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What is the general overview of medical school?

I've heard a lot about medical school but I don't really know what it is. All I know is that it' a really long process LOL

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Audrey’s Answer

Hi Ilysa,

It is a long process, and as someone who has completed some of that process and is working their way through other aspects of it, I hope that I can answer your question by letting you know what it's really like.

First, medical school is a graduate program. That means you have to have already completed, at minimum, an undergraduate 4-year degree before starting medical school. What this looks like is different for a lot of people. You don't need to major in a science or health-related field if you don't want to. You do need to take a certain amount of pre-requisite science and math classes for medical school (usually biology, chemistry, physics, biochemistry, statistics, and calculus). But the really important thing for getting into medical school is having a good GPA and a good score on the MCAT. So if you know that you'd be more likely to succeed and get a high GPA if you did a different undergraduate degree than something science-focused, I recommend doing what is best for you. In my medical school class, we do have a lot of students who studied biology, chemistry, biochemistry, nursing, and emt sciences. Still, we also have people who have degrees in business administration, education, Spanish, political science, sociology, psychology, philosophy and ethics, and even music theory!

Regarding the MCAT, that is like the SAT for medical school. You need to take the MCAT, and your score on it is important to the medical school application and admission process. The MCAT has four sections: biology and biochemistry, chemistry and physics, psychology and sociology, and last is critical analysis, reasoning, and thinking (CART). You can understand why the prerequisite courses for medical school are so science-heavy when science and math are half of the MCAT. I also recommend, if you're going down the med school path, to take intro-level psychology and sociology classes because it really helps study for the MCAT. CART is very similar to the reading section of the SAT, just more advanced. I found that taking a college-level history or English class that requires you to analyze nonfiction and rhetoric made the CART section really easy, so don't just take science classes in undergrad because a lot of my peers didn't prioritize taking non-science classes and struggled with CART.

You can start applying for medical school in your senior year of college. Still, the average med student needs to go through 2-3 cycles of admissions before being accepted because the classes are small and the process is very competitive. For admissions, they look at your GPA and academic transcripts as well as your MCAT score. They also want people who have a commitment to medicine beyond academics. This means they're looking to see if you've done things like shadow at hospitals and clinics, if you've participated in research, if you do community engagement and public service activities, etc.

Medical school itself is also a 4-year program. Generally, it is broken up into three "steps." Step one, or pre-clinical, is your classroom learning experience. This is really similar to undergraduate. You have lectures every day in medical science and sometimes other activities like anatomy labs or clinical skills and clinical reasoning workshops. I don't know if it's the same for all medical schools, but mine breaks up our classes into blocks. So instead of having multiple classes for an entire semester, we do an entire class in 4-8 weeks but only do that class every day. We have lecture in or lab in the mornings, usually from 8-12. Then we have other semester-long classes that have workshops and occasionally lectures in the afternoons to do things like develop clinical skills (communication with patients, performing physical exams, using medical equipment and technology, writing patient notes and charting) and clinical reasoning (working through medical cases to learn how to relate symptoms to possible diagnoses and decide what testing is needed and what those test results mean). At the end of every block, we have an NBME (National Board of Medical Examiners) final exam. We also have clinical skills exams at the end of every semester, where we have to perform our clinical skills and clinical reasoning abilities by doing a simulated case on a standardized patient (hired actor) for a grade. At the end of step one, we have to take our first US Medical Licensing Exam. It's pass/fail, and basically, the first two years of medical school are just studying for that exam.

After step one, or the first two years of medical school, is step two, aka the third year of medical school, aka clinical rotations. My school is unique because they give us opportunities to get clinical experience during step one, but for a lot of schools, actually working in clinical environments like hospitals starts in the third year after passing USMLE 1. We rotate between all of the different specialties of medicine every six weeks. At the end of every rotation, we have a Shelf Test, which is a final exam based on the specific content we learned in that rotation. At the end of step two, we have our second USMLE exam, and this one actually has a numerical score associated with it because how well we do on it contributes to our admissions into residency programs.

