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A Medical Student Is...

JeffglassesJeff Wonoprabowo -- There seems to be a public perception that medical students are all brilliant, Type-A, assertive individuals. If that were true, wouldn't one expect a physician population with those same three characteristics? Pretty much any nurse will be more than happy to talk about working with some -- to put it nicely -- not-so-brilliant doctor. So I must either conclude that not all medical students are brilliant, or that a number of students enter medical school smarter than when they leave. I prefer to accept the former. Besides, if I am a little like other medical students, then the former would have to be true. Because while I may occasionally have flashes of those traits, sometimes lasting only seconds at a time, I would not consider myself a brilliant, assertive, or Type A person.

But there are two things I have noticed about medical students. I'm sure, like all generalizations, there are exceptions (and I do acknowledge the possibility that I am the exception and I'm just describing myself). But again, from what I've noticed and observed, most of us share these two traits: 1) We're cheap, and 2) we're lazy. Here's a few of the instances that have confirmed these observations:

Most of us are cheap -- but only because we have to be. We're diving deeper into debt each year ($40,000 - $50,000 for those relying solely on loans at private schools), and we don't really have time to take on a side job. Living with less-than-desirable funds is a huge influence on our lives.

So how do you get a large group of medical students to an event? That's easy: free food. Just set the food out and the swarming begins. One of our professors loves bringing in snacks when he lectures. He's one of the class favorites. His lectures are pretty good, too. I often don't rush up to grab a handful of crackers, licorice, or cookies because, well, I'm lazy.

Most interest group meetings always include free meals. If I remember correctly, I've heard of three events in the past two days that will be offering free meals.

And one professor (neurologist) holds Bible studies once a week during lunch (yes, I do go to a Christian medical school). Lunch provided. The lecture hall is usually pretty full. Tomorrow is Indian food. I think I'll make my way over there for some food -- physical and spiritual.

A classmate told me that he buys Stater Brothers (a grocery store) gift certificates at the Student Services Center. They charge $92 for a $100 gift certificate. I don't know why I haven't heard about this before, but I think I'm going to be generous and buy myself a gift certificate.

Our Microbiology course director has decided that he wants to make classes more interactive. He ordered personal response devices, similar to these. The system records our responses and displays a graph showing how many students selected each answer. He wanted all the second years to go to the Dean's office and sign one out, but because of a mix up, we didn't get the email telling us to do so. So he brought them to class and told us to go sign them out at the office. A couple classmates strongly suggested we just pass around a paper on which we could all sign our names and write down the ID number of our device. It almost seemed like we collectively refused to walk to the dean's office.

Well, after thinking about it while writing this piece, maybe I shouldn't call myself and other students cheap. Financially responsible might be the more appropriate term. And we're probably not all that lazy. The last example is just medical students thinking efficiently. We conserve energy when we can.

By the way, has anyone else seen these traits in medical students? Or am I just transferring what I see in myself onto those around me? What words would you use to describe medical students? (Notice my attempt at audience interaction? See, I learned something from class.)

September 18, 2008 in Jeff Wonoprabowo | Permalink


here in my country...Philippines... it's so sad but a lot of those who can afford to take up medicine ( esp at private med schools) are those who are well-off... so a lot of physicians u see are rich, and yeah, sometimes full of themselves... but some, like me.... who came from a poor public med school do live cheap... :-)

Posted by: ninette_umpa | Sep 18, 2008 9:22:36 PM

Ithink we share propotionally the same descreption of being cheap but the laziness is physical ratker than mental one as the majority of us have no time for beside activity (sport,co-operative work etc...)but we all mentally so active.

Posted by: MOATAZ OSMAN | Sep 23, 2008 12:59:55 AM

I would say med students are bit of all of that, brillant, type A, assertive, lazy, cheap, efficient, resourceful, responsible.... with some being more of one thing then another.

