How Hard is Medical School

An age old question that perplexes many. How hard can medical school really be? You may also be wondering how it compares to traditional undergraduate degrees or even other professional graduate programs like Pharmacy School. Unfortunately, there's no way to sugar coat it; medical school is hard. Of course becoming a doctor should be hard and our answer is likely one you had already anticipated. We are hear to add meaning to the definition of "hard" since it's a purely subjective term. What is challenging to some, may be just another mundane task to work through! Let's see where you fall!

How hard is medical school

The difficulty associated with obtaining a medical education comes from both the complexity of medical knowledge you are expected to understand, along with the shear volume of content thrown at you. You will be tested constantly (almost relentlessly) with examinations practically every week, and your days off are few and far between. The goal is not to paint a bleak outlook on signing up for medical school, but rather to provide a healthy dose of reality. Would you rather start medical school completely unaware of the expectations placed on students? I think not!

The difficulty of medical school can be exacerbated when you are surrounded by highly competitive peers. Those who have made it far enough to get into medical school, were likely the top of their class at each undergraduate program. Medical school is a collection of the "best of the best" who are all competing for the highest grades. This can be very detrimental, especially if your peers are unwilling to work collaboratively. Top medical schools around the country are notorious for having malicious medical students who will undermine their fellow peers to get ahead. This is not to suggest that every medical school is like this (my institution is the complete opposite) but these students exist everywhere!

Even if students are working together, student "Imposter Syndrome" has grown at an alarming rate. Basic psychology touts that as social creatures, we are actively comparing ourselves to others in our environment every day. Doing well in school has become part of our identity, and when we no longer score the highest in the class students can feel as though they shouldn't even be in medical school! For example, you may have gotten a 90% on an exam, but the class average was a 96%. Despite your high grade, you feel as though you aren't as smart as your peers! These subjective feelings, while misaligned, can also contribute to the difficulty of the medical school experience!

Despite the potential drawbacks, both physically and mentally, medical school is a once and a life-time experience that is 100% worth it in the end! You will be challenged, but all those late nights in the library will change the lives of the patient's you serve. You won't look back and remember how you did on some random exam. Instead you will have build an arsenal of clinical skills, professionalism, life experience, and most important of all empathy for those you care for. Helping those in your community and patients in ill-health are the reason why you are in this profession in the first place!

Surviving medical school is one thing, but you need to get accepted first! Find out if you would even stand a chance at getting in for the 2022 application cycle!

How to Succeed in Medical School:

1. Stay Organized:

Medical school can be extremely hectic and it's imperative that you keep an organized schedule. Use a personal planner, Google Calendar, a million Post-it notes, or whatever works for you! Staying organized will help you avoid missing important deadlines, manage extra curriculars, and schedule personal time to relax. When you start medical school, you will realize that the curriculum is relentless. If you don't build a schedule and stick to it, you will find that it's extremely easy to fall behind! For example, if you are expected to watch 4-lecture hours a day, block that time out on your planner, along with a few extra hours to review. If you plan on taking a day off, you may want to front-load the days work to earlier in the week!

2. Learn How to Study:

Prioritize high-yield content and find a study style that works for you. You will hear that "every medical student will study differently" and it's 100% true. What works for some, may be the most unproductive strategy for others. Some prefer to attend in-person lectures, others watch entirely online, and some create a hybrid approach. Some medical students will utilize only provided course content and some will only use 3rd-party resources. The point is that you will need to find out what works for you and run with it!

For example, I have found that retyping my notes is the most effective strategy for me! Leading up to an exam I will watch lectures and take physical notes. I'll subsequently reorganize the PowerPoint information and my personal notes into a comprehensive study guide. The day before the exam I will rewrite the study guide to internalize the major points.

3. Seek Out Help if Needed:

There is no shame in asking others for help. Medical school is objectively hard and the last thing you need is to fall behind. There is no shame in asking for assistance! If you don't understand a topic, want to vent about your daily stressors, or find emotional support, seek it out! Every medical school has ample resources that are at your disposal and you should use them to the fullest. Your mental health and academic goals are on the line, so don't holdout on yourself!

Working in Medical School:

Despite how challenging medical school is, you will learn how to adjust! As a pharmacy student, you are already well-adjusted to the rigors of a graduate education. As a pharmacy student, you have learned how to balance your school work with your employment schedule. Almost every pharmacy student has worked as a pharmacy intern at some point. Working during medical school is no different! It is actually in your best interest to work because the capital you generate can cover your living expenses during school without sacrificing academic success. You will also retain more of your pharmaceutical knowledge which keeps you sharp for class. Consider work like an unofficial study session that generates income! For more information about working during medical school check out our article "Can you work while in Medical School? The Physician Pharmacist Do's and Don'ts."

Medical School vs. Pharmacy School:

The age-old question, and a rather controversial point of discussion, “Is medical school harder than pharmacy school?” In all honesty I believe they are very similar and equally challenging. I can only say this about the first two years of medical school. I have several more years to go before I can unrefutably claim that they are 100% equal.

Medical school does have some different challenges, but the sheer volume of coursework and newfound responsibility is very similar to my pharmacy school experience. Most medical students will claim that medical school is the hardest education they have ever had, and that success requires substantially more work than they ever imagined. While that may be true individually, these students probably didn’t graduate with a pharmacy doctorate. As a pharmacy applicant, you will find yourself well prepared for the vigor and volume presented to you.

The major distinction between medical school and pharmacy school is curriculum set-up and duration of the semester. Medical schools will be highly variable when it comes to curriculum set-up, but in general most classes are presented in block-style. You will focus on one major unit at a time while pharmacy tends to focus on multiple units. The detail shifts from pharmacology, dosing, and kinetics to pathology, diagnostic criteria, and medical management. The medical school semester also tends to last slightly longer than the pharmacy curriculum, which is approximately 6 weeks shorter. An extra 6 weeks may not seem significant but after 5 months of grueling schoolwork every extra day takes its toll! Also medical students take on 2 years of clinical rotations instead of the 1 year as seen with pharmacy school.

In the end, pharmacy school was more than enough to prepare me personally for the rigors of getting a medical school education. At no point during my time in medical school have I felt overburdened or stressed beyond control. Pharmacy school and difficult APPE rotations make the work of medical school seem all too familiar. I am confident that you will do great, and ultimately become fantastic physicians!

In Summary:

Medical school is hard but almost everyone who gets in will finish. Keep this simple fact close to heart. When you are having a difficult week of exams, or an embarrassing patient encounter, just know that you will make it through! You are in this profession for a reason and their is no better profession than being in healthcare!


If you haven't even started your journey into medical school, check out our other Blog Articles here.

For more questions, review our article "6 Most Common Questions About Transitioning From Pharmacy to Medicine."

For more information consider signing up for a Membership with The Physician Pharmacist for complete access to our comprehensive guide. Additionally, check out "Pharm.D. to M.D." on Amazon.

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