med school students

A Day in the Life of a Medical Student: What to Expect

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke

A day in the life of a med student? What can I say?

Study, go to class, eat, sleep, socialize a bit, take care of yourself, and study some more!

Believe it or not, it’s actually much more fun than it sounds! Here’s a break-down of a basic day in the life of a first year medical student:

Still need to take the MCAT? Start here.

A Day in the Life of a 1st Year Medical Student

7:00 am Time to wake up! I make myself a protein-power smoothie for breakfast, a cup of coffee and pack myself some high-protein snacks for the day. I also squeeze in a good 15-20-minute study session of my notes from the day before. I like to distill my notes onto digital flashcards and then brush up throughout the day.

7:45 am Off to school! Yippee! I sling my backpack over both shoulders and grab the bus. You can find similar backpacks in this list of best med school backpacks.

8:30 am First lecture. Biochemistry. This is tough stuff. I recommend making sure you have a strong bio and chem background before starting med school to succeed in this class.

9:30 am Break. Fill up on some high protein snacks, chat with fellow students, relax. Take a quick glance at digital flashcards.

9:45 am Second lecture. Anatomy.

10:45am Break. Grab a cup of coffee and some “brain food”—nuts and berries.

11:00 am-12:00 pm Problem-Based Learning (PBL) case. This is quite possibly my favorite part of the day. In this session, our facilitator presents a medical problem and we get to use our knowledge to try to diagnose and treat it.

12:00-1:00 pm Lunchtime! During this time, I recharge my brain and take a break from studies. I head on down to one of the campus eateries with a friend. Sometimes we get a free lunch as when different extracurriculars meet or when various organizations—like Doctors without Borders—makes a presentation.Today there was no presentation, so I just bought a chicken wrap and a muffin.

1:00-2:00 pm Last lecture of the day: Biostatistics.

2:00-3:00 pm Lab. This is a hands-on part of the day I really enjoy. Once we got to work with chicken embryos!

3:15-5:15 pm Study time! I go to the library, pour over my notes, read and take more notes, and begin making digital flashcards from the information I picked up from the day.

5:30-6:30 pm Hit the gym!  Despite how busy I am, it’s a good investment. Studies show exercise boosts memory. I need as much help as I can get.

7:00 pm Dinner back home at my apartment. I try to keep it healthy (and cheap). I pan fry a chicken breast, steam a bag of broccoli, and drink water.

8:00-11:00 pm Nightly three-hour study session with MCAT study books and resources in hand. I end the evening with finishing up any new digital flashcards and running through my entire digital deck. Before going to bed, I pull out my anatomy coloring book and just relax while hoping some of the anterior and lateral neck muscles we’re studying in anatomy sink in before heading to bed.

11:30 pm Lights out! Zzzzzzzz …

After two years of this (that wasn’t so bad, was it?), it’s time for clinicals. This is where you get to practice being a doctor. Clinical rotations give medical students the opportunity to apply their classroom-gained knowledge to the real world of medicine. This is finally when the day of the life of a medical student starts feeling like the real thing. 

I make a point of taking notes during the morning rounds and then reading up in the evening about the patients’ diagnoses.

During these next two years, medical students accompany residents and physicians as they go about their work in teaching hospitals. Some medical schools have a simulation lab where they can practice medical techniques before trying them out on an actual patient.

Related: 7 MDs Recount their Reasons to Become a Doctor 

During these two years of rotations, medical students rotate through different medical specialties, giving the students an opportunity to experience different disciplines before choosing the right one for them. And guess what—you finally get to wear a white coat!

The clinical rounds experience can vary greatly depending on the medical specialty, which spans family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatric, internal medicine (adults), psychiatry, emergency medicine, and surgery. See our full guide of 30 doctor salaries by specialty. 

That said, here’s a basic overview of a day in the life of a medical student during clinical rotation, or “clinicals” as they are known:

Related: Follow These Steps in Writing Your Personal Statement

A Day in the Life of a 3rd Year Medical Student

6:00 am Time to wake up! Breakfast, shower, etc …

7:00 am Leave for hospital

7:30 am The day begins with pre-rounds. During this time, you see patients (typically 1-4, depending on the complexity of the medical discipline), gather information on what may have happened medically during the previous night, and begin the treatment plan.

8:00 am Then comes the famous rounds! You attend these with other medical students (3rd and 4th year), residents, and an attending physician. At rounds you discuss each patient and their treatment plan for the day. The discussions follow what we like to call the SOAP format:

  •        Subjective information: What the patient tells you
  •        Objective information: Information gleaned from physical exam and diagnostic tests
  •        Assessment: summary and possible diagnosis
  •       lan: treatment plan

Read here for more on subjective vs objective data

9:45 am “Running the lists.” This is when you perform low-level tasks for the residents and attending physician. These can range from gathering medical supplies, following up on test results, or ordering medical records.

10:00 am Morning lectures. These lectures vary from practical aspects of medicine to basic science medicine. For example, we may be presented with symptoms and have the opportunity to practice our diagnostic skills. Or, we may discuss medical ethics or bedside manner. Other more science-based topics could include pharmacology or diabetes management.

12:00 pm Lunch. I eat lunch at the hospital cafeteria. A bit of a splurge, but less expensive than a typical fast-casual place like Chipotle or Panera.  And since the menu is overseen by dieticians, I know I’m eating somewhat healthy.

1:00-3:00 pm Read patients’ charts, visit patients, follow up on their care.  

3:00-5:00 pm Afternoon rounds with attending physician, residents, and medical students. This is generally followed by a “hand-off” to the night team. Every four days I am “on call”, and required to be at the hospital until 10pm. On those days I hit the hospital gym, have a bite to eat in the hospital cafeteria, and then study in the break room. But on non-call days, I am free to go and the day proceeds as described below:

5:30-6:30 pm Exercise. Despite my crammed schedule and how exhausted I am, I will not give this up. Not only does exercise make me feel good, but it maintains my physical strength for the clinicals and for an even more grueling chapter to come—medical residency!

7:00 pm Dinner at home. I keep it healthy: lean protein, rice, and veggies. And water of course.

8:00 pm Review notes from rounds, read up on the medical conditions and procedures I encountered during the day. Write notes for patients to be seen the next day.

10:00 pm Lights out.

Medical school is an exciting and grueling experience, but seeing the day in the life of a medical student broken down, suddenly it seems much more manageable. As you take this training and preparation day-by-day, you are laying the foundations of your professional life. So, work hard, study hard, and take good care of yourself! And hey, remember to enjoy the ride.

What’s Next?

Are you still working on applying to med school? Check out our medical school application timeline or read some of our favorite med school blogs for more on what to expect.