Step three, aka the fourth year of medical school is also known as our sub-internship year. Like step two, we do clinical rotations. However, in step two, our clinical rotations were assigned to us because they were the subjects we needed to know for USMLE 2. For step three, the clinical rotations are elective, meaning that we can actually choose what kinds of clinical rotations we do. For people who know what kind of specialty they want to go into, this is a really good opportunity to get more specific experience and explore sub-specialties. For people who haven't yet figured out what they want, the elective opportunity means they can explore different specialties further and hopefully get a better idea of what residency programs they want to apply for. You apply and interview for residency programs in your fourth year of medical school.

The residency matching process is a little weird. Basically, unlike college and medical school, where you can apply to different schools, and they can accept you. Then you can decide where to matriculate. The residency process is handled by a third party. Initially, it's the same, you apply to different residency programs, send them your transcripts and letters of recommendation, and then interview at programs you're really interested in. But instead of them accepting you, both you and the residency have to make a list. You make a tiered list of what residency programs you want to get into, and the residency programs make a tiered list of all the candidates they want to admit into their program. Then this third-party matching system takes a look at the candidates' lists and the school's list, and they do their matching magic and assign candidates to programs. So you get a letter from the match system, and they tell you which residency program you're going into. You can refuse your matched program, but then you have to go through the whole match process again with whatever spots weren't taken in the first round.

After that, you're technically done with medical school. Residency is a training program, but it's also a job, and you do get a salary and are no longer considered a student. However, you are not licensed to practice medicine on your own, and as a resident, you work under the supervision of more senior doctors. Residency programs are the programs that train you how to practice medicine on your own and are more specialized training in whatever field of medicine you choose to work in. They can last anywhere from 3-5 years, depending on the program you're in. Longer, even if you want to do a fellowship and sub-specialize in a specific area of medicine. After finishing your residency, you can take USMLE 3, your final medical licensing exam. This is the one that means you are fully licensed to practice medicine independently and also are qualified to be a doctor who can supervise other doctors.

So, you're right that it's a very long and difficult process. It's also incredibly rewarding. Whether or not this path is the right fit for you, you'll have plenty of time and opportunities to decide. I just hope that this insight helps you decide whether or not medical school is the best fit for you.
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Dino’s Answer

Hello Ilysa, we're thrilled to have you reach out to us. Your question is a fantastic one. Let me break down the journey to becoming a medical doctor for you.

Firstly, you'll need to enroll in a Science Program such as BS Nursing, BS Biology, BS Physical Therapy, or BS Psychology. This will serve as your premed program.

Next, you'll need to pass a medical examination to gain admission into medical school.

Once admitted, you'll spend another four years in medical school.

After that, you'll need to complete your training in medical school.

The next step is to pass the medical board examination.

Finally, you'll move on to your residency and/or specialization.

It's indeed a lengthy journey to become a medical doctor, but remember, if your heart is set on this path, the journey will be worth it.

However, if you decide to stop after your BS Program and start working, that's completely fine too. It's your journey and you're in control.

Some of my students chose not to proceed to medical school after their BS Program. Some became doctors, while others found fulfilling careers in hospitals as nurses, pharmacists, or medical technologists.

There are also graduate programs available that can help you assume leadership roles in hospitals or laboratory companies.

If your goal is to be part of the medical team, you might consider a CNA or Caregiving Program. This would take less than two years of training and you could start working right away.

Remember, you have the power to make your own decisions. Whatever path you choose, stay persistent and never give up.

Good luck and remember, we're rooting for you!
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Madison’s Answer

All medical schools have a slightly different curriculum but in general MANY schools (not all) do 1-2 years of classroom course work. Usually this is by body systems (cardio, respiratory, anatomy, urogenital, neuro, ect). This is usually followed by 2-3 years of mostly clinical work where you’re placed in a hospital shadowing and helping in different medical specialties. Most schools you still take exams during this clinical course work and you then take multiple board exams throughout medical school as well (2 during med school, 1 after)
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