There comes a time in every med student’s life when they say; “I hate medical school.” What you should do about it depends on how you far that hatred goes. If you can’t move past it? Give it up. But uncover the reasons why first.
Here’s how you can go about doing that so you can better decide what to do next.
Think About WHY You Hate Medical School
The first way to tackle this major issue? Be honest with your feelings. Figure out why you hate medical school in the first place.
Here are some common reasons:
Uncertainty over the future
Many medical students, especially those starting out, complain that they just don’t fit in. Don’t get on with the people around them. Or are easily annoyed by the over ambitious, the arrogant or the inflated ego’s of the classmates around them.
Other times it’s the professors or the teachers that are the problem. Pouring misery on misery through their high expectations, strict classroom policies or unwillingness to accept an excuse.
And while this might be true, perhaps the root cause of this complaint could be you rather than them.
Maybe it’s your lack of openness, or willingness to make an effort, that’s what’s causing this. And subsequently the reason you hate medical school.
So think about that carefully.
Note: Doing your best to be social and not isolate yourself is one of my most important pieces of advice for people just starting med school. Take a look at my other tips here.
Money & Time
Yes medical school – in the US, UK and most private medical schools – costs money. But all cost time.
There’s simply no way around these reasons; if indeed they are the cause of your misery. So unless you’re able to transfer somewhere cheaper (German students moving from medicine abroad back home etc) without it compromising your studies? Not worth worrying about.
And usually way outside of your control.
As for free time? That can be yours if you want it. But you have to recognise that it’s your own self discipline and inner-talk that controls this. Not the busy schedule that everyone (your colleagues etc) abides by.
Uncertainty & Self-Doubt
Being uncertain over the future and unsure if medical school is even for you is a super common reason for occasionally hating it. It’s also probably the main one, as you’ll understand from reading my journey, that I usually experience too.
When you see other students around you, seemingly thriving and achieving high grades with little effort, it can be demotivating. You start to wonder what’s wrong with you. Which only adds to the overwhelm.
One of the other concerns of med school, especially after the long years, is there’s no guarantee of a pay off. At the end of the road you might still not know if a career in healthcare really is for you. Or if the money you would earn would make it worth the years of sacrifice.
There’s a reason this is a common source of irony in most medical school-related quotes.
So once you’ve understood the potential reasons why you may hate medical school you might begin to better address it. Move from the emotional and reactive to the rational and productive.
But this is the first step to take before deciding what to do next.
What Should You Do Next? Things to Keep in Mind
As for what you should do, I think there’s a couple of important things to be said. Hopefully these might put things in perspective a little more. Possibly lessen the negativity.
You Are Not Alone
The first thing to remember if you find yourself hating medical school? This.
You are not alone.
As I mentioned before, the intensity of the educational experience; the length, expense, complexity etc. all these things add up to make it a very difficult course. Something that all of us, at some point in time, recognise. Even if we don’t outwardly express it.
Mental health really comes under strain during these years – so much so it’s the primary cause of why most students fail out of med school in the first place.
So if you can get help and talk about your issues? Do that. But at the least remember you’re not alone. And your feelings are (probably) normal.
No “End Point” Exists
It’s easy to fall into the mindset that you’ll pass an exam, or advance a year and suddenly everything will be fine. You’ll finally have arrived. And no more will you fall prey to anxiety or feelings of inferiority.
That’s just not the case with a career as a doctor. Where you’re constantly progressing, learning new things and having to take on new responsibilities.
There will never come an end-point in this career. You will never arrive. You will never feel secure.
And that’s OK. But you can make it all the more better by learning to love the process. Relaxing a little on the amount of pressure you put on yourself.
Not gunning for the top grades all the time. Because, most of the time, grades don’t even matter anyway.
A healthy balance between study, free time and health however? That most definitely does.
The First & Second Years Are the Hardest (Mentally)
One of the reasons I’m a big advocate that students don’t do too much in the summer period leading up to med school is because of how crazy of a time it can be.
The first and second years? Some of the more difficult in med school. Especially as you have to learn to adapt, adjust and keep your head afloat in the never-ending torrent of exams, lectures, labs and everything else.
These pre-clinical years, I’d argue, are the toughest. But things do get better emotionally when you switch into hospital-based work in later years. When you have more interaction with the outside world and spend less time in the lecture halls.
Some of your interactions with patients in this period can be some of the best you’ll have in your life. And some of them the opposite of course. But either way you’ll be reminded of the real world and not the confined bubble of med school.
You’ll also find studying and retaining information becomes much easier too. Medical knowledge compounds like that. Especially when you’re finally able to contextualise it in a real world setting.
Are You Even Supposed to Love it?
There’s another interesting point to make about med school learning here. This question. “Are you even supposed to love it at all?”
Perhaps the reason you hate it so much has to do with an expectation you’re supposed to feel the opposite. But where does that opinion come from? Isn’t education a process you simply have to get through to get to some other destination?
This can be an important thing to keep in mind. Especially if you can remain somewhat stoic and accept the fact that cramming multiple years of a college education into a single semester’s worth of classes isn’t exactly on par with the fun of kicking back with Netflix.
So take it step by step. Slow yet consistent. Semester by semester.
The Breadth & Depth of Medicine
The final thing to think about is the vast field of medicine itself. Especially considering the negative feelings you might experience during your degree.
A career in medicine and studying medicine? Two vastly different experiences. And although I haven’t experienced the first one yet, I’ve heard enough anecdotal evidence – from doctors I’ve interned and shadowed with etc – to know there’s some element of truth in this at least.
Money and more independence too.
Obviously the many specialisms and sub-specialisms there are in the subject can bring hope too. Meaning if you do ride it out and get the degree there’s many different directions you could go.
Meaning there’s every reason you’ll find something as a career that can be a much better fit for you. Thus helping you override whatever negative feelings you have now.
What To Do If You Hate Medical School
With all that said, what do I think you should do if you hate medical school? Here are my common suggestions (based on the reasons at the start):
Find a good group of friends and work hard on developing a social life outside of study
Come back to your why; remind yourself on your reasons for choosing medicine in the first place
Learn to study more effectively to have a good amount of free time to spend doing things you love (80/20 your studies too)
Implement the pomodoro technique with fun things to do in your breaks (video games, TV etc)
Find some clinical experience somewhere (summer placements, volunteering etc) that will show how different the career of medicine is compared to the educational aspect
All of these things, I feel, can help you cope better when you’re struggling and feeling negative. And that’s on top of obvious suggestions like exercise, eating healthy and sleeping at reasonable hours too.
But there’s also one last thing to consider.
What if none of this works? What if you still feel miserable? And still hate medical school?
Then I’d say first, please try and get some help. And second, maybe you’re right. Perhaps it’s not for you.
There’s no shame in abandoning something you hate. Especially as there are some genuine reasons not to study medicine too.
And no. Leaving won’t make you a failure either.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.