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How Many Hours Do Medical Students Study? (Real Data)

How Many Hours Do Medical Students Study? (Real Data)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Medical students are somewhat notorious for studying long hours, continuing to work long after any other student has left the university library.

But is this reputation justified? Or do medical students have a tendency to trump up how hard they have to work? How many hours do medical students actually study?

On average, medical students study for 2-3 hours each day in addition to their clinical contact hours. How many hours a medical student studies daily will vary depending on what year of the course they’re in, whether they have any upcoming exams and a student’s personal study methods.

Medical school isn’t just one constant slog of long hours and late nights.

Having spent five years at medical school myself, I can tell you there’ll be ups and downs, periods where you feel like all you’re doing is studying and others when you can completely kick back and relax.

In addition to my own personal experience, to answer this question fully for you (if you’re thinking about going to medical school yourself) I carried out a small survey of my own to uncover the definitive answer.

How Many Hours A Day Do Medical Students Study?

To get an objective view on the matter, I set out to get some real data from real medical students on how long they study for each day.

I surveyed over 400 medical students, getting them to choose from 5 different options of daily study hours. Here are the results:

Hours of StudyPercentage of Respondents
0-249%
2-428%
4-613%
6-84%
8+6%
How many hours a day medical students study on average

It might come as a surprise to you to see that the most popular single response was 0-2 hours!

This somewhat flies in the face of the idea that medical students spend all their time hunched over a thick textbook while their friends are out partying.

I’ve got to say, from my experience, the demands of medical school were totally manageable, especially at the start of the course.

In your first couple of years of a five-year undergraduate course, if you’re consistently working for two hours a night you’re going to be well ahead of your peers and in a great place to take on the end-of-year examinations.

I think the reason that some people struggle, and I’m definitely including myself here, is that they turn up to university without the discipline, personal administration and study skills that they’ll develop further down the line.

I won’t deny that in my first year of uni I definitely went out partying when I shouldn’t have, had sub-standard study skills and generally wasn’t the most organised person overall.

This wasn’t a disaster, and I’d argue is a pretty common fresher mentality, but it did just mean I had to work a bit harder when it came to exam time.

Because I hadn’t put in that consistent work throughout the term, I did have to make it up for it with some long days in the library in the lead-up to exam day.

How Many Hours Per Week Do Medical Students Work?

As I mentioned at the start of the article, how many hours a medical student is working will depend on what year of study they’re in, whether they have any upcoming exams and just generally how they like to work as a person.

Medical students work for approximately 50 hours per week. Initially, the majority of a student’s time will be spent in lectures with a small proportion being devoted to self-study. As a student progresses through the course, more time is spent both revising and in clinical environments.

As you advance through a medical degree the demands of the course do go up, so you will find yourself having to dedicate progressively more time to making sure you graduate.

Unlike other degrees, the first year of medical school does still ‘count’ towards your final grading- so you can’t just chin it off entirely, but compared to your final year you’ll very likely find yourself looking back enviously at your old timetable!

A student picking a book in the university library

In your pre-clinical years, which are generally the first 2-3 years of a five or six-year course, you’ll generally be in lectures or seminars (or dissecting!) 9-5 Monday-Friday.

This equates to a 40-hour week, which if we add on an hour of personal study each night, with a couple of hours on the weekend, equals roughly a 50-hour working week.

This leaves plenty of time for sports, hobbies, socialising or even holding down a part-time job.

Now, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, let’s consider a final year medical student in the run-up to their fifth-year exams.

At their own discretion, they may only go in to the hospital for three days out of the week, each time only staying for the ward round.

This would then be 3 x 4 = 12 hours on the wards.

However, their time away from the hospital is in no way spent relaxing. After the ward round they’d likely hit the books at home and on a non-clinical day they might be in the library from 8am-8pm.

If they’re doing this for seven days straight before an exam this would equal an 84-hour work week.

Now, this isn’t unrealistic, but it would only be for the final stretch before a big exam. It’s absolutely not what’s expected from you day-to-day at medical school.

40-50 hours per week will be far more representative of the majority of your time spent at university and is completely manageable for almost every student.

How Many Hours Do Top Medical Students Study?

So, we’ve seen how many hours an average medical student studies in both a day and a week. But does this number change if we narrow down our field of view to only the top medical students in each year?

Well, yes, and as you might have guessed top medical students tend to study for a longer amount of time than average ones.

This 2018 study from America looked at 206 medical students preparing for the USMLE Step 1.

The USMLE (or United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1) is an exam generally taken at the end of second year in American medical schools.

It tests medical students’ ability to apply important fundamental scientific concepts to the practice of medicine.

The study found:

“Students who make all or mostly A’s attend class, limit use of online lectures and outside resources, study for 6-8 hours a day, and review lectures the same day they are given.”

And that:

“Students who make more B’s and C’s are more likely to not attend class, make frequent use of online lectures, study for 3-5 hours a day, and not review lectures the same day they are given.”

Aside from the unsurprising finding that students who attended class were more likely to do well in the exam, there’s a clear discrepancy between the two cohorts’ studying habits.

Those who achieved top grades studied for, on average, 3 hours longer each day compared to those who went on to get Bs and Cs.

It’s one thing to know that studying for a bit longer is probably going to help in the long run, but another to see this stark contrast set out so clearly in the form of a study’s results.

Although there does seem to be a correlation between time spent studying and your grades in medical school, I would just warn against completely flogging yourself the minute you get to university.

Medical school is undoubtedly a marathon, not a sprint.

You want to build sustainable work patterns that fit with your work ethic, lifestyle and don’t impact your mental health.

You don’t want to spend every waking hour pawing through dense textbooks just because you read online it has the potential to improve your exam results.

Tips For Being Able To Study Longer

With all that being said, I thought you might find value in some of my top tips for being able to study longer.

You don’t get through five years of university without picking up on some good study habits.

Now I appreciate that everyone’s different, and what worked for me may not work for you, but one of the things that helped my work routine the most was when I started making a clear distinction between study and rest periods.

For me that meant getting out of the house and down to the library when I wanted to work.

A study area in a university library

I’ve always found it a whole lot harder to be distracted by housemates, snacks, or my comfy bed if I’m sat in the university library.

By making this clear distinction between both work and rest I think you get a higher quality of both.

You get higher quality work because you’re less likely to be distracted and you get higher quality rest because you know when you’re at home you can truly chill out: you’ve earned it plus you don’t have this nagging feeling at the back of your mind that you should be studying right now.

Continuing this theme of discrete work and rest periods, for longer study sessions I often implemented a form of the Pomodoro technique.

The Pomodoro technique is essentially just setting discrete periods of time in which you work, followed by a period of rest, which you then repeat.

I didn’t actually know I was using a time management technique developed in the late 1980s at the time, but I did know it helped!

Here’s a description of the technique from Wikipedia:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer (typically for 25 minutes).
  3. Work on the task.
  4. End work when the timer rings and take a short break (typically 5–10 minutes).
  5. If you have finished fewer than three pomodoros, go back to Step 2 and repeat until you go through all three pomodoros.
  6. After three pomodoros are done, take the fourth pomodoro and then take a long break (typically 20 to 30 minutes). Once the long break is finished, return to step 2.

I generally used a 45 minute work period with a 15 minute break, but all the same principles apply.

For me it was when I started to have the discipline to get out of the house to the library, to make sure I wasn’t distracted during a 45-minute concentration period and that I actually sat down to do a bit of study each day that I really saw my academic performance begin to increase.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, there’s always going to be a wide range in how much time any individual medical student dedicates to his or her studies.

In my survey, I asked students to try and average out how much time they thought they studied between both exam seasons and less stressful times.

However, the danger of this is it can make it look like you have to consistently do more work than you actually do.

As you’ll find out if you go to medical school, you do have to do a certain amount of self-study to keep up but it does come in fits and starts.

With the right attitude and work ethic, almost everyone is capable of keeping up with the academic demands of medical school. In my opinion, it’s just getting you there in the first place that can be a bit of a challenge!

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.