Category: Medical School

Relationships and Med School

Relationships and Med School

So you were accepted to med school, are you going to lose the love of your life? Probably not; relationships don’t automatically get a death sentence the minute you start medical school. The relationship will definitely be put through the wringer, however.

Getting home late from studying or coming back from the hospital too exhausted to talk are certainly things that your significant other has to become very comfortable with very soon if they are to even think about sticking around. Med school is not the time for casual dating or flings, you simply don’t have the time to devote to the “getting to know” each-other phase.


How med school hurts relationships

As stated above, the amount of time and effort that is placed into medical school means that a significant other (SO) will be, by necessity, placed on the “back-burner.” This is a position that many SOs won’t be comfortable with; it’s not fun to be ignored. A wise medical student must appropriate his/her time appropriately and it can be very difficult to neglect someone you love for something that isn’t all that fun to do (lots of studying).

Tempers become shorter as weariness sets in, and this can lead to more disagreements and can potentially lead to the implosion of the relationship. Quality time becomes less and less, straining the connection you may have built upon for years. Student loans are meant to keep you afloat, without much room for entertainment so generally money is tighter; so when you have the time to do things you might not be able to afford more than Netflix or a cheap restaurant.

Your SO may feel like you’re not as good of a catch anymore, you don’t help around the house as much, you’re never home, you are always tired; you may even be more grouchy.

How relationships can hurt med school

Excelling in medical school takes focus, dedication, and a whole lot of effort. Taking time off of studying to spend with your SO may lead to less time spent studying, or even missing assignments. The extra quality time you’re spending to keep your relationship afloat may just lead to less shadowing, volunteering, etc. Disagreements and arguments are inevitable and that could lead to less study time and not being able to focus when you do get a chance. In the end you might end up with poor scores and an overall less competitive application. The kicker here is that all that might happen and your relationship still not survive.

Sounds like doom and gloom for relationships in medical school, right?


Not so much…


How relationships can help med school

Being in a steady, healthy relationship can have the opposite effect on your academic performance. A loving and caring SO may make your day easier by packing lunch for you, tidying up the apartment, taking care of errands for you, etc. Coming home and being able to unwind and de-stress with someone that loves you is invaluable. Quality time will be different but not necessarily less; If your SO is also in an academic program you may be able to spend time together studying at a Starbucks or tea-shop. If your SO isn’t studying then maybe they watch shows while you sit with them studying, either way it’s quality time.


How med school can help a relationship

In many ways the strain that med school puts on a relationship may help you either realize that relationship wasn’t meant to last or know that this person may be right for you. We’re growing up and thinking about more adult things down the road *cough*kids*cough*marriage* and spending years on a relationship that is doomed to fail is not exactly ideal. Med school will force both of you to grow up and work together, or grow up and go separate ways. When you come home and you’re exhausted but your SO is there for you with dinner and a good conversation, it can really make the difference. Overall, it can forge a stronger bond by creating a situation where you were there for each other during tough times.



Long distance relationships

This is a very real possibility for many people out there who will be accepted to a university on the other side of the state or even the other side of the country. This can be tough, and should especially be considered before starting school. If there is any thought that either of you will be unfaithful given this situation, then just end the relationship now, because that sort of stress will not fly in this environment. Even the strongest relationship will be in jeopardy if you’re separated for 4 years with only Skype and the occasional flight to connect you two. Making it work in this situation will require a lot of trust, patience, and communication.


If your SO has a career of their own (read: not just a job) or a professional degree of their own that they are working on, then this can help tremendously. If one person has nothing but time to sit around and think about how much different the relationship is while the other is slaving away in a rigorous program, it spells trouble. Each of you having a common goal (surviving your respective program) then it fosters a camaraderie that can strengthen a relationship at a crucial time. If your SO has plenty of free time then encourage them to enjoy a hobby or something so they don’t feel so bored. Think long and hard about this one if this is your situation.



Marriage and kids in med school

Being married and starting medical school happens quite frequently, but it of course will take a strong marriage to get through it. These relationships are typically already long term and have already been through the trials and tribulations that end weaker relationships. Sometimes marriages fail in med school but it is certainly not as likely as a short relationship. Surviving here takes the same thing as any other relationship.

