Medical school is such a well-known rite of passage in our society, but it often feels like a mystery to those who haven’t gone through it themselves. To our friends and family, it must seem like we show up in pictures, beaming in our new white coats, only to disappear for 4 years or so before we remerge again for graduation. But medical school isn’t some secret factory that eats pre-meds and spits out doctors, there’s clearly a lot more to it.
I think the reason why is twofold: one, medical school can different significantly between different institutions, so that there are only a few significant defining features between schools. Other than the fact that students have anatomy, do clinical rotations, and take USMLE tests, medical school curriculum can vary dramatically in terms of content and chronological order. Second, medical school is difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Yes, we study a lot, but we also build relationships with patients, navigate the complex medical hierarchy, and engage in various extracurricular pursuits. This variation and complexity of medical school can often be lost on those not in the profession.
People ask me how med school is going all the time, and I often answer with a simple “fine.” If I do elaborate, it’s never telling them about how I mastered gram-negative bacteria, or how I’m narrowing my choice of specialties, but rather “I saw this crazy guy in the ER today” or “I stitched up this huge wound.” Although these anecdotes make for great cocktail party conversation, I think I need to try harder to convey what my peers and I actually do on a daily basis. This will better educate people and clear up misconceptions, and help us all be on the same page.