Med School: Expectations vs. Reality

Jessica Young (She/Her/Hers)

Jessica is an alumnus of the UConn Class of 2019. She graduated as part of the Honors Program and the Special Program in Medicine with a B.S. in Physiology and Neurobiology and a B.S. in English. At UConn, Jessica spent much of her time in a lab that studies fruit fly ovulation, focusing on her research project as a part of the Beckman Scholars Program. She was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a part of Extreme Measures A Cappella, the Scholarship Chairwoman of Gamma Phi Beta, and worked at UC Cafes. Jessica went on a mobile medical clinic trip with MEDLIFE and volunteered as an EMT at her local fire department during breaks from school. She is currently a second-year medical student at the UConn School of Medicine. Prior to the pandemic, Jessica volunteered as part of Hartford Health Education, a program providing weekly lessons about health and wellness to local middle school students. She is the outgoing Medical Dental Student Government Medical Vice President, current Co-President of Reach Out (an LGBTQ+ health advocacy group), and on the Leadership Board for the OB/GYN Interest Group. Jessica is interested in pursuing a career as an OB/GYN and engaging in reproductive justice advocacy.

Disclaimer: All opinions and views expressed in this blog are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of anyone else, including other faculty, staff, residents/fellows or students in the SOM at UConn. Neither the SOM nor UConn have approved the material contained in this profile (on this page). I take sole responsibility for this content.

Expectation: All my time will be spent in the classroom listening to lectures. 

Reality: 

    • “It really depends on the medical school. Some schools do lecture-style classes and students can attend or not attend but have to watch the lectures and know the content for the exam. A lot of my friends at other med schools never have to actually be in class as long as they watch the content, read, and do the assignments. UConn is different because we have a lot of class time.”
  • Here is a breakdown of Jessica’s typical day in the life during first-year, pre-pandemic:
    • 7:00 am – Get ready for the day, and make breakfast and coffee. I review my notes for anatomy lab before walking over to the Health Center across the street from my apartment complex.
    • 8:00 am – Head into anatomy lab. Class either focuses on human anatomy (performing a dissection), virtual anatomy (reviewing imaging techniques), or histopathology (reviewing cross-sections of tissue). 
    • 10:00 am – Head to our class that focuses on general scientific principles as well as the physiology and pathology of organ systems. All the medical students are in the same, huge classroom and sit in teams. We first take a quiz by ourselves and then as a team before working together on questions that apply the material we reviewed prior to class. Someone in the team usually brings snacks if it’s a Friday! 
    • 12:00 pm – Lunch break! I’ll grab my lunch from the Student Lounge and head to the cafeteria to eat with friends and catch up on school and life.
    • 1:00 pm – Study break! I spend this time reviewing topics for later in the week or material from earlier classes if I don’t feel confident about something discussed.
    • 3:00pm – Last class! We have this class once a week and it focuses on public health, biostatistics, and health disparities.
    • 5:00 pm – Head to the gym or go for a walk around my apartment complex with a friend to de-stress. 
    • 6:00 pm – Eat dinner while watching a video (usually Boards and Beyond) covering a topic being discussed that week, or just chill if it has been a stressful day and I need a break. I spend the next 3-4 hours (with breaks) learning material for the week if I didn’t prepare it during the weekend, studying notes I’ve taken, and finishing up my daily Anki (flashcard application).
    • 10:00 pm – Finish studying and do something fun (usually watching an episode of Netflix) before heading to sleep around midnight.
    • Although this is one day, the schedule varies greatly; some days I only have one class. We also have other classes that focus on learning clinical skills, community advocacy, and clinical reasoning, as well as a clinical site that we attend once per week. Altogether, it adds up to 22 hours total of in-person time a week (18 hours of class and 4 hours of clinical time)

Expectation: I will spend all my time studying.

Reality: 

  • “If I’m just studying for class and not worrying about boards, I probably study for ~3 hours per night, but it depends. During my first year, I had one day a week where I had half of the day free so I would spend more time studying that day. On the weekends I would do the bulk of my learning to prepare for the week. Throughout the week I would study that material I prepared on the weekend.”
  • “I had more free time than I thought I would. I would go out with friends on Fridays before COVID-19. It was important to take those breaks to reset and relieve stress. I had more of a social life in the 1st year than I expected. Of course, this all depends on the person. Everyone finds the work-life balance that works best for them. Some people do nothing on the weekends and everything during the week. You have to find what works best for you.”

“How much of it is exams, how much is practical application?”

