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What To Expect In Medical School: Part 2

Applying to medical school is a huge decision, and after you get in, it doesn’t get any less stressful. If you are considering med school, these are some things to consider and expect. Read Part 2 of the series here!

Welcome to the second edition of “What to Expect in Medical School“. The goal of this series is to not only provide you with some honest insight into medical school from a student physician’s perspective, but even more so to help you readers decide if healthcare is truly what you want to dedicate your future to doing. There are many lessons to learn along the way, and below are a couple more of the truths I’ve come to appreciate about medical school. Enjoy!

||Read: What To Expect In Medical School: Part 1||

Not making any money

I have friends who have been hired by software companies, financial consulting firms, and investment banking corporations, all straight out of college. Friends who have compensated happy hours, dinner galas, paid travel expenses, and a Facebook page plastered with luxurious experiences. Even my younger brother, who is just halfway through his third year as an undergrad, recently landed a $30-an-hour summer internship at Amazon – the kid doesn’t even have a Bachelor’s degree yet! Meanwhile, we medical students are still highlighting textbooks, flipping through flashcards, and paying student loans. As my peers from undergraduate are off with real jobs and earning real money, I am spending four more years earning no money. Wait, let me rephrase, I am making negative money. If you’ll allow, I’d like to juxtapose my personal experience a bit further: when my buddy is shopping for his next suit for a client meeting, I’m climbing into another pair of scrubs for anatomy. His all-expenses-paid training in New York City is the counterpart to our summer spent in a developing country caring for the local population’s skin wounds.

Some of my closest friends work in non-medical fields, and I hold a great deal of respect for them. However, the bottom line is that we medical students work just as hard as them, and yet they will be enjoying their early- to mid-twenties with more sleep and less debt. Especially with today’s social media, it is easy to feel like we are missing out on something that our friends in the paycheck world enjoy.

PDr Tip: View your time in medical school as an investment. Rather than imagining medical school as more “school”, think of yourself as a physician-in-training. We are investing time early in our lives to become a lifelong medical provider in the future. With that career path will come both job security and a well-paying salary. Few other jobs can guarantee you that combination.

PDr Tip#2: Do not go into medicine for the money. There are less stressful, less time-consuming paths to a comfortable income.

||Read: Qualities of a Successful Medical Student | Typical Day of a UCLA Med Student||

It’s OK to be unsure about your specialty

I will offer you a bet. I am willing to bet $10 that when you are a medical student and run into an old friend from college or a family member at a Christmas party, they will ask you a variation of exactly three questions, and in the same order:

  1. “Hey! How’s med school going?”
  2. “Is it super busy?”
  3. “So do you know what kind of doctor you want to be?”

I want to take this opportunity to talk about that third question: “what kind of doctor do you want to be?” Once we get into med school, everybody wants to know what’s next, and who can blame them? It’s an exciting time! The trick is to not to fall into the trap of narrowing down your specialty too early on in your education. When you get asked so frequently, it’s natural to want to have a concrete answer. Maybe it gives us a sense of accomplishment if we feel like we’ve already decided our future. Maybe it’s because we overhear our classmates already deciding on a future field and we fear falling behind. It becomes a cycle in which we feel like others have it all figured out, so we start trying to figure it out earlier as well. Chances are if you’re in your first year of med school, nobody has much clue what field they want to go into. After all, the only thing you’ve learned about so far is cancer and diabetes.

The UCLA Med Dean of Student Affairs, Dr. Neil Parker, used an excellent analogy that I would like to repeat. Take a moment and think about the man or woman you hope to marry, and the type of marriage you wish to have. If you are like me, you probably want to spend at least a couple years getting to know that person – learning about their personality, figuring out if you are compatible, and ultimately confirming whether you can see yourself happily committed to them for the rest of your life. Perhaps you’ll date around for a bit and learn some lessons along the way before finding the right significant other, your true love. Well guess what? Choosing a specialty is exactly the same!

It’s important to keep an open mind throughout medical school and explore different fields before deciding on one. Once you find a field that sparks your interest, whether it be pediatrics, surgery, or anything in between, spend time with physicians and patients in that field, and get to know the ins and outs of the specialty while you’re still in medical school. Think of it as “dating” that specialty. Staying open-minded and curious will guarantee that in the future, you’ll be working your dream job, loving your day-to-day, and never look back (whether you’re a 4-day-a-week dermatologist or a round-the-clock critical care physician).

||Read: Organization Tips for Med School Apps | Diversity in Medical Applications|| 

Now of course, these are only the reflection of one medical student, but hopefully you were able to peek into the world that is medical school. Really question if these are ideas that you can embrace. There will be sacrifices along the way, but reward of medicine is so much more. If you enjoyed this article, check back soon for Part 3! You can read Part 1 HERE.

Evan Shih

Evan Shih is a writer for ProspectiveDoctor. He is currently an internal medicine resident at UCLA. He graduated from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and also graduated from UCLA undergrad in 2013 with a B.S. in Physiological Science. He hopes his efforts on PDr can provide the guidance and reassurance that readers seek along the medical journey. When he’s not studying, Evan likes to hike, swim, and spend time with his family in Orange County.

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