Nine Things to do Before you go to Med School…

From The Underwear Drawer by Dr Michelle Au;click the picture to be taken to her blog.

Every year we have a couple of kids who drop out of medicine because they realise they hate it: the course, the hours, the grossness, the patients, the sickness.

Some years it’s a handful of students, other years it’s only one or two, but I always think it’s a damn shame. For one, that poor person has spent money and time on something they now don’t want to do (I’ve heard of fifth years dropping out even).

Medical courses are heavily subsidised by the government. Every person who drops out leaves a vacuum. You can’t put someone in their place: it’s one less doctor graduating. Especially in South Africa, we need as many doctors as we can get.

So I’ve compiled a list of things that I think you should do if you think Medicine might be for you. This goes beyond the prerequisite good marks, leadership and community service. If you still want to study medicine after completing this list, your passion is firmly in place.

1. Witness a blood draw:

If you faint, medicine probably isn’t for you.

2. Witness a Medicolegal Autopsy:

Medicine exposes you to a lot of death and cruelty. It’s important to know what is waiting for you. You don’t have to be emotionless, but you do have to be able to grit your teeth when necessary.

3. Spend a night shadowing an ER-doctor in a state hospital:

The smells, the long hours, drunken patients and other unpleasantries. You need at least to be able to get through it. Many medical students end up enjoying it. Yes, we’re masochists.

4. Try to convince a non-compliant patient to allow some or other test:

People refuse life-saving treatments, refuse medicolegal autopsies of loved ones or refuse to attend physical rehab. You need to be able to present them with a logical argument at their level of comprehension without impeding upon their freedom of choice.

5. Restrain a child when he/she is having blood drawn:

It’s a horrible feeling, because the child will be screaming and you’ll feel sorry for them; but you must be able to recognise what is in their best interests.

6. Attend a med school theory lecture

These can be notoriously boring, and your first two years of medical school will have close to zero practical experience.

7. Witness a Normal Vertex Delivery from start to finish

I don’t think it’s really necessary to elaborate on this one.

 8. Have a conversation with a nurse

Registered Nurses are formidable. They tend not to be fond of doctors, and especially not of students. If you can talk to her about anything and learn something in the process, and not annoy her, you will probably be able to navigate hospital wards quite well.

9. Change a diaper

You want to look after sick people? Learn to look after healthy ones first. If you have ever babysat, even better: it means you have learned to deal with screaming and obnoxiousness.


  1. Colin says:

    When I was younger, I thought the idea of being a doctor and being able to help the sick and injured was cool (and I still think it’s cool), but the thought that I might become a doctor didn’t last long. I don’t like needles, much less seeing someone being jabbed with one, and even less being jabbed with one myself! In fact, I’m reasonably squeamish all around (except when it comes to dealing with my own kids’ pee, poo, vomit, and blood–go figure!), so I don’t think I’d last too long in an ER. 🙂

    From all I’ve read and heard, medical training is a huge commitment, both of time and money. It’s wise to count the cost before you commit. These sound like great tips, Mariechen. 🙂

    1. I’m glad you enjoy them. I reckon a lot of people go through a phase where they entertain the idea of being a doctor, but a lot of them never seriously consider the pros and cons. I’m glad you were able to thing logically about it.
      As for kids… yep! Parents will do anything if it involves their kids, I’ve seen it with my own squeamish parents too 🙂

  2. Therese says:

    I don’t know why but I’m a bit surprised and RELIEVED, we both experience similar things even if we’re in different parts of the world, even with the doctor-nurse relationship.

    I was just thinking a while ago that the medical world is really interesting, you’ll never get bored because you do almost any kind of job, from doing researches to purely clerical work, from heading a management team to cleaning blood spills and stools, from disclosing delicate information to thousands of routine interviews…. and I could go on and on..

    1. I’m relieved too, every time I hear or read about med students who experience the same things!
      I’m glad this resonated with you 🙂 strangely enough some people DO get bored; but I agree with you – there is so much variety.

  3. Caroline says:

    LOL I love your pre med school to do list . It has me chuckling over my cereal.

    1. I’m glad I could supply some mirth 🙂

  4. I’m forwarding this to all my students who I think have intentions of becoming doctors. I

  5. donald says:

    thank you
    since I was a toddler ,I always wanted to be a doctor ,i think my first words were ” me ,doctor” LOL
    I have a passion for medicine and anything to do with biology, am gona start university next year so yah thanx

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