Do you have your eyes set on being a doctor but want to know the answer to “How hard is medical school?” Time to turn off Grey’s Anatomy and get real. How much more real can you get than hearing insight from a real doctor, pretty much a successful medical school student!
In this article, I interview Dr. Sanjana Vig, a physician anesthesiologist who graduated in 2011 from St. Louis University School of Medicine. When she’s not running around the hospital saving lives, she is outside killing it!
Sanjana is a CEO of a startup company and has built the successful website The Female Professional, which aims to empower women to achieve their vision and goals for themselves. Numerous publications, such as Market Watch, MSN, and Thrive Global, have featured her.
Before you order a custom stethoscope, check out what Sanjana has to say about her medical school experience. She applied to 12 different medical schools before finding the one for her. This sincere and humbling interview can help aspiring doctors prepare for the next stage in their life.
Jump ahead to
Did You Know What Field of Medicine You Wanted to Practice Before Starting Medical School?
No, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I ended up choosing anesthesiology mainly based on the fact that I didn’t like anything else. In all honesty, though, I also wanted a good lifestyle and a job that was shift work and didn’t require building a practice, like some of the primary care specialties.
I emphasized this when deciding because I wanted to move around if needed without worrying about leaving patients behind or finding new ones. Somewhere during my thought process, I also realized that I liked doing procedures. So, the combination of everything helped me to land on anesthesia.
Just keep in mind for the future and the jobs you look for that your MBA can come in handy and help you create a career path that is unique to you and your interests.
How Do You Balance “Regular Life” and Medical School?
You have to carve out moments for self-care. Focus on the things that matter the most to you, and use your free time there. During certain parts of medical school, I lost a lot of sleep, so my free time went towards relieving stress and improving sleep.
Above all, just listen to yourself and what you need. If you need a night on the couch watching TV, then go for it. If you want to spend your time reading in the quiet, do that. If you’re going to spend an entire weekend alone away from people, go for it.
Give your brain and body exactly what it asks for, and you’ll feel like you’re taking care of yourself.
What Should Medical Students Expect in Medical School?
Expect a lot of studying, a lot! Plus, without you realizing it, many students will be competing against you. Some kids are super competitive.
Expect stress, sleepless nights, bad diets, not seeing your family all the time (should you want to). Expect judgment from physicians you train with and harsh feedback.
I’d say the most challenging year of medical school is my first year. It’s a whole new environment, you’re changing up your lifestyle to accommodate all that studying, and you’re getting used to tests, teachers, and expectations.
That adjustment can be difficult. I know many people who start medical school and then drop out because they just weren’t what they expected.
However, not all of medical school is nuts. You’ll also make great friends, learn a lot about yourself, and gain a level of independence that you may not have been able to do otherwise.
Just expect that parts of it won’t be a breeze, that sometimes the struggle is real, and there will be people who don’t like you.
Is There a Difference in Study Habits Between Medical School and College?
Yes and no. Yes, in that you will be studying all the time in medical school. If you include classes, I spent 10-12 hours a day. Outside of classes, probably 6-10. There’s so much information to know. The similarity is that you just have to be consistent and do what works for you.
How Hard is it to Get Into Medical School?
Hard! When I was applying, the closer to a 4.0 you had, the better. I’m not sure what the cutoffs are now, but I’d imagine above a 3.5, you are better off.
I encourage everyone to apply everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you go. All that matters is that when you get there, you work hard and do your very best.
For instance, I didn’t attend an Ivy League school, but I got my “Number 1” residency pick, did a fellowship at Stanford, and now live and work in southern California
What Are Some Tips to Get Accepted into Medical School?
Have a Diverse School Application
You want to show that you are not only good at school with good grades, but you stay busy in your free time as well. These other activities can include research, extracurriculars, a job, volunteer work, etc. If you can tie in any of these activities into medicine, it shows you have an active interest.
Your medical school personal statement, essays, whatever they require, should reflect who you are . Don’t make things up. These admissions folks can see right through it all. The same goes for during the medical school interview process.
If you don’t get in straight from undergrad, there is the option to do a master’s. A master’s degree can help you get into medical school, but there is no guarantee that you will move to the top of their list if you do have one.
So, if you go the master’s route, be intentional about what you choose; make it relevant to what you want to do with your life.
Can Someone Be “Too Old” to Apply to Become a Doctor?
I don’t think you’re too old at any age. I just think you have to want to do it, and you should understand how long it takes to become a full-fledged doctor.
I do think some ages are too young. Some programs out there will accept you into med school and undergrad simultaneously, and you finish in 6 years, which means you enter residency at age 24.
Even though you’re an adult, I do think it’s young. Residency requires the same discipline, if not more, than medical school, and a certain level of maturity helps with empathizing with patients.
What Are Some Things You Wish You Knew Before Starting Medical School?
The Way Medicine Would Change
Of course, no one can predict the future, but as time has gone on since I finished residency, people are steadily asking us to do more work for less pay. It’s challenging to keep up sometimes.
How Unhappy Some Doctors Are
Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many dedicated people out there, but medicine is not what it used to be.
So when you speak to physicians from older generations, they had the glory days years ago where they could discuss medicine, get to know their patients, and had fewer constraints in the way they practiced. Now, it’s no longer like that.
You can still be happy as a physician. You just have to be much more intentional about finding that happiness.
How Big Imposter Syndrome Would Be
I had always assumed that I’d know it all and be acceptable by the time I graduated medical school. Not the case. I didn’t realize how big imposter syndrome would be.
You start residency and realize you are starting all over, and that feeling that you aren’t good enough, that you don’t belong there, that someone will discover you as fraud is incredibly strong. You have to work at it to get past it actively.
The Importance of Mental Health in Medicine and it Affects Doctors
Medicine is a lot of work and can be very isolating. Imagine then being tired, feeling unsure, experiencing imposter syndrome – and that’s just at work. That doesn’t take into account what’s going on in your personal life.
Looking back, I wish there had been an orientation on the struggles and maybe some guidance on what to do if you need help. I hope that I had started seeing a therapist way back then to help me cope. I see one now, and it’s a huge help just to have someone to speak with, even about the most mundane things.
The Amount of Power that Doctors Don’t Have
Medicine has become very bureaucratic and political. Again, you’ll still be able to work and make money, etc., but your day to day can be a struggle sometimes.
New policies that you don’t understand may come out, the ancillary staff you have may not be the friendliest (and you can’t do much about it), and relationships you try to forge may not materialize.
It’s hardest when you first enter the workforce; I think it gets better with time, but it was a surprise to me how much I had to work to get better.
Lastly, How Do You Cope With Stress from Medical School?
Some things for me included working out, reading for fun, and hanging out with my friends. Everyone is different, though, in what works for them. You just have to figure it out and do just that. Of course, don’t drink heavily or do drugs; that won’t end well.
The medical school interview can be intimidating, and the medical school acceptance rates can also be problematic. However, Sanjana successfully did it and started medical school like everyone else.
She makes a medical school feel more real than a TV drama. Her experiences from the first two years to the last two years help prepare future med students interested in this medical field. There are various medical school focuses, and she reveals not everyone knows what it is entering.
I want to personally thank Sanjana for taking the time to share her experience with all of us. She is a genuine professional and excellent human being. I look forward to hearing what project she has in store for all of us and have no doubt she’ll be a great success!