A day in the life of a pre-clinical medical student

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One of the key things that you need to prove to your prospective medical school admissions department, before they let you in, is that you are both realistic and well versed in what lies ahead for you.

In one way, the process is designed to assess the risk of you dropping out. And drop outs are a waste of money.

Apart from work experience, you need to devote some time to speak to junior doctors and medical students at various levels about what they do and how they find it. It’ll be useful for you and your insights will be obvious at interview.

To help you get an idea of what your first few years at medical school will be like, here’s a diary of a single day for a preclinical student at a more traditional UK medical school.

Remember, this is typical but variable.

8.45am
I step into the medical school building and hed straight to the library drop off box where i unload six hard back books from my rucksack. I can finally stand upright! Much of the weekend was spent finalising the main first semester pharmocology essay. The topic i chose was on the uses of muscarinic antagonists. The deadline is tomorrow and i regret leaving things to the last minute.

8.55am
A quick coffee before heading into the lecture room.

9.00
The first lecture is by someone from the hospital. She’s a junior surgeon, sent in by her seniors to cover the topic of colorectal pathology. She apologises profusely for having to stand in at short notice. None of the students seem too bothered though. Some very interesting pictures and descriptions of surgical procedures.

10am
Straight into the second lecture which is part of the medical ethics module. There is a long discussion about consent and competence. A few late comers sneak in midway through the doors at the rear of the lecture room.

11am
Another lecture. I feel like i should have had more coffee as I attempt to concentrate on some detailed slides on the sympathetic nervous system. There are lots of questions at the end but the lecturer has overrun a little and seems to be in a hurry for her next session.

12.30pm
I head over to the medical school canteen – it’s too cold to head out for lunch today.
It’s a good chance to catch up with a few friends. It seems like I wasn’t the last to complete the pharmacology essay. Several people are typing away over lunch trying to meet tomorrows looming deadline. I feel better about lugging those books back and forth over the weekend.

1.30 pm
We are in smaller groups for the first of three communications skills sessions. Actors are brought in to simulate patients.
The first patient is an angry young man. The purpose of the excercise is to get him to calm down before adressing his problems. The actors are always a little too convincing. The student chosen to role play is making a mess of things. Everything he says makes the ‘patient more angry’ The supervising tutor eventually intervenes amid fits of laughter from the rest of us.

3.00
In between sessions I check my emails and realise I have a meeting with my personal tutor at the end of the week. I also start a preliminary literature search for a study on attitudes to risk amongst students of different disciplines. It’s a study done by some of the senior clinical students but I’ve voluteered to help out and get some research experience.

4.30
It’s the turn of the last actor and I’ve been selected to role play. Although it’s nerve racking at first I find the teaching has been very useful. To my own surprise, I get through the simulated consultation without a hitch. It was certainly easier that the aggressive scenario from earlier on.

5.30pm
Although the day is over I have a medical society meeting to attend. This is where issues affecting medical students are represented and is also where the social events are organised. We are currently in the last stages of organising the January ski trip.

If this sounds like hard work though remember that it only gets harder as things get more clinical and you end up on hospital attachments.

The key things to take away are that it is harder work than a typical undergrdauate course with longer hours and more assignments. However, you may well have some early clinical attachments added in at most medical schools during the first two years, even if it’s just an occasional day at a GP surgery. Some people find that helpful and interesting whilst others feel it’s a premature token gesture before you’re truly ready to start seeing patients.

If you are applying to medical schools, see what the course you are going for has to offer and speak to current students. Don’t simpy believe the medical school prospectus with it’s typical photographs of trees and sunshine.

When it comes to interview however, you’re a beggar not a chooser. Look like you’ve found out how the first few years are going to be. Focus on the good things you’ve heard about the school. Speak glowingly about the curriculum. It’s likely that one of the people in front of you is partly responsible for it.

  • LondonPaeds

    Useful for those of us without friends or family at med sch. Will interviewers be more interested in this sort of thing or knowledge about a day in the life of a junior doc? Can I suggest more articles looking at the latter?

    Like the site, keep the articles coming.

  • Heli

    Is the whole week as filled as this?
    Would I be able to do a part time job during semester time?

    • Kevin

      I’m a pre-clinical 1st year and a day like this happens about twice a week. The other 3 days are usually filled with maybe 2-3 hours of class each day (lectures/dissection/clinical)