Life in Medical School Doesn’t Have to be Harsh

By Jennifer J. Salopek

NowWhatThird-year orthopedic resident Daniel R. Paull, MD, has recently published So You Got into Medical School… Now What? A Guide to Preparing for the Next Four Years. He participated in a telephone interview on August 27, 2015.

Wing of Zock: What inspired you to write the book?

Paull: I know that, coming into medical school, everyone has a lot of anxiety and worry about what it’s going to be like, sifting through advice about what to do, and people can say different things. There was no great guidebook out there; if there had been, I would have read it. So I figured I would try to write one, based on my own experiences and mistakes I’ve made. I knew it was possible to be efficient if you approach medical school intelligently. I started it after my first year of medical school and worked on it all the way through.

WOZ: It’s hard to imagine, especially after reading the chapters about the first year of medical school, that you could have enough free time to write a book. How did you manage it?

Paull: It took me four and a half years. Initially, I only worked on it for a couple of hours every weekend. At the end of each year, I would wait until I had gathered enough information in the next year to start again. I definitely had to budget my time.

WOZ: That’s a concept you discuss a lot in the book. Sounds as though you practiced what you preach. Did you see many of your classmates struggling?

Paull: Oh yes. We’re talking about intelligent people, of course, but they had been accustomed to cramming their entire lives. Cramming is one of the most inefficient ways of studying, and you have poor long-term retention. People would study all night and struggle to hold onto all these facts through the exam, then immediately forget them. They’re so tired and burned out that they may not go to class for a few days. Then the whole cycle would begin again. It’s not the way I did it.

WOZ: How did you do it?

Paull: As I describe in the book, I would budget the time to do the reading before the lectures. Then the ideas and new information would have some soil to take hold on. I reviewed the material daily. I never pulled an all-nighter; I rarely studied past 10 pm. I felt more prepared, and I had more free time.

WOZ: Were you that organized as an undergraduate?

Paull: Nearly, but it’s not as necessary. In medical school, things get ramped up, and all the holes in your study method are exposed. The pace is relentless.

WOZ: Did you write much before this book?

Paull: No, I didn’t have much experience, but I had these ideas that I wanted to express. I guess I felt like I had something to say. As I wrote more, I think I got better at it. I did my best, thinking that if it didn’t work out, at least I tried.

WOZ: You begin each chapter with an entertaining vignette. Are all of those true accounts of your own experiences?

Paull: They are all true, based on my experiences and those of others. I would write them down right after they happened so that the details and feelings stayed fresh. In a certain sense, the book manuscript was also a journal.

WOZ: How did you find a publisher?

Paull: I showed the book to an attending here who has published a couple of books. He referred me to a publisher, who said it was too long and no one would want to read it. I kept working on it and eventually connected with a book shepherd in California; but I did assume most of the costs myself for cover art, indexing, and stuff like that.

WOZ: What would you change about your own medical school experience?

Paull: I wouldn’t get so torn up over the grading in third year. I think it’s a common experience for medical students: We’re so accustomed to objective grading via tests and exams, but in the third year there’s a large, subjective component. It can become very frustrating if you don’t get along with your attending well. You can have great clinical knowledge and skill, be working really hard, and you do better than the guy next to you on tests but you’re getting lower grades.

WOZ: What is the number 1 lesson you want readers to take away from this book?

Paull: Medical school isn’t as bad as everyone thinks it is, as long as you approach it intelligently and efficiently. You need a well-thought-out game plan and course of action. It’s a lot more difficult if you don’t. I hope more medical students will read it right after they’re accepted but before they begin classes. Maybe it will help to quell some of their anxiety.

Jennifer-1990-webJennifer J. Salopek is founding editor of Wing of Zock. She can be reached at, or follow her on Twitter @jsalopek.