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A Day In The Life

Of A Medical Student

I’ve just completed my pre-clerkship at U of T (years 1 and 2), so a day in my life may look different than one at a different school and it’ll certainly be very different as a clerk (years 3 and 4). Furthermore, the program structure at U of T is changing, so a day for me this year will likely be different from medical students in my program in coming years. Having said that, I still think it’s useful to know in general what a day or week could look like for you as a pre-clerk. You should know what you’re signing up for!

First, it’s important to understand that you’ll be pretty busy from 9am to 5pm and likely later. As a first or second year medical student your week will probably include some combination of traditional lectures, seminars/workshops, PBL, anatomy labs, a clinical skills course, and possibly something in your curriculum devoted to public health and health science research. If you’re lucky you may have some self-study time or free time to explore a particular aspect of medicine. Add in evenings and weekends for extracurricular and volunteer activities, some research, catching up on studying and maybe even some sleep. You’re also going to want to do some self-care to avoid burning out.

Traditional Lectures

Medical School

Traditional lectures are easy enough to understand. They’re what you’ve been doing throughout undergrad and you’re probably a pro at it by now. Some schools rely more heavily on them than others; some may not have them at all. For instance, in my first two years I’d spend plenty of days in lectures for 6 or 7 hours. In my experience though you’re probably in luck if you don’t like sitting through lectures, as there seems to be a general trend to de-emphasize them as the primary teaching modality (even at U of T). You can probably expect less live lectures and more online content in the form of recorded lectures and modules. More content will also probably be delivered in smaller group sessions, like seminars/workshops and in the form of problem-based learning (PBL).

Other Components

Clinical Skills Learning

PBL sessions are opportunities to discuss patient cases and learn how to think like a physician. You and a small group of other students will navigate through cases, set your own objectives and teach yourselves. At U of T, we also have physician tutors in the sessions to guide us if we’re getting off track. It takes getting used to, but it can be very effective and fun!

A few more words on the other components mentioned.

Time in the anatomy lab varies, as well as what you’re doing there. Some schools have you dissect and at times you’ll spend hours a week in the lab, while others rely on prosections and less time is needed.

Clinical skills learning will likely be featured more prominently in your curriculum than labs. At U of T, you’re put in small groups and one half day each week is devoted to learning clinical skills from a physician tutor. At this point you’ll get to meet real (and standardized) patients, take histories and perform some physical exams! You’re also highly encouraged to find time to practice with your group. Other schools have similar clinical skills teaching in pre-clerkship.

U of T

Public Health Course

Finally, you may, like at U of T, have a course devoted to public health and the determinants of health, as well as one on health science research. These courses may include projects that allow you to engage with a community organization or create your own research proposal, both of which can be valuable experiences even if that’s not your main area of interest. So, you’re going to be busy with some combination of the above. The specifics are different from school to school and changing with time. Talk to someone from your school of interest or read about the school’s curriculum structure online.

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