Edward Chang, a medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, shares what his typical week of medical school consists of so that those of you who are interested in going to medical school can know what to expect or even avoid.
Medical schools all have different schedules and curriculums but there are also many common themes amongst them. I hope that those reading this article may get a general sense of what medical school is like. If you are interested in attending medical school at UCLA, then this article will be an accurate picture of what you should expect.
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Mondays and Fridays
I wake up at 6:45am on Monday to prepare for my first class of the week at 8am. On Mondays and Fridays, we start with Problem-Based Learning (PBL). PBL consists of a detailed case study in which a group of about 8-10 students discuss an unknown case that is usually thematic for the week. From 8-10am on Mondays and Fridays, we play doctor – we read about a hypothetical patient, come up with diagnoses, reasons for his or her illness, and research topics for the week. PBL is a good way to introduce the topic of the week on Monday and consolidate what we have learned by Friday.
We have lectures from 10am-12pm Monday through Friday. The lectures can be watched online 99% of the time but I usually go to class because that’s where I feel like I learn best. On Mondays and Fridays, our day pretty much “ends” at 12pm. We can spend the rest of the day as we would like. I usually spend Monday afternoons writing my “Learning Issue” for PBL. The learning issue is 1 to 1.5-page research paper on a topic relevant to the PBL case. This typically takes me amount 1 to 2 hours and I try to spend the rest of my day studying. Because I am a first year, my schedule is not packed with extracurricular activities yet. On Fridays, I usually finish studying by 7 or 8pm so that I can spend Friday night relaxing with friends. I need to plan to have some fun in order to stay sane.
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Since there usually is no class before our 10am lecture from Tuesday-Thursday, we usually have the mornings free. I try to wake up early and go to the gym during those days. In the afternoon, we have labs that start at 1pm. These labs, which include histology/pathology, anatomy, doctoring, and clinical skills, can last anywhere from 2 to 3.5 hours. Our class of about 180 students is divided into 3 sub-groups that rotate labs throughout the week.
Our total time in class is about 23 hours a week. I typically spend 3-5 hours a day studying, including weekends. Because our grading system is pass/no pass, we are trusted to study as much as we need to. There is a non-graded online quiz at the end of the week so we (and medical school administrators) can keep track of our progress. The David Geffen School of Medicine (DGSOM) at UCLA is divided up into 9 blocks for first two preclinical years and each block lasts about 8 weeks. There are no exams except the final block exams, which include an exam on lecture material, anatomy, and clinical skills or doctoring.
While I am sure that there is some variability in the amount of study time amongst my classmates, pretty much all of us study diligently. Some like to procrastinate (only because they are smart enough to get away with it) but most people study consistently every day. One thing that I quickly realized was that I would be pretty miserable if I did not enjoy learning. Most medical students spend 6-12 hours every day either in class or studying, so if you do not enjoy learning, you should have major second thoughts about going to medical school.
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Nevertheless, even though I spend a lot of time studying, there is still sufficient time to have fun and relax, especially because I think UCLA has one of the more relaxed schedules amongst US medical schools. There are many times when I can take Saturday off so that I can go to a UCLA football game. I often don’t study on Thursday nights so that I can attend my local church community group. I have enough time to work on ProspectiveDoctor.com with our team throughout the week as well, especially if the workload for the week is light. I try to study as much as possible throughout the week so I can spend take significant time during the weekend to relax.
There is really no place that I would rather be than at DGSOM. It is incredibly rewarding to be exhausted at the end of each day, knowing that I am working to be the best doctor I can possibly be.
I hope that you got a good picture of what a typical week in medical school is like. If you are planning to apply to medical school, get ready to work hard and learn a lot.