Posted by: | Sep 23, 2008 6:11:30 PM

well..i think not all medical students are brilliant, type A either...some are (but this is probably true with all areas of study)

however....you got the "cheap" and "lazy" part right..just today, my university hosted a "fair"...it was quite a distance from my dorm and would be a hassle to get there (had to take a bus and walk a bit....i try to conserve as much energy as i can)...but then...someone said there is free stuff being given out there...i got out of bed and took the next bus (LOL)

the lazy part is right too, i try not to walk to the university hospital ever...i just simply take the bus wherever i need to go...even if it's much faster to walk...

but then again..maybe we're just efficient planners..hahaha

Posted by: workaholic888 | Sep 24, 2008 11:27:02 AM

Here in Brazil most medstudents aren't cheap. Well that's because the best high school students usually end up studying in one of the many public universities which are totally financed by states or country government. Those universities are probably brazil's most heard-of unis. But basic initial education is not equal for all, usually the ones who can pay for private schools during their early education years are the ones grabbing places at public universities. Public basic education provides rare medicine students.

Still, not-so-good students who are rich but can't seem to be aproved at university admition exams, are commonly accepted in private colleges. So either way medicine students are usually mid or upper class students. And only rich people can pay private medschools. Just to rule out: minimum wage in Brazil is R$415/mo, private medschools cost from R$1,700 to 4,000/mo. Obviously there are loans but some few take the risk of having to work after graduation for a couple of years to pay the debt.

The midclass students are aleviated from not paying for their education, the upper class ones pay for private medschools but it isn't that bad afterall cause they still have got money left, and finally the upperclass students in universities - oh they're just too lucky to be rich AND good students at the same time. So we can't really be called cheap.

Laziness on the other hand is a fact amongst all of them, it appears to me.

Posted by: bandaid | Sep 24, 2008 3:25:15 PM

You're describing final year Australian med students pretty well. I'm ashamed to admit how often I'll structure my day around what rounds are offering free food!?

Posted by: Nick | Sep 24, 2008 3:45:16 PM

I think the thing is - what you said about cheapness actually applies to mostly all college students, and not just med students (though no other faculty seems to be as lucky with the free food!). I have friends doing a million different courses (not literally.....) and they all say the same.

Unless students are from wealthy families and get nice pocket money, they are going to be slightly stingy, drink the cheap beer, eat gross food that has been handed out for free, and get more discounts that they are even allowed by whipping out the magical student card (what will we do when its no longer valid...i dread the thought!)

nice work ;)

Posted by: Lola | Sep 25, 2008 2:15:43 AM

Owh come on, in ukraine our student cards dont even work anywhere. prices are discriminated between locals and foreigners. and average apartment rental is usd300 per room for a very old apartment! it's not even renovated!

Posted by: lifeinside | Sep 25, 2008 6:23:01 AM

hmm...well in Malaysia, brilliant students who scored well in public exams are given medic seats in public.And other aspiring docs opt to pvt Uni both in malaysia and abroad with the help of loan from government mainly. i'm studying in a pvt uni in malaysia. And one thing to add, most of this aspiring docs who study in pvt uni are from middle class families.
i do agree that most but not all medical students are lazy. they dont participate in any extra curricular or even curricular activities. some will but after much persuasion frm frens and lecturers.
the cheap part i dont quite get it. i think almost everyone does it right regardless of wht course he/she doing?as long as i've seen in my uni, all are just the same.
but one thing which is almost exclusive to medic students: "ego".. dont agree with me?? well i've asked so many medic students and non-medic frens and they do agree with me.Even me too! (personal experience)

Posted by: venki | Sep 25, 2008 12:04:48 PM

I agree with Lola. The bottom line is that frequently med students aren't at all that different from students from other faculties. Frequently the stereotypes aren't true. We're not all egg heads, we do hang out, we party hard, we can dance (some of us at least lol) and we study hard too.

