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What Is The Daily Routine Of A Medical Student?

Published on
May 13, 2024

Whether you are interested in the medical student routine because you are considering an application to medicine, or you are preparing to impress your admissions interviewer, it is important to understand the medical student experience. This article will briefly describe the features of the daily routine for a medical student, as well as the various stages of medical school

The typical day of a med school student varies greatly depending on stages of your training, and the type of rotation that you are undertaking. From the perspective of your interviewer, they are most interested in your awareness of the core skills that you will require to thrive in the medical school environment. They would also view your diligence in researching and understanding the broad strokes of a medical school degree as professionalism. The latter is a critical skill to be integrated into the study schedule for a medical student.

Clinical vs. Pre-Clinical Medical Student Life

To answer the question of what is a typical day of a medical student, we must first clarify whether the student is clinical or preclinical. This separation of medical school training into parts is arguably the most important to understand when it comes to learning about the structure of the medical school curriculum. 

Preclinical Medical Student

Pre-clinical students are those that have not yet begun training in the clinical setting. The clinical setting is essentially jargon for the hospital - more specifically, everything that occurs in the hospital that is directly related to patient care. For example, a morning ward round where the team reviews all the patients allocated to a particular speciality is an example of a clinical activity. A research meeting later in the day where interesting cases are discussed is an example of a non-clinical activity.

Returning to the concept of a pre-clinical medical student - this is a student that is still focused on working from medical school study books, and attending lectures and practical tutorials. These students spend very little, if any time, in the hospital, and are still learning the basic biomedical concepts underpinning their future hospital training. The preclinical education is usually divided into ‘blocks’ - units which focus on a particular medical specialty. We’ll leave it up to you to decide which is the hardest block in medical school - but neuroscience is certainly a challenge!

Clinical Medical Student Life

Clinical students, on the other hand, are rarely (if every) found on a university campus. They spend their time attached to a medical or surgical team in a hospital (or community clinic). Putting aside their medical school study books, these students are focused on practical skills, such as reviewing patients, helping senior staff with documentation, and shadowing senior clinicians. While there are occasionally tutorials and lectures integrated into the study schedule for a medical student in their clinical years, there are significantly less of these types of contact hours. 

Rural Vs. Metropolitan Medical Student Life

Once a medical student completes the preclinical university training, they are placed in a ‘clinical school’. A clinical school is a hospital, or a group of healthcare providers (i.e. hospital + surrounding clinics) where the student will undergo their clinical training. The specifics of a medical student’s timetable greatly depends on which hospital becomes their clinical school. This is the case because different healthcare services have different departments and distinct patient demographics. 

For example, the Royal Melbourne Hospital is far more likely to have a neurosurgery department than Mildura Rural Hospital - this is because patients requiring this type of intervention are found in greater numbers in the area surrounding Melbourne, rather than in a rural region. 

Each university has multiple clinical schools. When applying for any given medical school, you should consider which clinical sites are available to students of this university, as you will be spending a great deal of time at the site assigned to you in your clinical years. The greatest differences between the daily schedules of a clinical medical student will result from whether they are placed at a rural, or metropolitan medical school. 

Did you know that clinical placements also largely depend on the types of medical school places you opted for at the time of admission? Here’s a detailed piece on what a CSP, BMP and full-fee paying places account for in a medical school. 

Metro Clinical School Students

Most medical school students are placed at metropolitan schools. These are located within the boundaries of the home city of the university. Some students however, will be allocated to (or opt into) a rural clinical site. These vary between universities, and can be located up to a few hours drive away from the main university campus. The main difference between metropolitan and rural clinical training is that the latter will give a student greater exposure to general medicine. Rural students may also find their hospital schedule to be more flexible, and the smaller medical community more personable than that of a major hospital. This, of course, comes at the cost of less exposure to the niches of medical training. 

Medical Student Life on Medical and Surgical Rotations

Beyond the specific culture of the clinical school, the typical day of a medical student also depends on the rotation to which they are currently attached. Once you become a clinical student, you will be placed within a team to observe, and involve yourself in their work. The duration of a rotation depends on the university curriculum, however they are generally approximately a month in duration. 

Rotations can be grossly divided into two different categories - medical and surgical. The type of rotation you are allocated to, will determine the most effective medical school study strategy. 

Medical units are, in simple terms, teams that attempt to remedy illness without invasive surgical intervention. The focus of these types of doctors is lifestyle changes, medications, and minor procedures. Examples of medical doctors include cardiologists, general practitioners, and aged care physicians (just to name a few!). 

A characteristic day in the life of a medical rotation student involves a morning ward round, where the team reviews every patient under their care, followed by the administration of various treatments throughout the remainder of the day. Medical rotations are often closely linked with allied health staff (such as physiotherapists) and require medical students to be actively involved in inter-team communication. 

Do medical rotations sound similar to the MMI station circuits? It is believed that the MMI stations replicate the functionalities of a clinical ward. So let us take a walk down memory lane to see how the MMI interview format has close resemblance to medical rotations.

Surgical units are starkly different from medical units. The work of a surgeon is almost entirely procedural. The day of a surgical student also begins with a morning ward round, however it is generally much shorter, and begins much earlier than that of their medical counterparts. The medical student study routine on a surgical rotation unfortunately does not allow for much sleep - with hospital placement starting as early as 6-7am being routine! 

The good news however is that after a brief morning patient round, you will find yourself observing, or even assisting in the operating theatre. If the medical unit study schedule involves books and theory, then the surgical schedule is much more focused on practical, ‘live’ learning. 

Beyond The Hospital: Medical Student Life in Conferences and Research

Beyond the core medical school curriculum, there are also other elements interspersed throughout your training. You will find that your medical student annual study time-table will often include conference attendance and research.  

Research is a critical component of medical work that is inseparable from clinical practice. Because the biomedical science world is changing so rapidly, university lectures and textbooks are often out of date by the time they are published. This is why all doctors need to be extremely proficient at assessing scientific literature.

One of the best assessments of a doctor’s ability to understand research is their publishing record. This is why almost all medical school programs have a component of research work integrated into the study schedule for medical students. You will often be paired with an experienced researcher, and meet on a regular basis to review your work. 

Medical School Conferences

Conferences are also an integral part of medical school. In fact, many conferences are the best free medical school study resources in your later years of clinical training. Conferences are usually focused around a medical or surgical theme, and take place over a few days. It is always a good idea to be on the lookout for conferences that revolve around topics of interest, and make time in your schedule to attend these events. Conference attendance is not only a method of studying effectively for medical work, but also demonstrates a commitment to education and professionalism. 

Where To From Here?

We hope that this article rightly traced a medical student’s routine and the transformation they undergo. Moreover, our articles are written by medical students who have hands-on experience working on research projects and clinical internships. So the information provided is highly accurate to help plan your routine based on the training you undertake.

Alternatively, check out our Free Resources that are specially designed to address typical scenarios that you may encounter during medical shcool.

We at Fraser’s also create FREE tools for you to experiment and predict which medical school suits your interests, your odds of receiving a medical interview offer and much more!