Doctors Reveal What They Learned In School That They've Never Put Into Practice

Everyone has their personal "algebra" moment in their major. Like, when am I ever going to use this? It even crops up in the medical field.

u/Nebula-X1 asked:

Doctors of reddit, what's something you learned while at university that you have never used in practice?

Here were some of the answers.

Phys Ed


85% of it :(

Oh, the retina has ten layers and you want me to memorize each of them? Alrighty..


I'm a physical therapist. On 2 of my gross anatomy practicals I needed I be able to identify the quadrate or caudate lobes of the liver. Which I now use all the time when I'm assisting in surgery. /sarcasm


Also physical therapist here, that comment hit right in the feels. So much useless internal med stuff...


It's Electric Between Us

Electrical Physics. We protested. We said it was too hard and useless. We were told we needed to know that because "Thats how the MRI machine works". It works by clicking "scan"


I had to learn the way X-ray works (it's not that profound what we learn in imaging) and lots about technic to explain to patients. In geriatric service people get their questions underappreciated (by the people that operate the artifact, in my experience) and some are really scared of these and EKG. A minute or two could make a lot for them.


The Bite Of A Mite

Not me but my father. He told me when he was in med school he learned about Tsutsugamushi fever, but never had the opportunity to diagnose it. It's a parasite caused by the bite of a mite.

I learned about it when I was a kid and was playing the Raiders of the Lost Ark game on the Atari 2600. There were flies that would bite Indy and paralyze him for a moment. My father saw this and went "OOOH!! Tsutsugamushi fever!!"


Not The Right Kinda Chem

Organic chemistry. The most dreaded prerequisite is also the most useless.


Would have to agree XD

I routinely need to brush up a thing or two on organic chem to understand some researches/updates/journals. But mostly, biochem is really just what's relevant, for my personal practice, I mean.


I agree. Biochemistry and inorganic chemistry are far more relevant to what we do in practice.


First Day


The first day of optometry school one of our professors taught us this:

What do you do if a patient's eyeball pops out? - Put it back in.

When do you do it? - As quickly as you can.

Still waiting for a patient's eyeball to pop out so I can put it back in as quickly as I can.


Grade Point Average

Not a Doctor, but patient with a somewhat rare disease. I have Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (also known as GPA or Wegner's Granulomatosis) and Doctors are usually excited to see me, which is weird. It's in the sweet spot of being common enough to have probably been studied in med school while still exotic enough that they may have never treated someone with it. Makes me feel like a diseased unicorn.



Still a 4th year but severely doubt I'll ever use the Kreb's cycle.

Also half the clinical skills seem superfluous/useless, can a single doctor let me know if they've ever used a patellar sweep instead of tap? I also swear I've never seen a clinician do tactile vocal fremitus, fluid thrill or percuss the f---ing clavicle like we're supposed to. I could be wrong but all seem very low yield skills for doctors who are very pressed for time.

Meanwhile we never actually get taught the special tests for the muskuloskeletal examinations that would allow you to make a diagnosis... med school seems to have its priorities in the wrong place a lot.

On a positive note though i actually have been surprised how much a (very) basic understanding of complex stuff like embryology and clotting/complement cascades actually comes in useful. It's stuff you learn in detail once in 1st/2nd year so that by the time you finish you remember a tiny bit which is generally the amount you actually need to know.


Humans In Check

Compassion. And taking the time to talk to patients. Almost impossible since I only got 15 min or so with each patient.


I read in Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" , that doctors who spend an extra minute with patients and allow them an opportunity to ask questions and understand what's happening, have their malpractice charges drop to almost Zero, even if they're at fault. Statistically, empathy and bed side manner, can go an inconceivably long way.


Unexpected For A Vet

I'm a veterinarian in the US. Our education is similar to that in human medicine (4 years of undergraduate degree and 4 years of medical school).

In undergraduate, many of the required classes to apply to vet school do not apply to vet school itself or clinical practice. Most of chemistry, physics, and some mathematics haven't played any role in my life since passing them, though some of these classes may play a role in research settings.

