What Is Medical School Like?

Discover what is medical school like

For a sizable majority of medical school graduates and current students, the question “what is medical school like?” can be a difficult answer to convey to someone who hasn’t stepped foot into a clinical or lecture hall.

It’s not necessarily the case that it’s a challenge to list the roles, assignments and activities associated with being a medical school student. Rather, it’s a question of “what is medical school not like?” that can be the most difficult to form into words. Between the sleepless nights, shot nerves and overstretched obligations, medical school has no shortage of stressors to define daily life.

On average, medical school students will devote an estimated 120 hours a week attending classes and hitting the books alone.

And that’s just the average. For many dedicated med school students, finding themselves putting in upwards of 140 or 150 hours a week for studies is hardly out of the question. And with 21-credit semesters breathing down their necks the first year, it’s no surprise why.

While there’s no dancing around the daunting and hectic coursework schedule that awaits most all medical school students, there’s no harm in bracing for the storm. Here are our projections to the question, “what is medical school like?”

What is Medical School Like? The Basics

Although medical school curriculum will vary by institution, there tends to be a few overarching courses and experiences that encompass most all.

The First Year

The first year of medical school, or more infamously regarded as medical school’s “hell year”, is chocked full of traditional lectures, assignments and studying.

Just like your undergraduate courses – just ten times more difficult.

Although the courses will vary by institution, most schools will cover:

  • Gross Anatomy
  • Histology
  • Pathology
  • Biochemistry

The Second Year

By a medical student’s sophomore year, they’re likely to be much more immersed in clinical-based courses and settings. Most often students will form problem-solving groups, working to diagnose theoretical cases.

At this point in the medical school curriculum, most students will start to become better acquainted with the kinds of common diseases seen in hospitals, such as myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) and pulmonary embolism (blood clots in veins).

The Third Year

The third year of medical school transitions into a drastically different and highly exciting time students. At this point, students will become part of a clinical rotation and medical team. A typical medical team will include an attending doctor, resident, intern and med student (the lowest on the totem pole).

Participation in a medical team provides invaluable, hands-on experience for medical students to truly grasp what medical school is like. Although medical students are likely to receive much of the grunt work during their time, they’ll gain access to crucial doctoring experience.

At the completion of a med student’s third year they’ll be administered a national test to gage success thus far (the USMILE, more often than not). Be sure to keep this test in mind throughout the duration of your third year.

The Fourth Year

Like the third year, the fourth year of medical school is entirely medical team-based. However, by your final year of medical school you’ll be given the opportunity to fine tune and specialize your area of interest and expertise, such as cardiology or gastroenterology.


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