Posted by: | Sep 25, 2008 2:06:50 PM

i go to a private med school in Peru and its the most expensive university in Peru... and we continue going to congress or meeting where are free good.. the cheaper the best, because i in my opinion med students use money and time in a special way... i love to do other no medical things.. sports, go out, claun, painting ... and also study and go to all classes because i pay a lot for them...so we aren't lazy .. we are organize in our way!! who didn't go out dance, drink and return to continue studying? o get up extremly early for the same reason.. the thing is that we choose that .. and actually is kind of fun and very interesting way of live

Posted by: | Sep 25, 2008 7:49:30 PM

well...here in india,a junior doctor earns 'peanuts' after 6 years of toil,and i do agree... we're a bit lazy too!!

Posted by: | Sep 29, 2008 7:12:50 AM

I confess, I am a lazy med stud..may be I just want make it as efficient as I can, compress all the things need to do in one day, at least in the shortest time.

Posted by: hsling | Sep 30, 2008 2:20:44 AM

well, i come from a quite well-to-do family, study in the most exp private med sch here in m'sia n most of my colleagues has the same family background like me as well. as of the public med sch, i'm not quite sure bout their financial b/ground. i would like to say that some of my colleagues are filthy rich spoilt and spenthrift (well, juz some of them). however,for de rest of us, we're quite actively involved in congress, forums etc etc..we're hosting the eamsc for next year in fact (we don't get any monetary gains, juz the experience). n *pst pst* juz one secret. my cousin brother (4th yr med student) and i share de same behaviour of not brushing our teeth in the morning before we eat, we only do that after we've eaten or sometimes not at all. well, some ppl (particularly his mum n my mum) call us lazy, but i think we're being practical and as we've said earlier 'energy conserving' not to mention the time saved, for something more useful, err like studying???

Posted by: aquagurl | Oct 1, 2008 12:44:13 AM

I truly like the "we conserve energy while we can" part. Really got me in the bulls eye.

For me my self, when i'm out in hospital or back when i was in campus i was such a person with a bunch of energy. Keep doing this and that. Getting involve with any organization in campus and so on and on and on. My friends once said that i way too busy for medschool student. But they just dont know that, me at home, is the laziest person ever. It's like hibernating, like a bear, except for the fact that i walk out from my room for eat and do what nature told me to. hehehe. Because of that, my family said that i need to do some chores at home not only came to eat and sleep everyday-- "you're not living in a hotel, dear".

But you know, since it is so hard for me to explain to my family why i do this way, i just didnt really care. I know that I'm saving my energy so i can do my best when i'm at the hospital, when i'm taking care the patients. It took all of my energy to simply being nice to everyone at the hospital, including some nasty nurses. Especially when you lack of sleep which is happen often. And when others ---the patiens & fams, friends, etc--- not treating you all nice.It just on top of everything, medicine is not only about science and sort it is also about serving people. The last thing i mentioned before was a hard thing to do. So i conserve my energy for that.

Posted by: Ummi Ulfah Madina | Oct 2, 2008 4:16:31 PM

I have to say I totally agree about being cheap.n lazy...!! we plan a lot in the head n execute them all in one go so we save both energy n time!!! it's really nice to know around the world the feeling is mutual, and not just us in China are like this!!!

Posted by: Ruwa | Oct 5, 2008 8:26:02 AM

well, i'm done with my pre-med lectures and now is a clerical in the university hospital in Indonesia....
But i do agree that med students are lazy n cheap n efficient n exclusive in their own way...
my classmates and i are almost never miss any occasion that offer us free food...we're not the-active people of any organization because we save our energy for lab skill, reading assignment, and many other med-activities...the fact that we need more n more money for more n more education as doctors make us cheap...because for med students, education is quite expensive..and as clerical in the universitiy hospital..we really shoul save our energy for patients, residents, n attendings in that hospital...so..for any other non-med things..we are lazy:)
goog luck to you all

Posted by: ira laurentika | Oct 23, 2008 11:58:15 PM

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