Nine Things to do Before you go to Med School

Every year we have a couple of kids who drop out of medicine because they realize 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 subsidized 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.

  1. Witness a Medico-legal 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.

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

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

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

People refuse life-saving treatments, refuse medico-legal 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.

  1. 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 recognize what is in their best interests.

  1. 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.

  1. Witness a Normal Vertex Delivery from start to finish

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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.