The 5 Worst Things About Med School (You Don’t Already Know) [2021]

Here is a list of some of the worst things about med school you might never have heard of.

I’ve deliberately skipped the obvious to give a more unique perspective on things you might want to think about if you’re interested in studying medicine.

Here you’ll learn:

  • Potential cons of med school
  • How “bad” med school can be
  • The worst classes 

Please consider this is my own personal opinion. Every med student experience is different!

What Are The Worst Things About Med School?

The worst things about med school are the lack of time and sleep, the relentless competition and the emotional grind of dealing with illness and death. But besides these obvious ones, there’s a bunch more. 

Here are five of the lesser-known worst things about studying medicine:

1. Clinical Years Schedule Chaos

Many med students argue that the preclinical years of study are the worst. But at least the schedule is kinder. At least first and second year students know when they’re going to finish for the day.

The same can’t be said for the chaos of clinical years. On the rotation rounds in the hospital, you never know exactly when you’re going to get done and walk back out the door again. That makes things like working part-time in med school, especially impossible. 

The work gets done when it gets done. There’s no optional attendance or work-from-home option. There’s no kindly professor who lets you sneak out of class 10 minutes early.

That makes planning anything – not just the small things that can help keep you sane – seriously hard. 

2. Useless Labs and Classes

Depending where you go, some med schools have a lot of pointless classes and bureaucracy to get through during the course of completing a degree. For people already stressed for time, these types of commitments are downright infuriating.  

A lot of American based medics complain about mandatory wellness classes and the like. But the issue is just as bad in Europe (where I study). The amount of bloat and nonsense on certain school’s syllabus is laughable. 

Disaster medicine anyone? 

In some ways it seems as if some school curriculums deliberately try to be depressing. The trick is to know which classes are worth mentally “checking in” for. Concentrated effort across the board will only put you on the fast road to burnout.

This is something I try to emphasize in my article; How to Succeed In Med School: 10 Top Tips For Anxious First Years.

3. Off-Syllabus Exam Questions

Studied for hundreds of hours paying super close attention to the syllabus and then 30% of the questions are based on topics outside of it? Yeah, that’s med school. 

Even though you can sometimes make an educated guess or logic your way through an answer, it’s still an annoying reality. This is also one of the main reasons that a lot of medical school exams seem like almost pot-luck when it comes to passing. 

Of course, there are a couple of ways to see this coming; midterms that take the same approach, older year students warning you of the pitfall etc…but there’s nothing much you can do in preparation.

The way I always approach it is to study with my own goal in mind. Whether that’s learning specific chapters of a book or getting a certain average on practice tests. I try to do what I can without nerves (from the anticipation of this happening) getting the better of me.

4. The Depressing Realization You’ll Never Know Enough

Despite what everybody else thinks outside of med, when they see you studying all hours of the day and passing exam after exam, the truth hurts. You’ll never be able to learn everything. And you’ll always feel as if you’re drowning trying to do so.

Sure they’ll be the typical med school gunner who thinks otherwise, but for the majority of us this rings true. There always feels as if there’s more to learn. Mainly because there always is.

That’s why it’s absolutely fundamental that you at least enjoy studying going into med school. That, coupled with the fact you can bounce back quickly from failure, will make things all the easier.

5. Monotony

The last complaint on this list is one of monotony. Med school can feel very grindy. Kind of like a shooter-looter video game where you constantly go over the same territory, interacting with the same characters, in the hope it’ll take you somewhere better.

The preclinical years feel a lot like this. While the schedule is fixed, it can get pretty boring. Interacting with the same people everyday (classmates, professors, university staff) doesn’t make for much variation. Every new course you start involves the same people too. It’s nothing like undergrad.

Besides the dull routine there’s the never ending repetitive questions. The “so what are you doing to specialize?” ins and the “so how long do you have left now?” questions you get anytime you might interact with a familiar person outside of med school.

Sometimes you get the feeling you wish you did something more creative.

Is Med School Really That Bad?

Despite the common complaints, med school isn’t that bad. It’s mostly what you make it. Find a way to keep a balance and it’s at least tolerable. Some doctors even report med school making up the best years of their life!

Things that have an impact on the type of experience you’ll have:

  • The med school you go to: the more fun, the better!
  • The location: some med schools are located in awesome places.
  • Your colleagues: diversity of ages, backgrounds and cultures can make it more interesting.
  • The curriculum: pass-fail schools could be less stressful than others.

Of course you won’t know just how good/bad it can be until you’ve started and are some of the way through. 

But it pays to know some of the things to look out for.

What Is The Worst Thing About Being A Med Student?

The worst thing about being a med student is going to be specific to the person. For me, it’s probably the lack of free time I get to spend working on interests outside medicine. Others might say something different.

The common things:

  • Stress: from the competitive environment and continuous exams
  • Depression: struggles with motivation and feeling academically “able”
  • Finances: the big expense of tuition fees and living expenses

Not all people would agree with these things of course. Everyone has their own way of dealing with things and the variety of where, when and how you study medicine also comes into it.

What’s The Worst Class In Medical School?

Classes that aren’t part of a core medical curriculum feel pretty unnecessary. Anything that adds to the workload is generally considered the worst class. 

Other key factors include the professor and their methodology, the resources you use and how interesting you find a subject on a personal level.

The difficulty of a class is another massive factor. I talk a lot about this in articles like Is Physiology Hard?

I find that if you have really great study materials even the most tedious class can suddenly become more interesting and engaging. Check out my recommendations page to see some examples.

The Worst Things About Medical School: Summary

Maybe you’ve seen some of the reasons mentioned, maybe you haven’t. I’ve tried to highlight things that you don’t often hear so much about.

What are your worst things about med school?

Image Credit: @volkanolmez at Unsplash