What Are the Physical Demands of Med School?

Could anyone help me understand what the days (and nights) will be like when doing rotations and residencies in terms of physical demands? I was at a holiday celebration and one well meaning aunt expressed her concerns because I have a few aches and pains (under control and being treated with Bextra) that because I am not spry and 22 that I will really have a hard time keeping up with the requirements. (she is a nurse)…any thoughts?
E Lynne

During 3rd and 4th year rotations you are expected to keep up with the schedule that residents have. This is approximately 80hr/week but not all rotations will be this time intensive. Residency will be physically demanding but nothing that you cannot handle.

Hi there,
I started medical school at age 46 and graduated at age 49 (turned 50 two weeks after graduation). I am now a PGY-3 General Surgery resident. I did internship under the old system where you could be in the hospital unlimited hours. General Surgery is mentally and physically one of the most demanding specialties and I get it done at age 52.
It isn’t a matter of age but a matter of attitude. If you desire and interests lie in medicine, you will be fine. Sure the hours are long but the work is totally absorbing. One minute doing something that you do not enjoy is far worse than 10 hours of something that you do enjoy.
Keys to keeping the edge for this kind of work: 1. Have a good means of stress relief that does not involve any chemicals other than endorphans. 2. Have a life outside of medicine that you enjoy. Work hard and play hard with your family. 3. Realize that you can’t learn it all but that you will learn enough and do enough to become a fine physician if you do your best. 4. Laugh at yourself from time to time. 5. Have good mentors and learn from them (the subject of my latest Diary entry). (shameless plug).
Medical school is time demanding but so is motherhood, marriage and other things of great value. You find a rhythm and put things into perspective. Being able to do this has nothing to do with age but more to do with style. There are plenty 22-year-olds who are unable to adapt and a fair number of 40 and 50-years olds who flourish in medical school. (Just look at our own Mary RR and Linda W.)
Tell your detractors that having a career that you are passionate about more than makes up for an occasional ache or pain that you feel. From personal experience, I finished a 10-hour surgery and felt like I had been in the OR for 30 minutes. I came out hungry and dehydrated but it was a great case and I learned and accomplished many things. I felt like jumping for joy and eating a whole bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos (my favorite comfort food).
You can do this and age has very little to do with how well you can do this. Attitude is everything!

Maybe Natalie and I are weird, I don’t know, but this whole “age is going to make it harder to stay awake / keep up / whatever” thing has always seemed kinda weird to me. I had three kids and did more than my share of sleepless nights, walking the floors with crying sick babies etc. etc. I did a variety of things that demanded my physical and emotional presence. Medical school just wasn’t THAT much harder, frankly.
I just refuse to believe that your stamina and energy should be THAT much different in your 40s. I am NOT an old person. Now, I have an inspiring role model - my mom, who until she started treatment for lymphoma four years ago was vibrant and energetic. Now the cancer and the treatment have taken a lot out of her but she is STILL doing a lot of stuff on her own at age 71.
There are chronic conditions which should cause you to think hard about HOW you are going to approach med school and residency - not necessarily give up on the idea. I have multiple sclerosis which has fortunately not given me any trouble. But since most folks with MS have problems with fatigue, I’ve been vigilant about watching out for it and am proactive about getting rest. Nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, gets in the way of my bedtime! And so I have kind of a boring life at the moment, in that if I am getting up at 430 am and getting home at 7pm (to use a fairly bad day as an example), I’m home for a total of 2 hours before I hit the sack.
When I was doing my third year ob/gyn rotation, which was infamous for all-nighters and endless days, I tartly remarked to someone that I survived the hours as well as my younger colleagues - and whined less about it. Now as an intern, we all whine when we have to be up all night, but I am very sure that I am not suffering any worse than my 20-something colleagues. We all look and feel like $hit the next morning! We all catch things we forgot to do because we were tired; we all move more slowly when we’re on hour #28, for example. But I definitely don’t feel like I am suffering any worse than anyone else. (and that realization is exhilarating, so I think I’m better off!)
I just continue to marvel at the folks who think you’re washed up in your 40s. People in their 40s, as a group, are young and healthy in my view.
who’ll be 49 in a few weeks!

a few more thoughts…
Nurses do see interns and residents at their worst, so your aunt is to be forgiven for worrying about you! I’ve had nurses act fairly solicitous about my welfare on a few occasions; I must’ve really looked bad! They do see us flop into chairs, fall asleep standing up, etc. etc. And I guess if you see 25 y/o’s doing that, it’s reasonable to wonder if it would be significantly worse for 40 year olds. And my experience is: no, I don’t think it is. It’s hard for anyone.

I would echo what Mary RR & Nat have said & maybe add a morsel or two. I started med school at 33 & now am a PGY-2 resident in a demanding anesthesiology residency at the ripe old age of 38. In fact, I just started my first cardiothoracic month - let me tell you about long, stressful, intense & demanding days. But, there is also a massive difference in “good tired” & a “bad tired”. Bad tired is when you are laboring away at something that is not your passion. Those hours become veiwed as wasted because you have worked hard to minimal fulfillment. But the good tired is from working hard at something that generates personal & professional fulfillment. As Nat points out, 10 hours busting my hump as a Doc is better than 1 minute of doing anything other job…note the use of ‘job’ in lieu of ‘profession’. If it don’t melt your butter, then it is just a job.
Do I have any trouble keeping up with the youngsters? No - not one iota. On call as a resident is highly demanding both mentally & physically for all ages. But it is your own capacity to drive yourself that allows you to function long past the point that others would have thrown in the towel. It is the drive to learn & do your utmost best for your patients that energizes you. Hell, I was on call T-giving day…slept a grand total of 25 minutes, 2am until 2:25am. But I did anesthesia for 3 emergent c-sections & an emergent D&C, the last two procedures saved not only the child’s life, but also the life of the mother (consider a new mom &/or child dying on Thanksgiving)…did I mourn the loss of sleep. No, I walked out of the hosp that morning exhausted but comepletely stoked that my education, training & abilities as a physician had contributed to preventing a horrible tragedy - I had helped a child & 2 mothers to see another day and prevented another baby from growing up not ever knowing the mother that gave birth to it. Granted, I only played a role, but that was immensely satisfying & more than worth the loss of sleep.
So tough? Yes. Worth it? Massive yes! Can everyone do it? No, it is an unfortunate reality that not everyone who endeavors to become a physician will make it. In no way do I say this to come across as arrogant or egocentric - this life is just not for everyone. Not everyone has the wonderful support mechanisms to make it through. I credit my wife & her unending, unselfish support for much of my success. Yes, I sat in the classes, took innumerable exams, rec’d the cool degree and endure the hours of residency - but most likely I would not be here were it not for her. Sadly, many folks are not so fortunate.