutes!

Schedule Free Hours: All work and all study? Say hello to stress and overwhelm. You’re going to need time to recharge.

Aside from these more practical tips, maybe you want to think about alternatives to working also. Especially if you’re looking for things to take you outside of the med school environment and aren’t too bothered about the money.

If that’s you then things like volunteering or joining a club can be good ideas. Both also lend themselves well to resumes.

Final Thoughts

If you really do need money to make a MBBS work then maybe it’s best to hold off a few years instead of going down the disaster road of full time work and school. There’s nothing stopping you from taking a gap year working as a medical scribe or research assistant for example. Both things can really help with an admissions application too.

The same could also be said to switch out doctoring to become a physician assistant instead. Schooling is shorter, the schedule is a bit lighter and you can still end up in lots of interesting medical specialities.

But if that’s really not you and not working isn’t an option? At least find a job you like. Working a job you hate will not remedy the weight of medical school.

Image Credit – @martinbjork at Unsplash