Medical Training and Medical School FAQ
What exactly does it take to become a doctor? What does medical training involve? These are questions that a lot of people have. This page is designed to help answer some common questions about medical training.
Medical school itself is four years long. However, it takes quite
a bit longer than that to become a doctor. First you must get your undergraduate degree from a college. Many people ask the question does it matter what major I choose as a premed?
The short answer to this is no, but you can find my answer to this question here.
You do need to make sure you fulfill the medical school requirements, and you can find out more about these requirements here.
After your undergraduate degree, you will apply for medical school. This is a long process and part of the answer to "how long is medical school?" For more about the medical school application, click here.
Once you have applied to medical school, you are ready to begin your medical training. As stated before, the short answer to "how long is medical school?" is four years. You will have a medical degree at the end of your four years. The medical program consists of two years of classwork and two years of clinical work.
For a more complete answer to this question, click here.
The short answer to this question is: it doesn't matter much. As long as you meet the medical school admissions requirements during your time in college, you'll be in good shape.
For a full discussion on this and my recommended classes, click here.
The first two years you will be studying just like you were in premed. Your medical training will likely be more intense than your undergrad, however. You will cover a lot of material in a short amount of time. This is the time when you will likely be repeating your question "how long is medical school?" Keep going! It gets better.
In these two years, the medical school curriculum consists of many different subjects. Subjects taught in medical school include anatomy, physiology and histology. Anatomy is the study of the human body. Physiology is the study of how the human body works. Histology is another of the subjects taught in medical school and deals with the study of human tissues under the microscope. I would suggest taking all of these as a premed to make your medical school curriculum easier!
Photo courtesy of Meathead Movers
Other subjects taught in medical school include pharmacology and sometimes a "doctoring" or "PBL" class. Pharmacology is the study of drugs and how they are used to treat disease. Doctoring is a class that supplements the traditional medical school curriculum by teaching things like interview skills and dealing with difficult patients. This is an important part of the medical program. PBL is another supplement to the medical school curriculum where you go through cases of patients and think about what the next step should be in diagnosis and treatment. This probably the most important of the subjects taught in medical school as it teaches you to really think like a doctor.
After your first two years you will take the USMLE Step 1. This is a difficult test but an important part of your medical training and necessary to get your medical license. You can find the books I recommend for USMLE here.
Now that you've passed USMLE step 1, you can breathe again! It's time to start your clinical years. These years are the ones that really teach you to be a doctor. It's what you signed up for when you decided to go to medical school! You'll be treating patients, working in the hospital. Third year you will have several required rotations, including surgery, pediatrics, OB/GYN, internal medicine, psychiatry, neurology, family medicine and ambulatory medicine. You'll be working 6 days a week most of the time and over 12 hours a day. It's intense, but this is where you earn your medical degree! You'll learn to take care of patients in real life. You get to apply what you've learned in the medical school curriculum and see how the subjects taught in medical school really work. It's exciting! At points you will again be asking "how long is medical school!?!?," but overall you will love it.
Fourth year is a nice, relaxing year. You get to choose your electives and there is a lot less pressure. This is true except for subinternships, which is where you are trying to impress people in the field of your choice and maybe get a letter of recommendation. You'll also be interviewing for medical residency during this time. For more detail on the medical school curriculum, click here.
What is medical residency?
As opposed to medical school, medical residency is a time when you will train in your specialty of choice. There are many residencies to choose from. Anything from psychiatry to orthopaedic surgery to pediatrics to internal medicine. If you are interested in going into something like cardiology or endocrinology, you will first do medical residency in internal medicine.
Your choice of residency definitely will impact the answer to the question "how long is medical school" and "how long is medical training?" For a specialty like family medicine, your residency will be three years. For a specialty like neurosurgery, your residency will be seven years or more! For details about specific residencies, click here. You can select a specialty from the top right corner. Some specialties are much more competitive than others, making them a difficult medical school match.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Brewster
What is the medical school match?
The medical school match is the process by which a medical student enters medical residency. Residency is where your specific medical training begins. You choose which specialties to apply to and at which programs across the country. You fill out an application on ERAS (electronic residency application service) which is similar to the medical school application. You still have to write a personal statement. Follow the same rules as the medical school personal statement.
You then go to interviews at the schools where you would like to make the medical school match. These are also similar to medical school interviews.
You then enter your "rank list" of the schools where you would like to attend medical residency for your medical training. This is done through the NRMP or National Resident Matching Program. The schools also make a rank list of the applicants that applied to your school. If you ranked them highly and they ranked you highly, a medical school match has been made and you are on your way to medical residency!
The medical school match is built for medical students, really. You should put your top choice as where you want to go most. Sometimes people don't do this and end up unhappy. It's really pretty simple. Put your list in the order of where you want to train. Period.
Obviously this will depend on the person, but I have a few ideas that I share here.
So, medical training is a long process. Some people will be in one medical program or another for 11 years. Crazy! But, if it's something you love, it's worth it. Plus, don't you want a person with a medical degree and a medical license to have plenty of experience? This training is how that happens.
What are your questions about medical school?
Have a question you'd like answered about medical school? Ask it here!
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