From virtual to reality

Examining the unrealistic representation of medical school on social media

Many med students on social media share only the “pretty” aspects of their training, making medical school appear easier than it is.


It’s 11:00 p.m. – I quickly glance at the clock as the loud roar of my study timer erupts, reminding me it’s time for a break. Without that timer, I probably wouldn’t take one. It’s almost the start of a new day. A fresh set of twenty-four hours to tackle all that is medical school.

But how can I move on to tomorrow when I’m nowhere near being finished with my med-student checklist for today? When I haven’t gotten through all the lectures that I was supposed to? When I didn’t make it to the gym? When I skipped calling home to get in 30 minutes of extra retention? When I read and reread one paragraph of our physiology textbook twice and still don’t fully grasp its complexities? Yet again, the stress tiptoes its way in. It always does.

Social media can make medical school appear easier than it is

I pull myself away from my never-ending lecture slides and transition to my phone for a much-needed decompression. I open my social media and start scrolling. A vlog appears, titled “A day in the life of a medical student!” I consume it like the sleep-and-meal-deprived med student I am.

The vlog proclaims that he wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and goes to a workout class. Wow! Good for him. After his seemingly grueling fitness class, he goes for a walk outside in the nice weather. Bet that’s relaxing! He heads home and makes an aesthetically pleasing breakfast, chock-full of every essential vitamin your nutrition class teaches you about. He must have gotten through that lecture faster than me. He goes to a three-hour gross anatomy lecture — I’m excited to virtually share the same opinion on how difficult this class can be!

Nope – he describes “today was easy.” Hmm. Lunchtime brings out how he eats “clean” – fresh, organic fruits and vegetables sourced locally. Meanwhile, I had Wendy’s for dinner. A clip shows his short at-home workout with a brief glimpse of an open textbook on his desk in the background. Did he work out again? He broadcasts what he decided to wear to dinner out on the town that night. It was filled with delicious food and cocktails, paired with an elegant table setting. Maybe he just didn’t have time to record himself studying.

Finally – it’s over. His twenty-four hours refreshed, just like my phone screen. I lull back into my study session, admittedly a little rattled. Do other medical students have that much extra free time? Do other medical students study as little as he does? Do I study too much? How does he master all of this material so fast? I’m doing something wrong. I need another break. I open my social media again – the cycle continues.

Now, I don’t know this creator or others like him personally. I’ve never met them in real life. I’ve never had a conversation with them about the intricacies of perception versus reality on social media, especially in today’s society. Maybe they’re using their platform as a creative outlet – that’s great! It’s so important to find ways to express yourself. At the end of the day, I recognize that they are a random creator on a random social media app that I just so happened to come across.

How trying to fit into this social media ‘mold’ isn’t realistic

The problem I encounter, however, is that almost every medical student content creator I come across acts like an exact replica. Their videos portray only the “pretty” parts – the things that can be neatly packed into a box and wrapped with a perfectly curled bow on top.

The only topics that are being posted about are the neat, trimmed, aesthetically pleasing aspects of their days – almost no one I come across is talking about the grueling number of hours spent behind a book, the stress that comes with the sheer amount of information you’re expected to retain or the overall emotional rollercoaster that goes with the rigors of medical education.

This idealistic portrayal on social media isn’t just exclusive to medical school content creators. This is just the one that has caused me the most concern. During the time of my transition into starting medical school and all the stress associated with it, I found myself doubting my abilities because I was comparing my experience to the picturesque depictions of medical school being posted on social media.

Watching other medical students on my screen seemingly thriving, navigating the transitions without breaking a sweat was caustic to my psyche. I’ve heard the quote “comparison is the thief of joy” many times before; it just hadn’t resonated with me until now.

Medical school isn’t exclusively stressful

I worry for the aspiring premed who is working diligently to get into medical school and may see a vlog or similar social media post just like this one and assume that that’s what life in medical school is really like. Except, once they start school, they’ll notice a stark dichotomy between what social media told them and what it’s truly like.

This is not to say that medical school is exclusively a negative experience – no, not at all! It’s just not always positive. I merely wish that med students post not just the highs, or just the refined portions of your day – but also the lows, the things that made your day sticky, the things that tested you that day and the things that you reached out for help with. When we are transparent and share our raw experiences and emotions with our peers, we can connect on a more human level. After all, isn’t that what we are expected to do with our future patients?

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

5 ways to respond to negative comments on social media

How to find your identity online and be authentic

One comment

  1. Matthew

    There’s a community on TikTok and Instagram that are trying to set a realistic example for aspiring pre-meds to juxtapose the “aesthetic med student” trend and it’s recieved just as positively which we love to see.

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