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Typical Day Of A Medical Student (A Realistic Day In The Life)

Typical Day Of A Medical Student (A Realistic Day In The Life)

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.

Before I went to medical school, I really didn’t have the foggiest about what my typical day would look like as a medical student.

Having now done five years of medical school, I feel qualified to give you a bit of an insight into what a standard day in the life of a medical student might look like… that way you’ll have a much better idea of what you might be signing up to if you choose to study medicine compared to me!

Now, there is always going to be a fair amount of variation between medical schools. Some have a clear pre-clinical/clinical split, some revolve around an integrated curriculum, some use loads of lectures and some only teach through problem-based learning.

I went to Leicester Medical School, which probably sits at a happy medium between most extremes. The content in the first few years was mainly delivered through lectures, but regular seminars helped cement our learning through more case-based learning.

Broadly, the first half of the course was theory and the second half clinical, but we had clinical placements dotted throughout so we didn’t lose sight of what learning all the theory was for.

I thought I’d describe two typical days for a medical student, one pre-clinical, which would be years 1-3 for most universities, and one clinical, or years 4-6.

Typical Day For A Pre-Clinical Medical Student

7:30am: I’d wake up and get ready for a day at uni. This would include making sure I had the right books/paper/pens packed and that I had a lab coat if we were going to the dissection room later in the day.

8:30am: After a bit of breakfast I’d set off on my bike to uni. I’d try and arrive in good time to be seated ready for the first lecture of the day.

9am: The first lecture of the day. The day of the week usually determined what subject we’d be learning about. For example, you might have ‘Tissues of the Body’ on Mondays, ‘Biochemistry’ on Tuesdays, ‘Human Physiology’ on Wednesdays etc. The modules we were covering would then change each term.

A medical student getting ready for her day

11am: Break. We’d normally get about half an hour to grab either a much-needed coffee or a bit of a snack. You could also use this time to review what you’d just learnt in the lecture if there were some bits you didn’t understand.

11:30am: More lectures that usually took us up to lunchtime. This could be more of the same topic from the morning or something completely different. A good lecturer can make the material you’re covering incredibly interesting (and even quite fun). By the time lunch came around my stomach would definitely be grumbling…

1pm: Lunch! I usually tried to bring a packed lunch from home to save a bit of money but I’ve got to admit I wasn’t always the most organised… If I did end up buying lunch there was a little cafe in the building with all the lecture theatres in or you could wander over to the main university campus where there were a number of different spots you could grab a bite to eat.

2pm: Depending on the timetable, the afternoon might hold more lectures or a seminar. In a seminar, we’d be split into groups of about ten where we’d sit round a table and work through a number of questions or problems relating to the topic we were covering. These might be exam-style questions that we’d have to work together to figure out the answers for or it might be making a presentation on a topic that we could then present back to the rest of the class in the next session.

3:30pm: Break. Everyone naturally starts to flag towards the end of the day so we normally got a bit of a leg stretch and time for a drink halfway through the afternoon.

4pm: Dissection room. We’d only go down to the dissection room about once a fortnight so if it was a short day it very well may end at 3:30pm. In the dissection room, we’d normally be dissecting the area of the body we’d just been learning about in anatomy. So that could mean dissecting a forearm, hand, shoulder or even skull. There’d be a mix of us dissecting stuff ourselves as well as watching staff expertly demonstrate parts of the anatomy or explaining samples they’d already dissected.

5:30pm: Home. After a long day at uni it always felt good to jump on my bike to get home. At home, I’d normally immediately cook dinner and then either look over the day’s lectures if I was feeling productive or watch TV with my housemates if I wasn’t!

Typical Day For A Clinical Medical Student

In the later years at medical school, instead of sitting through days of lectures and seminars, you mainly do placements at hospitals in the local area. These are normally about 8-10 weeks where you’re embedded with a particular specialty.

For example, let’s look at my typical day when I was on my general surgery block in 4th year:

7am: When I was on clinical placements, I found myself having to wake up a bit earlier than when I was just attending lectures. I’d also have to make sure I had an ironed shirt ready for a day on the wards(!)

8am: Surgical ward rounds in the hospital generally start at 8am. You’re in luck however if you’re on placement with a medical specialty as their ward rounds often don’t start till 9am! The ward round is when a senior doctor goes round and sees every patient they’re looking after on the ward. As a medical student, it’s a great opportunity to see lots of different patients and the doctors usually take each case as an opportunity to teach you a bit.

11am: If it’s a relatively quick surgical ward round then it can be finished by about 11am. The team might take this opportunity to grab a coffee and run through what needs to be done for the patients. This can be a good time to plan what you want to get out of the day. You might approach the senior surgeon and ask if you can watch him operate in the afternoon or sit in on their clinic.

A typical ward in a hospital

11:30am: Immediately after the ward round can be a great time to shadow the junior doctors on the ward. They’re doing the job that you’re training for so are often best placed to teach you how to do it. In time, you get to grips with the most common jobs that junior doctors have to do on the ward as well as roughly how to do them.

1pm: Lunchtime. When on placements, I’d normally eat in the hospital canteen with some of the other junior doctors. If the hospital I was placed at was outside of Leicester, we’d actually have hospital accommodation provided on-site. This meant I could sometimes have the luxury of being able to nip home for lunch in the middle of the day!

2pm: Clinic/operating theatre/ward. In the later years in medical school, you have far more control over your day and more of an ability to decide what best fits your learning needs. You might choose to observe some surgery in theatre, watch another doctor see patients in clinic, or spend more time shadowing a junior doctor on the wards.

4pm: Home. I never stayed particularly late on placement as I found it more helpful to go home and still have energy to do some reading about the things I’d seen in the day. If you have a big exam coming up, most doctors are more than happy to let you go after the ward round so you can have more time to revise at home.

6:30pm: Dinner and relax. If I wasn’t particularly busy then I’d normally take it easy after dinner- but if I had an exam coming up then it would, unfortunately, mean more study time after eating. I would always try to get to bed at a sensible time as there was the early start for tomorrow’s ward round to contend with!

Final Thoughts

Although there’s never going to be the perfect ‘typical day’ as every student at each different university will have slightly different experiences, these two days in my life hopefully sum up the essence of what a pre-clinical and clinical day might look like for a UK medical student.

I personally really enjoyed the freedom that fourth and fifth year at medical school gave you. To a certain extent, you could decide what you wanted to do, and then went out into the hospital to make it happen.

If you are planning on going to medical school, hopefully this has helped demystify what you’ll actually be expected to do- and maybe dispel some of the myths that you’ll only have time for work and nothing else as a medical student!

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.