Thursday 6 September 2012

Medical training

Some of the questions I get most often via email are about medical training - not necessarily my medical training, but about medical school in general, surgical training, and what it takes to do what I do.  In the past day I've gotten email requests for blogging about both my training and medical school, so it seems like these might be some good topics to discuss.

Let me start by saying that being a doctor is pretty damned cool.  I can think of very few professions that get as big an "OOOH!" as when someone asks me what I do for a living, especially when I tell them I'm a trauma surgeon and explain what I do.  Yes, I'll admit it's glamorous as hell, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

I didn't know that when I decided to become a doctor at age 5.  I remember visiting my grandfather's office (he was a general practitioner) and playing with all his cool instruments and thinking, "I want to use these when I get older!"

Getting to medical school was difficult, as expected.  There is a lot of competition, and everyone who applies is just as good as you.  I was near the top of my class in high school, and medical schools select the cream of the crop.  Even though you may have been used to being at the top of everything, once you're there, you're just like everyone else.  EVERYONE is just as smart as you.

Medical school itself is just as difficult as you've heard.  The workload is heavier than anything you've ever experienced, and the sheer amount of material you're expected to learn seems impossible.  However, somehow you manage to learn it.  ALL of it.  A few people drop out every year, but for the most part, everyone passes despite the difficulty.  The running joke in medical school is this:

Q: Do you know what they call the person who graduates last in his class in medical school?
A: Doctor.

I entered medical school expecting to become a pediatrician or a psychiatrist.  I always loved working with kids, and the human mind has always fascinated me.  But having done my third-year clerkships in both pediatrics and psychiatry, neither of them seemed to be a good fit.  Then on my first day of my surgery clerkship, I scrubbed into my first surgery, put on my gown and gloves, and laid my hands on the anesthetised patient.  YES - THIS FEELS RIGHT!  And that was it - a feeling.  A feeling like I belonged right there and nowhere else.

I'll discuss my surgical training in my next post.  I'd hate to bore anyone by making this too long.


  1. Certainly not boring! I have a couple of friends doing medical degrees and I hardly hear anything about them - probably because they're so busy all the time. It's nice to hear a little about what they might be doing with their time. HK.

  2. Ah woww, i have no idea what i want my profession to be yet. can't wait til i have "that feeling!

  3. I had the same sort of feeling training as a vet tech. I loved being the anesthesiologist, sure, but getting to scrub in and actually assist in the surgery on an animal is all the more awesome, even on long surgeries. (The longest I was scrubbed in for was a leg amputation...I think it was around six hours we were in the OR, which I know is nothing compared to some surgeries, but it seemed longer after lunch time came and went.) As a question, by the way, does surgery ever make you hungry? I'm always starving after surgeries...

  4. Doc what were your grades in high school? I'm very interested in going to med school but I don't know if I will be able to handle it. Is it as challenging as everyone thinks? How long does it take to become a practitioner?


    1. My high school grades were near the top of the class. Yes, medical school is every bit as challenging as you think, but it's also completely manageable. Depending on where you train and what specialty you select, it takes upwards of 7 years to become a practicing physician, and it can take up to 12 years or longer.

  5. My grades are currently at the low 90's. The highest grades in class are usually no more than 95%. I really hope that's enough to attend medical school. I'm very interested in medicine but I don't think I'd like to specialize in something in particular. Thanks for your response Doc.


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