The Academic Transition from Undergrad to Medical School

Hello, my lovely readers!

I cannot believe that I am almost done my first year of medical school. It’s insane! This year has flown by so quickly but I do think that, with a year of medical school under my belt, I can confidently say that I have found a routine that works for me.

I get a lot of questions from premed students about the transition into medical school from undergrad and, honestly, I don’t think that it has been too challenging or stressful. Nothing that I can’t handle.

I do want to preface this post by saying that I will only be able to speak about the academic transition as a U of T medical student whose experiences are based the program’s unique curriculum and frequent testing methods. I personally cannot speak on behalf of other medical students since I don’t know how the curriculum works for other schools, but only my own!

Yes, before starting medical school, I was incredibly nervous and worried about the workload –  thinking it would be way more challenging than undergrad! However, due to the nature of the program at U of T and the fact that all of the exams are low-stakes, because of frequent testing, it has been fine!

I do personally believe that my background in science has helped me with my transition to medical school because I am at least familiar with most of the topics that we have been taught so far. However, I do want to mention that many of my classmates came from a variety of non-science backgrounds and they are doing just fine.

As a student with a science background, though, I had courses in undergrad all about human anatomy, physiology, cell biology, pharmacology, and microbiology. All of these courses were taught over the period of 12 weeks and the lectures went into incredibly specific details on each of the concepts taught. On top of having a full course load with labs, assignments, papers, and extra-curricular activities, I was also so focused on having the highest GPA possible in order to get into medical school.  Therefore, I was definitely more stressed out then compared to now, and I will tell you why.

In medical school, at U of T, our curriculum is taught in a very interesting way. We technically only really have one “course” at a time. So, when we began medical school in the fall, we started off in a course called “Introduction to Medicine.”

This course is comprised of one 3-hour lecture on our weekly topic (which included: genes, chromosome, molecules, cell biology, tissues and organs, embryology, growing up, lifestyle medicine, drugs, and medical investigations), pre-week learning to be completed prior to the lecture, half day or full day weekly anatomy labs, self-learning materials, case-based learning sessions twice a week, and clinical skills. We would also have a variety of lectures that focused on the CanMEDS roles, ethics, and leadership, these would typically occur once a week.

Here is an example of our typical schedule:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday




Student-led CBL


Anatomy Lab



Anatomy Lab

Self-Learning Day 9am-noon:

Ethics lecture



Faculty-led CBL


Clinical skills



Complete the pre-week learning for next week

This was more or less our schedule for the entire year, and even when we moved on to our new course “Concept, Patients, and Communities-1,” our scheduled didn’t really change. The main difference was that our weekly topics were now focusing on the different organ systems instead of introductory topics, like in “Introduction to Medicine.”

This teaching method allows us to focus on only one main topic each week, rather than five different courses (like in undergrad). Focusing on only one concept really allows us to appreciate the material being taught and get a better handle on these topics. We are also exposed to the specific weekly topic in all of our activities taking place during that week. For example, if we were lectured about cardiac diseases on Monday, our CBL case that afternoon would focus on a virtual patient presenting with cardiac symptoms, our anatomy dissection would be involving the heart and its vessels, and in our clinical skills session we would be learning the precordial exam. There is a lot of repetition during the week to solidify our learning, which has been amazing!

In addition to this specific teaching method, we are also tested on this material following the completion of each topic. This ends up working out to be an exam every 1-3 weeks. At first, this sounded stressful! An exam every week?! Who could keep up with that?! However, the frequent testing allows us to focus on a specific topic while studying and lowers the amount of content being test to something that is more manageable. Additionally, since we are being tested so frequently, all of our exams end up being worth a small portion of our final grade. So, if you happen to fail an exam, it’s not the end of the world and you can easily redeem yourself.

In terms of studying, I believe my approach hasn’t changed much from undergrad. I still take part in independent study time followed by group studying in order to discuss the materials taught to us. However, I really do appreciate the way the curriculum is laid out because I only really have to focus on one broad topic per exam, which makes studying a lot easier and more enjoyable. I personally find that as long as you are following along with the weekly syllabus’s schedule, and staying on top of the material, doing well in medical school is attainable. I do believe that the amount of effort you put into studying will reflect your academic performance, so as long as you work hard it’s fine!

I hope this post helps ease the worries you may be feeling about the transition into medical school. I have been doing just fine, and I believe that it is both because of the curriculum we have at our medical school as well as the amount of effort I put into studying. I also applaud all of our instructors and lecturers for making the material easy to comprehend and interesting to learn about. We really do have an amazing faculty, here at U of T, who are passionate about teaching and dedicated to ensuring their students have the best experience possible!

If you have any questions about medical school or want to know more about our curriculum, comment below or reach out to me on social media!


The Girly MD (to be)



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