Disclaimer: I have not yet begun my clinical rotations so this is just one student’s brief summary on a typical medical school day in the preclinical years.
7:00 AM – My alarm clock rings. I quickly turn it off. 5 minutes later my second alarm which I always have as back up goes off. Going to class is too important to be left to chances; having two alarms is much safer. I brush my teeth, eat breakfast and pack all my notes, textbooks and laptops, which have been sprawled over my desk from yesterday’s late-night studying, into my trusty backpack.
7:45 AM – I make the quick walk to school. Living on campus is a luxury, the time you save from commuting is worth the higher prices you pay on rent. If you don’t live at home and have the option of choosing a place, live by the university. You won’t regret it.
8:00 AM – The first lecture of the day is beginning and the classroom is only 70% full. Stragglers and latecomers slowly file into the lecture theater, while the rest of us are just waking up. The smell of coffee and breakfast snacks fill the room. Thank God for caffeine.
8:30 AM – It’s halfway through the lecture and at this crucial point, depending on how good or bad the lectures has been going, I will either increase my concentration and focus for the remaining slides left or… begin checking my email.
8:45 AM - The daily newsfeeds and listserv messages begin flooding my inbox: faculty emails, student group event announcements and people looking for rent or pawning their old textbooks. If I’m lucky, there might be some personal emails from friends and family.
9:00 AM - Break time. Get up, stretch, go to the washroom. Only a few more minutes before the next lecture begins.
10:00 AM – Students in scrubs fill the hallway to the anatomy lab. The smell of formaldehyde is one that you don’t forget easily. Time always passes by quickly in the lab as we dissect our cadavers. Our group rotates responsibilities of cutting, reading the dissector and referencing our anatomy atlas. Tip: learn to use all your tools, not just the scalpel. The blunt scissors, probe and your fingers are often times better than the blade when it comes to dissecting.
12:00 PM - The combination of anatomy lab chemically induced hunger and classes all morning really work up your appetite. If there’s a lunch-time talk with free food I try to attend. If not, the lunch hour is a great time to hang out with friends, make necessary phone calls (banks, utilities, etc) and catch up on some studying.
1:00 PM - On alternating days, we either have small group learning or clinical skills teaching. If it is a small group session, ten or so medical students along with a preceptor begin discussing the case prepared for that week. After each session, we set out our learning objectives created for next time’s discussion.
3:00 PM – If it is a clinical teaching day, my group follows a preceptor to see patients. We practice our history taking and physical examination skills, while learning about different medical conditions. Clinical teaching is definitely an enjoyable time for me. It’s just a small taste of what is to come.
5:00 PM - My day at school officially ends, but the real work is about to begin.
5:30 PM - I usually head to the gym for a quick workout or relax a bit. Balance is key to a healthy lifestyle in medical school.
6:00 PM – Study. Study. Study
7:00 PM – Cook dinner. Whatever is most convenient is usually eaten first. Groceries are usually only done on weekends when there is time. Often, eating dinner is either in the company of friends or school notes. I also like to cook my meals in bigger portions and pack the leftovers for lunch.
8:00PM – 10:00PM – Study. Study some more. There’s an awful lot of stuff to learn in medicine.
10:00 PM – Dedicated instant messaging / facebook / answering email time. Showers are nice too.
11:00 PM – An hour is lost from being unproductive and/or procrastinating.
12:00 PM - I usually get solid studying done at these wee hours. My circadian rhythm just happens to coincide with the midnight hour to be a productive one. I like to study and work until I feel tired and head to bed. But lately, I’ve been trying to keep a more regular routine. I often feel like sleep is a nice bonus for people in medicine, it’s nice to have but isn’t always required or permitted.
The day I have described to you is probably one of the busier days of the week. There are probably 2-3 of those days and another 2 more relaxed days with less class and responsibilities. Apart from class time and basic necessities, a lot of time is spent studying or doing other school related work. For the most part, medicine is not a 9-5 job, especially as a student when there is so much to learn. I feel like I could study 12 hours a day for several months (I wish I could) and still have lots to learn. I guess that is why the time it takes to train a doctor is so long (6-10 years).
If you have any questions about what a typical day for a medical student is like or want to contribute your experiences too, please leave a comment. Thanks!