Kids are another story altogether. Having a child born during med school or having a very young child upon entering med school can be a nightmare. This will commonly result in academic troubles for the student and relationship troubles for the couple. Best-case scenario is that the student stays afloat and the relationship stays together. This scenario will make it very difficult for a student to achieve high scores consistently enough to be on the top of the class, because no matter how smart a person is they’re still human. Raising a child takes so much time and energy that it is almost impossible to be there 100% for the child and be there 100% for your med school studies. It can be done of course, but with great difficulty and low likelihood. If you’re in this situation think twice about committing yourself to a highly competitive residency like orthopedics or dermatology.


My experience

So why do I feel qualified to talk to you about this? I’ve seen or experienced every bit of what I’ve mentioned above.

I’ve seen relationships fail and I’ve seen friends get married. I’ve seen a new parent have to repeat a year and I’ve seen people with kids endure. I was in a medium term (2+ years) relationship when I started medical school. The relationship was strained for sure, and we came out on the other side together. My first year was very difficult for us. The adjustment was astounding. We went through rough patches where we argued a lot, and other times where we just didn’t communicate much. We worked through it and now we have a much different relationship, which is very conducive to both our long-term success and my performance in medical school. She takes care of me and I’m eternally grateful for it. My lunch is packed with coffee ready to go in the morning, clothes ironed, apartment cleaned. When I do get a break from studying or in-between classes I spend with her as much as I can, trying to repay the favor as much as possible. I’ll catch up on chores around the house and take care of things that I didn’t have the time to do. We spend quality time together in different ways now, studying while watching sports, or studying all day and rewarding ourselves with a trip to the theatre or restaurant. We argue less and my grades are high, the best of both worlds. I can safely say my relationship is stronger and more mature than when I entered med school, and she has kept me going when med school was overwhelming.

How to handle the situation

So what do you do with all of this information? That will vary from person to person, but make sure that choice is yours. Don’t break up just because you heard that’s what you have to do, and don’t stay together just because you guys kind of like each other right now. Now is the time to start thinking long-term. What are your goals in medicine? What are your goals with this relationship? Have an open dialogue with your SO now, and you’ll thank me later.


Feel free to ask any questions, either here or via email

GPA vs MCAT vs Extracurriculars. Which is the most important?

The age old question.

Which should a premed student focus on to be as competitive as possible? Is it better to have a stellar GPA, a killer MCAT, or extracurriculars so strong they make Mother Teresa look lazy?

Arguments for GPA

GPA isn’t a great indicator of aptitude. Everyone knows that some classes are easier than others, even the same course at the same institution but taught by different professors. We all know somebody (and it may even be you) who religiously searched for the guaranteed easy A each semester. That being said, college is a lot of work, and maintaining a high GPA is no easy task. Individual classes may be easy but overall, maintaining a 4.0 requires that you work very hard  and at least be pretty smart. This is why schools want to see a high GPA, it says that overall this person either 1) works hard 2) is responsible or 3) is intelligent. But if GPA was enough, we wouldn’t have to take the MCAT.

Arguments for MCAT

In the 1920s Medical Education attrition was climbing to nearly 50% and thus a entrance exam for medical school was created, the original was called the Moss Test. In the late 1940s the test was changed significantly and renamed the Medical College Admission Test. The test has then evolved several times but the purpose of the test has remained the same: to test a student’s ability to succeed in med school by probing their background pre-medical knowledge and critical thinking skills. This test is highly touted as a tough test to do well in, and most premeds would agree. A high MCAT will open doors and a low MCAT will just as easily close them. Contrary to what many Premeds think, even with a high GPA and solid MCAT, some students will still fail to get into medical school. The missing piece of this puzzle is in the so-called “extra-curricular activities”

Arguments for ECs

The vague bucket of “extracurricular activities” is something that ecompasses everything from shadowing to volunteering and from research to leadership. These can effectively show a student’s diligence and aptitude with advanced research, or their compassion and altruism with volunteering. A great shadowing experience can set a student apart, and an extensive work history can show responsibility and integrity. That organization founded by a premed can really speak to that student’s leadership skills, and even things like the student’s interest in ballet or sports can show how well-rounded they are. With all these exemplary qualities being demonstrated, surely they mean more than numbers on a paper? They’re certainly a big factor that goes into an admission committee’s decision on a borderline applicant, they might just be that deciding factor in whether they feel this student has what it takes. These activities might put into context how much this student can accomplish and still maintain competitive scores, but they’re unlikely to make much of an impact on a lackluster application.

