The Hardest Parts of Medical School (According to Students)

Modified on by Max Wilbert

The Hardest Parts of Medical School (According to Students)

There is no way around it: medical school is a challenge. It’s a very difficult experience that’s meant to weed out those who can’t handle the pressure and responsibility that it takes to have people’s lives in your hands.

But with hard work and the right preparation (including using Brainscape flashcards), you can get through it. In the spirit of preparation, we reached out to some current medical school students, doctors, and educational forums to bring together a list of the hardest parts of medical school.

Hopefully, this list can help you see what’s coming, and be ready for it.

The Hardest Parts of Medical School

Achieving Balance

One theme that comes up, again and again, is that balance is exceptionally difficult to achieve as a med school student. Med school is something you could compare with a marathon that keeps going and going. Every hour that you don’t spend studying could be a big hit to your ability to keep up with the material. Saying goodbye to unstructured free time is a big issue, and even maintaining simple good habits like exercise and proper diet can be tough.

Time Management

A similar issue that many med school students and doctors speak out about is time management. Many med school students have a great deal of work to do just to stay on top of things. One poster on wrote that the hardest thing about med school is “accepting the fact that you can do you’re absolute very best and study your tail off only to barely break the class average on exams.” Another wrote that one of the challenges is accepting the fact that you’ll never cross everything off your to-do list.

medical-school-booksLife Outside Med School

Another common issue that students bring up as a difficulty is social isolation. Free time often becomes a thing of the past when you start med school, so relationships can suffer. If you’re used to getting a lot of social support, having plenty of time to hang out with friends and family, and attending lots of parties and functions, you’ll probably miss that after starting school. Medical students also have to deal with a lot of change and uncertainty. Often, going to med school involves moving to a new city. Then, just a few years later, residencies mean moving again (and again, and again). It’s not a good formula for a life of uninterrupted stability.

The Boards

The board exams to become a certified medical doctor are universally regarded as one of the most difficult parts of medical school. The first exam, the USMLE Step 1, is one of the hardest. Luckily, your knowledge of basic medical science will be about as good as it’s ever going to be at this point. You’ll have the ability to pass the test if you’ve studied hard, and be able to move on. The Step 2 exam (usually taken during the 3rd or 4th year) and the Step 3 final exam (usually taken during the 4th year or after graduation) will provide serious challenges as well.

Starting Clinical

The third year is a big transition for most medical school students, since you’ll likely be transitioning to being a working student, and you’ll be interacting with patients extensively for the first time. This brings a whole new set of challenges around communication, professionalism, and workplace relationships. It’s almost certain that 3rd year will be a humbling experience in which you spend a lot of time listening to and learning from those who are older and more experienced than you are. This video from students at Albert Einstein College of Medicine is a good introduction to this subject:



The amount of knowledge that one is supposed to learn in medical school is huge. Many classes will come with 1000 pages (or more) of material that you’re supposed to memorize. Taking in that amount of information has been described as trying to drink out of a fire hose. If you’re not careful, it will blow you away. To many students, the simple problem of memorizing and retaining information is among the most difficult parts of medical school.

This is one reason why Brainscape is a great companion for med school students; you can design and share your own adaptive flashcard sets to help you memorize and master material faster. If you’re getting ready to take the MCAT to apply to medical schools, Brainscape offers a MCAT study tool that will help you prepare for the test. Already have some useful Brainscape decks that may help other med students? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Brainscape is a web & mobile education platform that helps you learn anything faster, using cognitive science. Join the millions of students, teachers, language learners, test-takers, and corporate trainees who are doubling their learning results. Visit or find us on the App Store .


my assignment help 3 years ago

Medical school in fact has more hard school for gain to proper education where has provided to the goal students. Otherwise, it is an important and useful education process for sufficient learners. Thanks for giving great articles.

Alexandros mulugeta 3 years ago

actually am not med school student. i want to be a successful doctor, if God help me i will join medical school by next year. now am reading this great post to be prepared and ready to hit my target and i think it's an interesting and great post. am Ethiopian am 18 i need scholarship badly. could you please help me to get scholarship !!!???? anybody !

Kat 3 years ago

Public schools here in southamerica are often nearly free (300 usd per year or less if you demonstrate that you can't pay that much), and they're as good as us schools, the only problem is the language...

puja 3 years ago

This is very nice blog, I like it very much. iTutor is a leading platform for online tutoring, AP exams and Test Preparation. AP Test Preparation Join our online Tutoring jobs and help students online with homework and teaching.

Alpha Omega 2 years ago

This article is very interesting and it corroborates a discussion I was having with my high school alumni about a month ago. I had pointed out that you would find the people who had excellent grades 100% of the time in subjects that demanded very significant memorization, and I likened it to the eidetic memory typec(though a disputed notion, but really I'm referencing people with brute memorization brainpower through whichever mechanisms) opposed to the people with the "crunching brain power" to correlate complex constructs and much less emphasis on memorization. My proposition was that some invisible forces tend to drag the former into fields like medicine and the latter towards Engineering type specialties, not as a sweeping generalization but as a tendency. People not privy to the distinction always come out with guns blazing after missing the point entirely.

Keyur 2 years ago

I've found I'm the opposite haha, I'm the "crunching brain power" going to med school; all my friends and family were under the impression I would go into engineering some day because I did terrible in biology, but fantastic in chemistry, physics and mathematics. Perhaps it was my idealization of the human body that's taking me down this road. To me the human body seems like the perfect machine, and the job of doctors is to figure out how that machine works and fix it where we can.

Lisa Mafia 2 years ago

I completely agree with you. I'm a final year medical student who's strongest subject was math in highschool and I tolerated biology but thought it was ok because I had a fun class. I opted for medicine as I thought it would be intellectually stimulating, meaningful and rewarding. BIG MISTAKE. I had no idea it would pretty much be all memorization, completely different to the applied problem solving in math and engineering. The worst thing is it wasn't intellectually difficult but I just found it so difficult to get the motivation to just sit, read and memorize, something my classmates seemed to have no problem with. Another thing that threw me off was that while I found it easy to get good grades in highschool due to naturally understanding information quickly, despite not working hard, medicine doesn't really reward natural talent, but consistent hard work. If you don't read the all the boring minutiae you won't know the answers on the test. This again is different to math and engineering where a lazier work ethic can be forgiven if you have a natural talent for problem solving. It's been a real uphill struggle but I hope to graduate and move into a field that combines medicine and engineering/computer science in order to fulfil my enjoyment of technical subjects and not completey waste my medical degree.

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