What Medical School Is Like

One of the things that struck me all the time about applicants who would come into my office for an interview, is how uninformed they were about what the process of medical school is about. Be informed about medical school. It’s a great deficit if you’re in an interview and the interviewer pins you down and finds out that you don’t have a clue about what’s really going on in medical school, how intensive it is, what’s expected of you there and afterwards. Some people are sort of well versed in the medical school portion and didn’t even realize that they would have to do a residency afterwards, and how long that is going to take. Currently it’s not unusual for a residency to be 5–9 years. That’s 4 years of medical school and then an additional 5–9 years of training. That’s a long time. So it’s a long term commitment and you need to have a clear picture of that before you even set your own priorities, but also, before you can sit in front of somebody in an interview and convince them that you understand what this is going to take.

Medical school is a complicated process and is different in different places. I encourage you to be informed about the process. The very best way you can do that is to visit medical schools, interview students, and find out what’s involved. Many medical schools have summer programs for doing exactly that — where in your junior year of college, you can go and visit the medical school for a week in the summertime. They will give tours and hold lectures and really prepare you for what that school has to offer and what it would take for you to complete the program. They do this because they want the best medical students they can get. They want to fill their slots with good students that are going to complete the program. So they are interested in advertising. Medical schools actually compete for students — you may have never thought of that, but they do.

There are all sorts of reasons for this. Some medical schools pride themselves on high academic goals. They want to produce physicians that go on to do research. Southwestern, a University of Texas school in Dallas was like this, and they were very, very competitive for the future researchers, the M.D./Ph.D’s. On the other hand, some medical schools like to round out the class — they think that a variety of students enhances the student body and enriches the whole medical school for everyone. That’s true, and was the sense in Galveston — we actually went looking for a very broad spectrum and the class was very diverse.

I’ll give you an example of what medical school is like. At our medical school we had something called “Black Monday.” Black Monday was a Monday, every fifth week, when there were no classes and you took an examination on each of your classes on that day. So you were carrying 7 subjects — and everyone was in this together, everyone has 7 subjects — you sit for 7 hours and take 7 examinations. So there was a full day of examination every five weeks. And it ensured that you would not get behind in any of your subjects — you couldn’t get out of sync and let something ride and make it up later.

Not all medical schools have a strategy like that. Some medical schools don’t even take exams in a traditional sense. Some are based on pass/fail and have different criteria for that. Learn these things. Look at the medical schools you are interested in applying to and learn these things ahead of time. Be very knowledgeable about what you’re up against.

Questions, Comments, Suggestions?

For more information about pre-health professions advisement at SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact

Donald Slish
Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee Chairperson
Office: Hudson Hall 325
Phone: (518) 564-5160
Email: slishdf@plattsburgh.edu