By James Ashenhurst

Some Perspective

Last updated: September 12th, 2022 |

Proctology Simulator

For all of those thinking about med school: organic chemistry is not hard.


Complex? Yes. Challenging? Of course. A lot of facts and concepts to memorize and understand? Absolutely. But it’s not hard.

“Hard” is calling your patient of 20 years into your office to tell him that he has a few months to live due to an inoperable brain tumor. “Hard” is having to get up at 3 in the morning to drive to the emergency room to do a surgery, then make sure you pack the intestines just right so that they don’t bulge back out after you’ve stitched the patient back up. “Hard” is living with decisions you’ve made that have led to the death of your patients, even if they were done for superb clinical reasons that any medical malpractice board would never fault. And that’s to say nothing of all the administrative problems medical doctors have to deal with. Here’s a good one in the NYT from today. Michigan’s Medicaid reimbursement rates are so low that doctors essentially treat them on a charity basis. Imagine turning away someone with rapidly metastasizing cancer because you cannot continue to do so without losing money. That’s hard.
Organic chemistry is not life or death. Organic chemistry is not hard.
As a student taking organic chemistry, here is your assigned task:
1) Understand how the properties of atoms give rise to various types of complex molecular structures.
2) Master chemical nomenclature and the concepts of stereochemistry.
3) Understand how chemical reactivity depends on structure, and master the basic concept of chemical reactivity: namely,  nucleophile attacks electrophile.
4) Master the different types of reactions and use this knowledge to make plans for the synthesis of  simple molecules.
That’s a lot, but it’s very doable. Especially if you attack it systematically and with strategy. The goal of this site is to help you figure out how.
 Organic chemistry is one of the easiest “hard” things you’ll have to do. Compared to some of the things you have to learn in med school,  it’s a cakewalk.


Comment section

7 thoughts on “Some Perspective

  1. I agree it is not hard. When I see people wearing t-shirts saying “I survived Organic Chemistry” on it, I feel sorry for those people especially chemistry students !

  2. Hi James! Just a quick meaningless response to your post:
    “emergency room to do a surgery, then make sure you pack the intestines just right so that they don’t bulge back out after you’ve stitched the patient back up.”

    1. Surgery happens in the operating room, not emergency room.
    2. Any case that involves a midline incision (i.e. bowel surgery) requires general anesthetic and paralytic agent onboard. So, intestines won’t bulge back out unless the patient is light on anesthesia, which won’t happen as the physician will complain to the anesthesia provider prior to that happening.


  3. While I do agree that it’s important to keep perspective about what is true hardship, I think that it’s a two-way street. @MedSchoolOdyssey, $10/hr in a steel mill with no insurance is not realistic in the developed world (my company runs a steel mill; I work there 25% of the time; this is firsthand knowledge). Safety is a priority, health insurance is guaranteed (maybe not top-tier, but your company will still pay 85% of the cost of anything), and typical wages are more like $18/hour (which is actually more than what I earn as an engineer on salary, simply by the sheer amount of extra hours I put in, something on the order of 70-80 hrs/week). That steel mill worker puts in his 8-9 hours per day, and has the rest of each day plus the whole weekend to his/herself- obviously, there are bills to pay, food to cook, etc, but that’s a LOT of time.

    Meanwhile, in college, for a typical sciences student, lets say that you have 4 hours of class and 1 hour of lab per day, as a rough average- some days much more, some days a fair amount less. Sounds like a great lifestyle? Until you think about homework and studying. I did not get stellar grades in college/grad school- I believed in the importance of balance, and happiness, and thus did basically the bare minimum to pass. And I still worked easily 6-8 hours per day after classes on problem sets and studying, and easily 10-11 hours on weekends. And I was a “fun” guy, one of the engineering slackers. Maybe this is unique to my science/engineering program at an ivy league, but I sincerely doubt it. We’re now talking about 84 hours/week to pass classes, almost exactly double what that steel mill worker spends. Then you start to think about holding down a job (admittedly, for spending money, not survival, usually), having a social life…it’s goddamn brutal.

    I know that my point is more anecdote-based than statistic/quantitatively-backed, but I’m posting it anyways, for balance.

    1. @Waffles, I completely agree with you. I was initially a bioengineering major at an Ivy, yet I always had plans to go to med school (yeah, poor analysis on my part). Engineering courses, plus HAVING to keep my grades up for med school apps… it was terrible. After taking my 4th (and final) semester of calculus for the engineering program, I ultimately decided to switch to a science major instead. That helped. but it’s still crazy. I have friends who go to schools that rank somewhere below 100 (nationally) and they get A’s in classes like o-chem without putting in much effort. But for me, just to get a solid B I’d have to put in about 10 times the effort that their A required. It’s weird how that works out. I ultimately do disagree with the fact that this is comparable to a mill worker (confounding factors in their life that we do not have to come even close to dealing with) but I can definitely relate to the point you’re making, I know where you’re coming from.

  4. Thanks. I’m sympathetic to “organic chemistry sucks” to a point, but it’s important to consider the big picture. Having the freedom to go to college is a privilege, and it’s important not to forget that.

  5. Well said. I don’t think it applies just to medical school either. Pre-med students who are being bankrolled by their parents might think that organic chemistry is terrible. Try having to support yourself on $10 an hour working full-time in a steel mill without health insurance or having to worry about whether you’ll be able to make rent.

    Most med school applicants have never had to worry about that sort of thing. Unfortunate, really, since most of their patients have.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.