Why getting into med can be gruelling, and 2 things you can do about it


Here’s a dose of reality: life’s hard. If you want a job that’s easy to get into, go work in a chicken shop. “But then,” I hear you say, “I won’t be fulfilled, my parents won’t be proud, I won’t have the income and social status I desire, I won’t be able to prove those high school friends that said I won’t be anything wrong.” Sure. So, pick your hard.


Either struggle toward a goal that inspires you; or struggle because you gave up and have to deal with the consequences. But there’s no surer way of suffering than giving up a struggle toward a good thing.


The idea that there’s some door or path you’ll go down after which everything else will work out fine is also bs. Here’s a second dose of reality: med school is hard. I have, without a hint of a doubt, had the hardest year of my life this year - in my first year of med. I have squeezed myself into narrow spaces, shaved off corners that had been there so long I thought they were me, and been reduced from glory to nothing. But this isn’t about me. The point here is that I, like so many of my peers at med school, never gave much thought to ‘what happens after you get in?’


It’s easy to work so long toward this goal and assume that afterward everything works out and is happy days. The truth is, there is both joy and misery no matter which road you choose. The real issue causing you grief is that you want it now. Which isn’t too far off “Daddy, I want a pony! Now!”  You want a band-aid to put over your fear that you aren’t good enough, or won’t make it in, or that what somebody once said about you is true. I’m not condescending – I’ve worked in this space for years now with student after student all going through the same thing. They all look different, but they’re all human. And the response to the prospect of getting into medicine is, essentially, human.


I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that med school is, almost by design, a collective trauma. That’s why you come out a doctor.


The first take away


Khalil Gibran in ‘On Love’ from ‘The Prophet’ says:

“ Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

     … Much of your pain is self-chosen.

     It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.

     Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility.”


So what I want for you to take away is this: it doesn’t get easier, and the idea that everything will fall into place when you get in is a lie. Life is hard now, life will be hard later. Med school is just a location a little further down the same road. The thrill and sheen of being a med student wears off quickly. And then there’s just you, with the same or more problems on your plate than before.


How is this useful?


Not romanticising medicine as an antidote to your suffering, a poor self-image, being bullied as a child; helps you consider what you are doing in more objective terms.

Around half my students score above 80, a few have scored above 90; and most started in the 50’s and 60’s. From over a hundred or so students in the last few years I’ve found that the core issue is rarely just the essays. When you find the core issue, the essays fall into place. The core issue is different for each individual, but the antidote to the core issue is, in the first instance, often the same: taking the pressure off. Because when GAMSAT becomes a high-pressure situation, results plummet relative to what they could otherwise have been if relaxed.


If you are unrelaxed, you can’t be agile. If you can’t be agile, you can’t flow. Fear is tension: a clutching on; love is harmonising yourself with the unlimited: a letting go.  If you are fearful, you are tense and holding on (notice you clutch onto your fear, not the other way around). You can’t be agile or flow under those circumstances. And it’s challenging to score well in the GAMSAT without agility or flow.


So, what to do?


There are two ways the above can furnish an approach to GAMSAT that is more conducive both to scoring better, and being well around your preparation.


  1. Realise that your wellness is the actual prize. And giving it up to get into medicine has everything backwards.If you look isn’t that you want to do med because you think it will make you well? The pat on the back from family, the improved self-image, the money. You think if you could just get in things would work out ok, or be better than they are now.

    I recall a tutorial with a relatively young GP a few months back in which the tutor began to cry because the sixth person in their cohort had committed suicide. That person got the GAMSAT mark, got into med school, had the celebration, and now they’re gone. If you are well now, you circumvent the need to use medicine to get wellness (which it won’t, as evidenced above). This wellness creates the circumstances of your being successful in subtle and covert ways; just as being unwell (fearful, afraid, stressed, tense) creates the circumstances for failure.

    Prioritise your wellness now (in part by not romanticizing medicine as a solution to your problems or a conduit for your wellbeing.) This allows you to walk the path more dispassionately, and do what must be done without fighting the desperate fight to be well by getting in.

  2. Give yourself the time and space to be successful AND build small daily foundations toward the outcome you desire in the relaxation and certainty that this will translate to the outcome you are working towards in the time not your time. Life doesn’t care what you want, so you might as well concern yourself with what life wants from you and harmonise yourself with it.

    Recall the relationship between pressure, force and area. P=F/A.

    Heuristically, if I were to push down on your head with my whole hand with 10N of force it would be mildly annoying and confusing at worst (lmao). If, however, I (which I would never, of course, do) were to push down with the same 10N of force onto your head via a nail in between my hand and your head, all that force is conveyed to you via a very small area at the tip of a nail, which multiplies the force substantially. As the area decreases, with the same force, pressure increases.

    I realise my example with the nail isn’t quite relevant to pressure, but it is relevant to GAMSAT success and here’s how: you could equally say that Stress = The amount to do / The time to do it.

    If your boss said to you that you now have to do all the work you were supposed to do this month, in the next 5 hours, your stress would sky rocket (and therefore relaxation, agility, flow, would plummet). Similarly, when you say I have to be success this sitting, you decrease the time you have to be successful (or the area), which massively increases stress and, ironically, creates the circumstances for failure.

    What if we did the equivalent of removing the nail and using our hand: increase the area. OR, in a GAMSAT context, increase the time that you allow yourself to be successful? That would lower stress. And create the conditions for success.

    I will never stop using the example of Megha, a student of mine, who got in on her fourteenth try. She got a PhD while she was waiting.

    I’m 31 and I only just finished my first year. And for personal reasons, I’m taking next year off.

    It’s not a rush.

    An old mentor of mine used to say ‘those who rush, rush to a speedy defeat.’




Okay, we’re at nearly 1500 words and I only got past my first point. Perhaps I’ll break this post into a few parts and write more later. For now, this is enough to reflect on.


If you’re looking for help, the help is out there. It doesn’t necessarily need to cost a bomb. If you want premium help, 90plusgamsat has just moved into selling comprehensive courses for GAMSAT education across ALL sections, and interviews; as well as connecting students with cherry picked high yield resources from various providers in one neat package. You can learn about it at our new website. If you aren’t in a position to spend money on GAMSAT, then interact with the Section II Sorted group, surround yourself with people who empower, not disempower you, and ask questions / engage in the group and free blogs and videos on the website or on the 90plus YouTube channel.


Let me know what you like/don’t like about these blogs, or what you’d like to see more of so I can create content that services your individual challenges and needs.


I love you.

Until next time,


About the author 

Michael Sunderland

My name's Michael, I achieved 91 in Section II, and 82 overall, in the September '20 sitting. I'm here to show you how I did it. Let's get to work :)

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