Hey! I’m Tiffany, currently a third year medical student at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. You might see me on Instagram as @tiffanyjoy8! When Med Couture asked me to write about a day in the life of a medical student, I polled my followers to see what they wanted to read. They were split between a studying day and a hospital day, so Med Couture has kindly agreed to let me do a two-part series. In July, I wrote about a studying day. I have now fully transitioned into clinicals full time and am excited to share with you what a day in my life is like in the hospital!
While there are many specialties I could tell you about, I am currently on my surgical clerkship, so I thought you would enjoy hearing about a typical day as a medical student in general surgery. My attending physician is part of a group of three general surgeons. He specializes in bariatrics, and the other one we do lots of cases with specializes in vascular. Both of them still do many typical general surgery cases like cholecystectomies, hemi colectomies, and hernia repairs.
A normal operating day usually begins pretty early, with our first case always scheduled at 7AM. I get there around 6:45 to change, talk to our first patient, and plan out our schedule for the day with any add on cases we may have. My physician comes into the OR after the patient has been intubated, anesthetized, and prepped for surgery. Often, I will go with the anesthesiologist right away and try to intubate the patient under their supervision so I can improve my skills. Then, I scrub in with my doctor and assist on the surgery unless another surgeon is able to assist.
Most general and bariatric surgeries now are done by laparoscopy, so my main job is holding and moving the camera. I also help hold retractors, and my doctor has even let me open the patients, cut, tie, and staple during some of the cases! When we are finished, the scrub nurse and I suture and/or staple the patient. My suturing skills have improved a lot from doing several patients a day! The best feeling is when your attending physician tells you that your closed incision looks perfect and the patient will heal well.
After each case, we put in orders and dictate the procedure that was done. I usually just watch my doctor do this, but I have other friends who have had to type notes and put in orders during their surgical rotations, so it just depends on what your attending physician expects.
Surgery is a lot of waiting. Once the surgeon is done and the patient is closed, the anesthesiologist extubates and monitors the patient’s vitals and medications before they take the patient from the OR to recovery. After that, the room has to be turned over before the next patient can go back, unless we were lucky enough to book two operating rooms. So, while we wait, sometimes we run over to the clinic to see pre-op or post-op patients, we round on our patients admitted in the hospital, and we drink a lot of coffee (one of my doctors literally has a cup in between every case!). I often use this time to ask questions about the cases or surgery in general and read up on anything I was confused about.
I have had days with only one or two cases where I might only be at the hospital 4-5 hours, but most of our surgery days are 6-8 cases, so we are usually there close to 12 hours. One day, we had a complication with a patient and got very behind schedule, so I was actually there over 16 hours. (This isn’t necessarily a long time for some surgery rotations, but for a rotation that only has scheduled surgeries between 7-5, this is a long time.) I don’t get tired during cases, but I’ve noticed I have much less energy at home to do things when we have long operating days.
While I truly love surgery and love operating, I don’t think the lifestyle is maintainable for me personally just because of the unpredictable nature of the job. My attending physician now has to make an extra effort to schedule surgeries so he can go to his kid’s basketball games, and sometimes he doesn’t get home until they’re asleep. So, while I have greatly enjoyed my time and days with general surgery, I do not think I will do this long term.
Days as a medical student can be even longer if we have cases we need to study up or a shelf exam coming up. Not only would we work our 12-hour day, but also we might have to come home and then study all night. Currently, I don’t have an upcoming exam, so I just have to read up on cases or anatomy. Overall, I would still take a long day in surgery followed by some studying over studying for boards all day! My life is so much more enjoyable with physicians and patients. The hands on learning I do in hospital really helps me retain information; I learn by doing, so I already feel like I’ve learned more in the last two months of clinicals than I did in a semester of classes.
All surgery rotations will be different based on the hospital, physician, and type of surgeon group. This is just a glimpse into one of my days on my current surgery rotation. Additionally, days in family medicine clinics, emergency rooms, and specialty offices are very different. So far, I’m enjoying the variety of rotations. If you like following my medical school journey, follow me on Instagram! I try to stay up to date on messages and what I’m doing. Special thanks to Med Couture for featuring my two-part blog post!