Common Pre-med Questions for Medical Students

HEADS UP….these may be a little wordy. Sorry. I tried to bold the extremely important stuff.

If you have questions that are not answered here please fill out the form at the bottom and I will add them to the list.

What is a normal week like for a medical student?

A factoid that has stuck with me since interviewing for medical school is the number of credit hours in a semester of medical school. Take a guess. How many do you think it is? 25? 30? 35? haha. It is about 39-40 credit hours per semester of medical school!!! I don’t know about you, but that floored me as a pre-med. I took 18 credits during softball season and I could barely stay afloat. That figure was intimidating, but much easier to wrap my head around than the old adage “it’s like drinking out of a firehose.” I hate that saying. It’s too figurative for me.

A typical week is going to depend on what year you’re asking about and the curriculum, but you will most likely be in class from 8-5 almost everyday and if you’re not then you’re probably studying. If you’re on rotations it’s also going to be like that with maybe some nights, weekends, and call shifts.

It seems silly, but you need to convince yourself that you need to take the time to get gas, go grocery shopping, do laundry because when you have 30+ hours of lecture a week that you have to review taking 10 min to fill your gas tank seems astronomical. It’s all about maintaining perspective. Realizing that there are more things to life (and your sanity) than studying every waking hour is EXTREMELY difficult, but ABSOLUTELY necessary to survival in medical school.

Year 1 Weekly Schedule (This is a week from my Google Calendar 1st Year)
Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat
8AM Anatomy Lecture Ethics
9AM Anatomy Lab Anatomy Lecture Anatomy Lecture Ethics Outreach with Local School Kids
10AM Anatomy Lecture Anatomy Lecture Ethics
11AM Anatomy Lecture Anatomy Lecture Anatomy Lecture Anatomy Final
12PM SGA Senate Extracurricular meeting Treasurer Training SGA Meeting
1PM Essentials of Clinical Medicine Osteopathic Principles and Practice Essentials of Clinical Medicine Anatomy Lab Anatomy Final (Lab)
2PM
3PM
4PM Skype Dates with BF and family
5PM
6PM Coach Softball
7PM
8PM
Year 2 Weekly Schedule (This is a week from my Google Calendar 2nd Year)
Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat
8AM Renal – Acid Base Renal – Self Directed Act Renal – Independent Study Renal – Physiology Renal – Physiology
9AM Renal – Acid Base Physiology Renal Small Group Renal Large Group Renal Small Group Renal Large Group Campus Wide Student Health Fair
10AM
11AM Ethics
12PM TA Meeting SGA Senate Advisor Meeting SGA Meeting Committee Meeting
1PM Ethics Small Group Ethics Large Group Essentials of Clinical Medicine Osteopathic Principles and Practice
2PM
3PM Rotations Lottery Info Session
4PM Skype Dates with BF and family TA OMM
5PM Tutoring Student Run Health Clinic Tutoring
6PM
7PM Coach Softball
8PM

Year 3 schedule is going to vary a lot depending on the facility that you are at and the service. You’ll get a better idea of that when you’re a 1st/2nd year.


What classes do you take during medical school?

All schools (MD and DO) take the same core of classes, but they tend to vary on how they are structured. Most likely you will cover the following fields and organ systems:

Anatomy Neuroscience
Physiology Behavioral Science (Psychiatry)
Embryology Musculoskeletal
Histology Endocrine
Pathology Cardiology
Pharmacology Renal
Genetics Respiratory
Immunology Reproductive Science
Microbiology Gastroenterology
Biochemistry Dermatology
 Ethics Geriatrics
 Biostatistics Pediatrics
Clinical Medicine Emergency Medicine

I’ve heard there are different curricula, what are the pros and cons?

First, what are the different types approaches to the medical school curriculum:

Discipline-based: structured so that you go through anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, etc in a block for all organ systems.

Systems-based: structured so that you cover an organ system in a block which would include anatomy, biochem, physiology, pharm, etc, specific to that organ system.

Mixed: you cover the disciplines in 1st year and the systems in 2nd year.

Problem-based learning (PBL): learn disciplines through more self-directed, somewhat-guided studying in which you work through cases in a small group of students with a faculty facilitator. Very little actual lecture time in this curriculum. Your studying is guided by “learning issues” that arise during discussion of the case

In the end, it comes down to what kind of learner are you. Are you a more collaborative learner who likes to talk through things and likes to teach/learn from others? Then PBL might be for you. If you hate groups and the last few sentences made you anxious, then PBL style curriculum might not be for you. Keep in mind too that your learning style as a medical student may end up being different than as a pre-med. This happened to a lot of my peers.