  • “At the medical school I attend, in the first two years we have five 10-week sessions followed by an exam. In total, you have 50 weeks of coursework and 5 exams. These exams are around 8 hours long and cover basic biology, public health, advocacy, and practical skills (interviewing patients, doing physical exams, etc.).  In those first two years, you will have 4 hours of clinical time a week. In your third year, you move into full clinical time. This is where you get to go to different hospitals and learn how to apply everything you’ve learned in a clinical setting. In your 4th year you continue working in the clinical setting and rotating through different specialties and interviewing for different residencies.”

Expectation: I will be expected to know everything when I start classes. 

Reality: 

  • “If you don’t feel great about Orgo or Chem, don’t freak out. Yes, while they matter for the MCAT and having a strong foundation to apply to school, what I have found helped me more is the biological science classes. Material that came back the most in my classes was cell biology, immunology, genetics, and biochemistry. I found physics and calc not as applicable, but the basic principles are applied in different systems like cardiology and pulmonology. English and psychology are also really important for understanding patients and knowing how to effectively read a textbook or journals. It sounds simple but having more developed language skills is really helpful, especially when comprehending test questions. My undergraduate English education has really helped me with answering questions on exams, reading research articles and those nuances.”

Expectation: It will be difficult to connect with classmates. 

Reality: 

  • “Building relationships with classmates is surprisingly easy. There is a common misconception that med students are antisocial, have no social skills, and study all the time but that’s not true. Everyone is super social. My class is very collaborative, we don’t resource-hoard. When classes were in person we would always eat together in the cafeteria but I always felt like I could talk to anyone in class. Most people live in the same area too. At UConn a lot of students live in an apt complex across the street and people would have gatherings to meet other students. People from other class years would hang out too. 

Expectation: It will be really difficult to develop meaningful relationships with professors. 

Reality: 

  • “Connecting with professors is so easy! In undergrad it felt like you had to chase down professors and claw your way into shadow at hospitals. In medical school I find that if I email a professor after class about something I’m confused about, they will usually get back to me very quickly which is so helpful for learning and building those relationships. When it comes to the coursework, they don’t want you to just get the answer right but they want you to truly understand it. Also, if you’re interested in research, they will at least have a meeting with you to discuss your interest. The hospital the school is connected to, and the professors who are practicing physicians, are usually really receptive to shadowing too.”

Expectation: Finding clinical placements will be confusing and overwhelming.

Reality: 

  • “Every school is different. At UConn, for your first and second-year clinical placement you choose between primary care, internal medicine, and pediatrics. You can also mention any special interests and the placement coordinator will take that into account. I got lucky because I was really interested in OB-GYN and I got paired with an OB-GYN site: It’s the highlight of my week. It’s different for everyone. Regardless of where you’re placed, the patient interaction centers you and reminds you why you’re studying 8 hours a day.”

“Do you have a clinical supervisor?”

  • We get paired with a 4th year clinical student which is so amazing because you go in and know basically nothing and the 4th-year will guide you and have you jump right in. It’s great because they’ve been in your shoes before. After they graduate you can still reach out to them and ask questions. The 4th-year mentor can also walk you through the specifics of the clinical site and also answer questions about school, in general. In addition to the 4th-year student mentor, you are paired with a doctor at the site. At my site we have residents, nurses, and a 1st-year, 2nd-year, and 4th-year student. It’s great because you get information in a collective learning environment.”

“Do you have the same placement the whole time?”

  • You can keep your placement for 3 years, or have the option of rotating with a different site for your 3rd year. You can even become a 4th-year mentor at the same site. That’s what I want to do: it would be great to mentor new students and share what I’ve learned.” 

Expectation: It will be really hard to get involved while in med school.  

Reality: 

  • “You can get involved, almost too much, so you want to pick what you are most interested in. I would recommend going to every speciality interest group’s meeting in the first year even if you don’t think you are interested in that field. You can learn more about the specialty, meet people of all years, and learn more about things you might not have heard about otherwise. It’s a great way to network and there’s usually free food too!”
  • “There are plenty of community service organizations and advocacy organizations to get involved with too. For example, in my first year I volunteered as part of Hartford Health Education, which is a program where medical and dental students visit middle school and high school students around Hartford and teach weekly important topics like nutrition and mental health. There are also organizations like the Student National Medical Association that hold huge annual events like Culture Shock, an event that showcases different student’s cultures and talents and is super fun to attend!

Overall Advice

  • “You want to go into school open-minded and explore different things. You technically don’t need to know what you want to specialize in until the end of your third year.”
  • “One thing that you need to figure out is if you really want to do medicine. Having the passion for science and patients is what needs to drive you or else it will be miserable to be studying all the time without having that purpose. Think, ‘Why am I actually doing this?’. 
  • “Most of all, enjoy it! You spend so much time preparing for med school in undergrad, even in high school, and then you finally make it. So, enjoy it!”
By Hannah Halloran
Hannah Halloran Graduate Assistant, Programming Hannah Halloran