However, these classes also set up a strong foundation for learning how to study, retain complicated information, and apply old concepts to new situations. Without going through them, I think the information overload through much of medical school would be overwhelming. My classmates that struggled the most in early vet school never "learned how to learn" in undergrad and were ineffective at studying and time budgeting.

In vet school itself we spent a huge amount of time on information that I haven't yet used in clinical practice. Part of that is the nature of veterinary medicine; we must understand the biological systems of different animals, and the variations between species can be subtle and nuanced. It is our responsibility as stewards of public health and champions of the human-animal bond. As a result, I know a lot of little details such as the types of mites that affect backyard chickens, dietary needs of asian fisher cats in relation to incidence of bladder cancer, and legal considerations for interstate sale of raw milk. God help me if I have to act as an expert some of these factoids at an emergency small animal hospital in a city.

The biggest culprit of something time-intensive with relatively little personal benefit in clinical practice was actually anatomy/physiology. I studied 2-4 hours a day 5-6 days per week and went to three 3 hour labs per week for 2 semesters, learning many hundreds of vocabulary terms and the comparative anatomic differences between dogs, cats, rabbits, cows, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, horses, camels, and chickens. Although some surgeons may need to remember more of these terms, in general most veterinarians I know (myself included) have let ourselves forget 80-90% of these terms. At the end of the day I don't need to know what muscle groups are nourished by the brachial artery as long as I can tell there is appropriate circulation and blood supply. But it still wasn't a waste of time, as I can remember what to look up if I needed the information for a certain case.

Part of the challenge of educating the medical profession is that there is so much detail, and many people in the classroom will go down different career paths. A diagram of electrolyte flow during the cardiac action potential I saw years ago may not affect my clinical decision making looking at an EKG, but that same diagram may have changed how a classmate working in research would approach an experiment. Kind of like how surgeons use anatomy more in daily life than I do on ER.

I assume this question is being asked because it feels tedious to learn all of these minor nuances that don't seem to have any clinical bearing. However, you'll find that as time goes by, it is nice to see a term and recognize that you knew it once and that you can easily remind yourself by quickly reviewing notes. Also, doctors generally are held accountable for a wide breadth of knowledge relating to how biological systems work and interact. Just because you won't use some info in clinical practice doesn't mean you'll go your whole life not needing to know about it. And it's satisfying to answer a question or recall something you didn't think you'd need to remember. Keep focused and keep going! You can do it!


Litora Multum Ille



I wanted to be a doctor ever since I was a kid, and everyone told me to pick Latin in high school for language because it will help with better understanding "medical terms." Then, in undergrad, we were required to to do 1 year of a language, so again I took Latin, continuing to think that it somehow would help in medical school. Spoiler: it doesn't help more than any other language, not one bit.

You don't need a background in Latin to learn the difference between -phobia and -philia. That will come naturally with the tonnage of medical terms you will have to learn regardless. The language of medicine is (usually) functional in nature and just "makes sense" when you learn medicine itself. It's like asking computer scientists to learn assembly because that's technically the most fundamental machine language, when in reality it does little to prepare you for a career programming in JavaScript.

Learn Spanish if you want to go into medicine (in the US). You will still learn sentence structure, conjugating words, tense, etc., but you will pick up an extremely useful tool to speak with patients. Be conversationally competent in Spanish and then pick up the Spanish medical terms in med school/residency. That is infinitely more useful than being able to pick out the subjunctive clause or recall passages from the Aeneid.


I had to stop watching talent shows years ago because while I got to see some really enjoyable acts—especially singers, of which there are a seemingly endless number—I grew sick and tired of how scripted everything felt.

For one thing, I hate overt sentimentalty because it can ring very false, and that's how I've felt whenever I've had to sit through any sob stories. Everyone has a sob story.

The music swells and immediately we'll hear about someone's cancer diagnosis or the fact they lost their house due to foreclosure or that their father died and that afterward they found bodies in his shed and learned he was a notorious serial killer...

Okay, that last one might have been made up. But my point stands.

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