I have participated in a mixed curriculum and I really liked it. You are constantly revisiting topics as you progress from class to class which really helps reinforce the high yield points. In the end, it just comes down to what you think fits you best.


How exactly do you assimilate all this information when you spend pretty much all day in class?

Again this comes back to what kind of learner you are and realizing that you aren’t going to master it all. There is a term used quite frequently when studying with medical students leading up to an exam: triage. At my medical school, each hour of lecture will produce 3 test questions and most exams are between 100 to 200 questions (every other Monday mind you). So is the 1 hour of embryology going to be a high priority the weekend before the exam if I don’t get the 10 hours of physiology that were covered last week? No. If I have an epiphany moment with the physio and have left over time then yeah I’ll go back and look at it. This is a really hard concept for 1st year medical students to grasp at first, but you will become very familiar with this practice.


Ok, you’ve said I’m going to spend all day in class and all night studying. How do I have/maintain a relationship during medical school?

Medical school will be one of the most challenging endeavors you go through, emotionally, intellectually, physically, spiritually, and not just you, your loved ones too. Medical school also makes you very selfish because your time because an even more precious resource than it was before and it sometimes is difficult to see outside the tunnel vision that medical school has provided.

If you are starting medical school with a significant other you need to have a conversation with them before medical school starts. You need to ask them what their expectations are of you and your relationship during medical school. I can guarantee you that your relationship will be strained at some point during medical school. You need to have a very frank conversation with your significant other before shit hits the fan. Ask them what in your current day to day routine is very important to them? What is it that they look forward to day to day? Waking up with you and having your coffee together or making your lunches together or date night on Fridays or your lunch dates….whatever it is. Ask. Then you need to evaluate what is actually feasible for you to do. COMPROMISE is the name of the game. You are going to have to compromise. Maybe this means that you don’t do as many extracurriculars. In the end, you NEED to schedule consistent time to spend with them.

Furthermore, you need to make sure that you are checking in with them. Especially when you get to 3rd and 4th year when you literally are dealing with life and death, you need to make sure that your SO doesn’t feel like they can’t talk about what is frustrating them at work/school. You may have had a patient die today, but maybe your SO got in a fight today with a co-worker over the coffee machine (I don’t know) and it really is bothering them. Or maybe they got in a fight with their boss, whatever it is. Even if it seems trivial to you you need to let them express themselves. Otherwise they are going to get frustrated and that’s not good for anyone.

Also, your SO might not be able to hear the horrors of your day. I have come to realize that what we do and see isn’t normal in the grand scheme of society and not everyone can stomach my day. If that is the case, you need to find an outlet to give you an opportunity to vent/decompress about what you did/saw. It is crucial for your sanity.


What is the difference between MD and DO?

The textbook answer is that osteopathic medical school is based on a philosophy of more holistic medicine, consider the mind, body, and spirit as well as the interplay between structure and function when treating a patient. While this is true and being an OMM teaching fellow I do wholeheartedly believe this. However, you do not need to be a DO to treat a patient in this manner. I know plenty of MDs who have a very “osteopathic approach” to patient care and I know many DOs who do not have an “osteopathic approach”.

The biggest difference is the training. In osteopathic medical school you will spent at least 200 hours (my school I think it’s 270 hours) learning how to identify asymmetries in the body, how those correlate to dysfunction (pain) the patient is experiencing, and techniques to address the asymmetry and inevitably the dysfunction. There are a number of conditions that I personally have found OMM to be amenable to: headaches, sinusitus, head colds, asthma, dysmenorrhea, pregnancy-related pain, and the obvious MSK pain (back and neck pain). In my opinion, if there is something that I can do immediately to improve their symptoms in addition to the standard of care, why not give it a shot. If it doesn’t end up making a difference, oh well. I have nothing to lose really.

If you are curious to learn more, I encourage you to go to the AOA or AACOM websites. They have great resources.


Why did you choose DO?

My whole life, pretty much, I wanted to be a doctor, but I always took issue with just throwing medication at the problem. In high school, I became involved in a biomechanics based training program for softball, baseball, and golf. By making minor tweaks to athletes, I was able to significantly improve their outcomes (how fast they throw, how far they hit). This made me realize how, if given the proper/best scenario, your body can do way more than we originally thought. The body has amazing internal power that I don’t think we utilize enough and that is related to one of the tenets of osteopathic medicine.

