Is Skipping Med School Lectures Making Inferior Doctors?

Emily Kahoud


November 14, 2018

Flexibility Is Also a Learned Skill

For medical students who are overwhelmed with over a dozen hours of lecture each week on top of our research activities, leadership roles, clubs, and community service, medical education is less about the language of learning and more about achieving a means to an end as efficiently as possible. Often, our primary goal is maintaining that glimmer of hope for some reincarnation of the former flexible lifestyles we once enjoyed.

The bottom line from the perspective of a medical student is that skipping class gives students much greater flexibility. This is especially true for nontraditional students and commuters, such as Robert, an M1 who had an almost 10-year career as a derivatives trader for various banks and clearinghouses before working in the pharmaceutical industry for 4 additional years. "I like podcasting because it gives me a lot of flexibility," he explained. Robert has a 15-month-old baby at home, who "likes reading books and chasing our cats," so recorded lectures are crucial because it helps him stay home more often. "I still haven't been able to help as much as I want to," he explained, "But definitely my wife appreciates that I'm home more than I would be."

Besides the convenience and support that recorded lectures provide to his wife and child, Robert explained the practical learning considerations that benefit not just parents of little ones, but also students who struggle with attention deficit, especially when having to absorb up to 5 hours of lecture in a sitting. "When I sit in lecture, if they move through a topic too quickly and I don't get it, it's over right there. And I might be lost for the rest of the lecture because [it's] contingent on understanding the first part. So I like podcasting because I can go at my own pace and really dig into [the material], and pause it when I need to."

Salma, an M1 who has dabbled in both recorded and in-person lecture-learning, agreed that the flexibility is key. "You can start the day how you want, not limited by time constraints, and according to your schedule." Despite having greater control over her day, she admitted that going to class is beneficial in forcing her to keep to a tight schedule. "I'm very regimented. I like having my time split into strict time slots." More important, she explained that attending lecture "forces me to understand everything in lecture, so I [don't] have to podcast or listen to it again. The classroom environment—I'm that front-seater—motivates me: being with people more educated than I am to feel inspired by them."

Salma savors the intangibles of attending lecture as well. "I care a lot about the history of medicine and what medicine means. I love talking to the professors after class, learning from them, being inspired by them." The times she has used recorded lectures, Salma feels like she's gained "information, but not the real-world application from talking to the professor after class."

Will You Regret Your Learning Method?

Yet, every benefit has its drawbacks. Medical students are known for our "A-type" personalities, yet the "A" for "ambition" may readily be replaced by "anxiety," as nervous chatter and one-upmanship are common classroom occurrences. "I always hear [classmates] freaking out about studying," Salma said, "I think, 'What was I doing last night?'" Being around that can make you feel "guilty for living your life," she explained.

Shabil, a urology resident who was a medical student when recorded lectures first arrived on the horizon years ago, says he spent 6 months of medical school skipping, and 18 months being physically present, in class. Reflecting on his experiences, Shabil says he never went to a single chemistry lecture during his undergraduate years, but still got an A+ in the class. "I prided myself on that," he said. "I thought that's who I was." Then, he got to medical school, where "lo and behold, that wasn't ideal," he says.

The takeaway: "Don't think you know yourself until you've really given each and every method an honest thought."


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: