Medical Student’s Guide to Eating Free in the Hospital

By Robbie Gillies & Marcus Yip

There is no such thing as a free lunch, right? Wrong. This is a myth. In fact, the only certainty in life is that as a Med Student, you will perpetually be both hungry and poor. In recent years a shortage of viable free-food available to students in the hospital has driven the evolution of a cunning and audacious scavenger. For the savvy Med Student, those that are prepared to apply their strong work ethic to mastering the art of ‘free eating’ are finding that the world is their sandwich platter. These are their methods.

The General Inspection: The General Inspection is a vital piece of any player’s arsenal, requiring a delicate balance of poise and sharp clinical reasoning to execute a rapid and efficient assessment of the scene. Once a potential target is located, there is a need to quickly decide whether to invest in the assignment. This is termed the “Food or Flight” moment, and success is pinned on an astute, objective analysis of the environment in which the food is found. Beware the disgruntled guardian of the feast, or more powerful, hostile, and hungrier competitors. A wrong move at this preliminary stage may cause aggravation of a superior in the hospital hierarchy, and see you permanently blacklisted from metropolitan hospitals, banished to rural Victoria for your internship years.

The Chameleon: A common technique used by hungry animals in nature is the employment of disguise and illusion – the ability to camouflage. When stalking a hospital meal, the laws of the jungle have never been more pertinent. Overly zealous rookies may forget to remove their fluorescent orange ‘Medical Student’ lanyards, an error which will inevitably result in a failure to thrive. The free feast is a fiercely defended oasis, and to gain access you will need to adopt the mannerisms, confidence, and tools of those for whom the feast was truly intended. Always carry a range of postgraduate resources, for example the DSM-IV at a psychiatry lunch, and also have at your disposal a change of clothing for every conceivable social situation.

The False Initiator: For those that stumble across unopened, wrapped platters. Whilst the guardian of the feast is momentarily absent, perhaps distracted by last minute duties, invite gathering strangers to commence eating and declare the event ‘open’. With enough confidence, bystanders will not think to question your authority, blinded by their own debilitating hunger. This will initiate a feeding frenzy, and after you have enjoyed first access to the food, a successful getaway can usually be achieved under the veil of the ensuing chaos. Answer a fake phone call before the feast’s caretaker has returned, and retreat into obscurity.

The Catch Me if you Can: With privilege comes responsibility, and with the Grand Round buffet comes the enthralling seminar that follows. Some enjoy the guilt-free option of eating and allowing a one-hour food coma to follow, aided by the lecturer’s incomprehensible, monotonic ramblings about new cytokine pathways recently discovered in anonymous mice studies. For others this option is literally too much to stomach, and a getaway must be made once the gorging is complete. Combine many tactics to avoid being caught by the watchful eye of the head consultant hosting the seminar: disguise, fake phone calls, no visible identification displayed on your person, and distractions. Being first in the line at the beginning of the lunch is imperative, so that you can finish your meal promptly and make an escape during the mayhem of mid-lunch.

The Hyena: As the sun begins to set after another long day at the hospital, keep an eye out for the remnants of the day’s spoils abandoned in a lonely corridor. Like the carcass of a decaying wildebeest, it is often possible to find sources of food if you are willing to scavenge and take your chances with questionable deli meats.

Absolute Contraindications and Red Flags:

  • Sticky food items, e.g. sweet and sour chicken

  • Discarded milk or blue cheese

  • More people ahead of you in the line than there are eatable sushi flavours

  • Gluten-free cookies, even if you have Coeliac disease
  • A patrolling consultant declaring to students ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch, you know’

Heed these lessons and enjoy your future free lunches.


‘Medical Student’s Guide to Eating Free in the Hospital’ was originally published on the Auricle’s now defunct blog in 2013. Robbie and Marcus now work at the Alfred Hospital.

Featured image by user Takeaway at Wikimedia Commons.

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