These activities are often either completely ignored by the less informed premed with good scores, or heavily relied upon by his numerically challenged counterpart. Either student may find him/herself in quite the bind when applying to medical school. It is typically these students who are asking me the question, which is more important?

The answer is highly debated among internet forums but the real answer is clearly all three.

The key to a med school application is balance. Having high scores or amazing ECs is helpful but individually they won’t make your application. Med schools do look at numbers, but they do a far more thorough assessment of a student’s potential than just looking at one variable.

An ideal student is one that gets high scores in classes and on the MCAT, while maintaining fantastic extracurriculars. A deficiency of any of the three raises questions a premed student doesn’t want raised: Can he/she really handle this?

When it comes to applying to medical school, a good balance should be sought of all three in order to best demonstrate your ability to handle the rigorous program ahead of you.


When I advise my students, I take into account everything and make an assessment on each student’s package as a whole based on experience and published records of statistical data like Table 25. If you find yourself asking which one of these three you should focus on to best improve your chances, you probably would best be served by working on your weakest, and then talking to an advisor for a definitive answer.


MCAT Study Tips & Tricks

Let me start by saying that if you are about to start studying or have started studying for the MCAT, you are facing one of the most challenging times in all of undergrad. However, it is a rite of passage for all premeds, and everyone in medical school has done this successfully before you. So you can and will get through it!

To help you get through this, I have complied a brief list of MCAT Study Tips & Tricks that I picked up along the way and learned from others. This list is not exhaustive, though. If you have any tips or tricks of your own that I did not address, please leave them in the comment section below.


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Med School: Frequently Asked Questions

In the course of advising students I’ve noticed many similar questions that are shared among pre-meds. I will continue to update this list so send any questions you may have.

Should I apply late or apply next year?

The most accurate answer for this question is, it depends. There are many factors that would guide me toward advising students to do one or the other but generally the safer route is to apply early next year. There are reasons for this.

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Life after death?  Classes after pre-reqs?


So you climbed the mountain of prerequisites that serves as the first major weed-out system for pre-meds? If you did so with success, give yourself some credit. If you are the typical pre-med, you likely took Physics and Organic Chemistry in the same semester, with labs, with other classes to fill credit requirements, while working and/or shadowing and doing research and volunteering and making A’s. Phew! *shudders from traumatic flashbacks*

Now that that’s over with, what classes should you take? What should you be doing?

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What’s Medical School REALLY like?

So a lot of my students want to know what its like to be in Medical School, and I’ll admit I was curious when I was a pre-med too.

Overall, what’s med school like?

It’s intense. It is a LOT of work. My school has tests nearly every other week for the first two years so you’re constantly in study mode. You adjust though; you learn how to scrape together time here and there for personal relaxation, to run errands, or to get other stuff done. Time management really is key, along with staying motivated.

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The Personal Statement

Every pre-med is aware of the requirement of writing a personal statement before applying to medical school.  Every pre-med also knows how dreaded this essay is.  The personal statement can be one of the toughest parts of your application because it will likely amount to one of the most challenging essays you’ve ever written.  In 5300 characters or less (strictly), you are required to show medical school Admissions Committees (adcoms) why you are worthy of an interview and acceptance without sounding like a pretentious a-hole.  This is no easy feat.

Even though it may be tough, it is very important to submit your application with an excellent personal statement.  The PS is the first introduction that adcoms get to you as a person.  In this essay, you typically answer the question, “Why medicine?”  The way in which you choose to answer this question, while displaying your admirable personal qualities and accomplishments, is what can get tough.  The process of writing the statement usually involves several drafts with significant amounts of editing.  The time and effort are worth it, though, because a marginal personal statement is likely to cost you an interview.

So where do you begin?

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Applying to Medical School

This entry is based on students who have already completed their MCAT and leaves out any information regarding Pre-health committee specifics. For information on those topics (MCAT and/or Pre-health Committee), see our other entries.

So, you want to be a doctor? As a pre-med, envisioning that letter of acceptance to medical school is the stuff of daily fantasy. Some pre-meds are neurotic enough to know every single requirement for applying to medical school by the first week of their undergrad career (yes, I was this neurotic pre-med). You may know what med schools require of their applicants but are you aware of the entire application process? Applying to medical school is long and arduous, with seemingly endless deadlines and requirements. In order for you to be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible, I have prepared an outline of the entire process of applications. This outline should not be your only resource when you are going through your applications. It is, however, a great introduction into what you should be expecting in your near future.

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