Then I got to undergrad. I unfortunately (and fortunately) got to know our team doctor pretty well. I broke my shin, sprained my SI joint, caught the swine flu, and sustained a concussion throughout my college career. So we got pretty buddy buddy. He happens to be a DO who actually uses OMT. When I sprained my SI joint, it was awful! I made a diving catch in the turf room (which is glorified concrete) at a dead sprint and landed on my left hip bone (more specifically my ASIS). This caused my hip bone on that side to be thrust posteriorly and my whole spine cracked up to my shoulder blades. I had immediate sciatic pain (sharp, electric-like shocks) down my left leg. I couldn’t stand up straight, bend over, walk, and running was definitely out of the question. I couldn’t fully extend my leg. It was bad. So I saw our doc. He had me get an MRI to make sure I didn’t tear anything. Once we got that squared away, he had me come back in and he did OMT on me and I felt like I could jump off that table and go for a run! It was amazing! I couldn’t believe it. I was sore, but I could function. Blew my mind. The next 6 months I had to come back about once a month because I was having pain, but other than that I was pretty good.

After graduation, I moved to Chicago. I had a flare-up my of SI pain. Tried to find a DO who did OMT, but had a hard time. Went to physical therapy and it took about 6 months to accomplish the relief I got in about 2 minutes of treatment by our team doc. That sealed the deal for me. I was going to osteopathic medical school.


What extracurriculars should I do or what extracurriculars do I think helped me most get into medical school?

I get this question a lot. The awesome thing about medical school these days is that diversity is emphasized much more than any other time in the history of medicine. Are there cookie cutter extracurriculars that we are looking for? No. My answer to this is 2 part.

  1. What is your brand? When I think of you or when you ask the 10 closest people in your life, what are 3 words that they would use to describe you? To give you an example, my brand is educator, leader, and advocate. Spend some time really thinking about this. Really take a critical look at yourself and actually ask the people nearest to you for their opinion. That will be beneficial in your process.
  2. Choose extracurriculars that are true to your brand, that align with your brand. I want to look at your CV, application, personal statement, and letters of rec and be able to develop a strong image of who are actually are. When these parts of your app are so disparate I leave you app still trying to figure out who you are. Choose activities that align with the core of who you are. Always ask, does this align with my brand? If yes, then do it. If no, then ask yourself why is it that you want to do it? If the answer is to just check a box, DON’T do it…
    1. EXAMPLES: If you feel doing research would help your app and absolutely despise the idea of basic science research, but part of your brand is being an advocate then do a research project looking at socioeconomic determinants of health and how that leads to worse health outcomes. If you view yourself as an educator, then an extracurricular activity could be giving health literacy seminars at the free clinic.

What classes should I take as an undergrad to help me in medical school?

Honestly, beyond the pre-med prereqs take what you want to take. There is a reason that those specific classes are pre-reqs. Take classes that explore your interests. The only one that I would advocate taking is statistics or biostatistics (if it isn’t a pre-req…it wasn’t when I was a pre-med). That will prove more useful than calculus haha and will haunt you for most of your career as an evidence based physician. Taking Genetics because you think it’s going to make med school easier really isn’t worth the torture of undergrad Genetics (unless you have a genuine interest, then that’s different). People who majored in biochemistry, immunology, biology, other sciences said that we finished their major in about 2.5 days of lecture (in a 4-7 week course). The only advantage they really have over the naive medical student is the language that comes along with each discipline. Beyond that, you all are on even playing ground. So don’t worry about it. Take classes that fulfill you.


What should I do the summer before medical school?

Truly enjoy yourself. I mean it. People always laugh when I say this, but medical school is going to make free time a scarcity and most of your free time you’re probably just going to want to sleep. If there is something that you have always wanted to do/see do it!

Also, spend time with your loved ones, especially if you’re going to medical school away from them. I go to medical school in CA. My immediate family lives in CO and my boyfriend lives in NY. I see my family maybe once or twice a year and I see my boyfriend 3-4 times a year. Therefore, my opinion is to spend that unfettered time before medical school just soaking them in. I know that’s cheesy, but you’ll thank me.

My school has prep courses that you can take. One is an accelerated anatomy course which leads to you becoming a TA for your peers. There is also a non-credit overview course for first 3 courses 1st year. Other schools offer similar programs. If you feel like these are a fit for you go for it. It’s funny the people at my school who did them don’t regret it and would do it again while the people who didn’t do them (like me) also don’t regret not doing it and don’t regret it haha. So really you can’t lose. Do what feels right to you.

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