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Day in the Life of a Medical Student: Preclinicals

  • by Dr. Mike Ren
  • Aug 09, 2022

So, you’re starting medical school preclinicals. Those were the days! This is one of the periods of training that I look back upon fondly. On the long road of medical training, you rarely have the type of freedom you’ll find as a preclinical medical student. The sheer amount of independent study time and flexibility to explore your interests in medicine is beyond compare. 

Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way when you’re going through it. One of the key aspects I remember from my preclinical days was adjusting to the massive amount of material that I was suddenly inundated with. You’ll often hear that learning in medical school is like “drinking from a fire hydrant,” and which is definitely a fitting analogy. There is a clear feeling of overwhelm that develops by the second or third week, and if it doesn’t, you may be a superhuman (or it just hasn’t hit you yet)!

Add that to the fact that you’re surrounded by highly motivated and talented people and also have a multitude of outside responsibilities. You have to keep yourself alive, clean your space, be a responsible adult human, and sometimes you even have to take care of other living creatures! These factors combined can definitely amount to a stressful environment.

My Experience as a Medical Student: Preclinical Years

My entire 18-month preclinical period was an exercise in evolution, both in honing my study skills and slowly learning to juggle all these new, unfamiliar tasks. If this is stressful for you, don’t worry. It’s normal to be stressed when embarking on such a life-changing journey. I often find that taking things day by day makes life appear a lot more manageable. 

If you’re looking for some structure amid the whirlwind, you’ve come to the right place. Here is a typical day in my life as a preclinical medical student.

Mornings

I started the day at 7 a.m. by rolling out of bed, getting ready, and grabbing a quick breakfast granola bar so I could catch the rail to the medical center. I would usually reach school a few minutes before my 8 a.m. lectures, which would continue hourly until noon, with brief breaks in-between.

Lectures

My time in medical school was before COVID-19, and so I spent the majority of my time in-person learning. Luckily, we also had the luxury of recorded lectures, in case you were more of a “stream team” type of student.

During the lectures, I would have my laptop out and open every application imaginable: Anki, Powerpoint, OneNote, you name it. I tried to keep up with lectures either by making Anki cards or note outlines. I also had to use a Google Chrome extension to prevent my easily-distracted self from scrolling on Facebook or online shopping, which came in handy more often than not.

The breaks between lectures were prime time to grab a quick coffee from the cafe upstairs or catch up with classmates. We would share gossip, complaints, plans, and study tips until we were shooed back to our seats for the next round. 

Anatomy Lab

Tuesday mornings were spent in the labs with our four-person small groups, huddled around our anatomy tanks, where we would bicker over who got to dissect what and whether or not that was the medial or posterior cord of the brachial plexus.

Afterward, we would wander out of the labs smelling strongly of formaldehyde as our stomachs growled and wondered where we should eat. If there were student interest groups offering meetings with free food that day, you could bet we would be there.

Afternoons

Once the clock struck noon, it often meant that we were free to go, but a few afternoons a week would be occupied with small-group classes. Usually, these were discussions over how best to convey compassion, how to handle difficult situations in our future patient encounters, or how to perfect our physical exam or procedural skills, which we practiced on each other.

Even during my “free” afternoons, I often stayed on campus to study and consolidate what I learned that day or review material for an upcoming exam. Upperclassmen at my school also held additional anatomy tutorials during various afternoons, and I would often attend those, as anatomy was one of my weaknesses.

Evenings

Most days, I would find myself heading home around 5:00 p.m., usually via rail or bus. Sometimes I would get home and study more or go for a run through the park near my house. Afterward, I would prepare a meal or eat a meal-prepped dinner. Some nights, when I felt rebellious, I might give myself a break from studying and eat in front of the television or with some friends.

At night, I would wind down with some simple chores, such as cleaning, doing dishes, or a small load of laundry here or there. After I showered and got ready for bed, I would often fall asleep looking forward to the weekend, where I might venture out to one of the city’s many coffee shops, rock climb, or go out to a local bar with a few of my classmates. 

There’s no need to sugarcoat and say life as a preclinical medical student is a breeze, but looking back, I know I had more good days than bad. Most nights, I went to sleep excited for what was to come and proud of what I had done so far.

Further Reading

About the Author

Mike is a driven tutor and supportive advisor. He received his MD from Baylor College of Medicine and then stayed for residency. He has recently taken a faculty position at Baylor because of his love for teaching. Mike’s philosophy is to elevate his students to their full potential with excellent exam scores, and successful interviews at top-tier programs. He holds the belief that you learn best from those close to you in training. Dr. Ren is passionate about his role as a mentor and has taught for much of his life – as an SAT tutor in high school, then as an MCAT instructor for the Princeton Review. At Baylor, he has held review courses for the FM shelf and board exams as Chief Resident.   For years, Dr. Ren has worked closely with the office of student affairs and has experience as an admissions advisor. He has mentored numerous students entering medical and residency and keeps in touch with many of them today as they embark on their road to aspiring physicians. His supportiveness and approachability put his students at ease and provide a safe learning environment where questions and conversation flow. For exam prep, Mike will help you develop critical reasoning skills and as an advisor he will hone your interview skills with insider knowledge to commonly asked admissions questions.