Medical school, year by year

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Gap medics students posing outside the hospital in their scrubs. All your hard work during your undergraduate career has paid off, and you are going to medical school. It can be an exciting and challenging time. Understanding what to expect each year of med school can decrease anxiety and help you plan for the next four years.

The basics

Most medical school programs are four years long and involve classroom lectures as well as hands on experience during clinical rotations. You have taken undergraduate science classes in several subjects, so you already have the basics down. But the classes you took during your undergrad career are only the foundation for what you will learn over the next four years.

Although medical schools operate differently, the school calendar may be similar to when you were in college. There may be a fall and spring term with a winter break in between, usually during the holidays.   

Years one and two

During your first two years of medical school, you will be spending a lot of your time in the classroom. Study of the human body is usually a big part of the first- year curriculum. In general, you will take four or five classes at the same time.

Classes, such as anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology and physiology may all be taken concurrently, but you will also have the opportunity to take classes you may have not studied in college, such as embryology and neuroscience. Classes may involve a lecture, lab time, or both.  

Certain medical schools have moved away from taking classes following a traditional semester calendar. Some medical schools have students focus on a single class or subject for a short period of time, such as four weeks, before moving on to another subject. Some other programs have students study a single organ at a time and focus on everything relevant to that organ, such as pathology, anatomy and pharmacology.      

Clinical rotation time

After your first two years of medical school comes the fun part—or the stressful part, depending on how you look at it. You will still have classroom work, but now you also get to apply what you have learned to real patients. During years three and four of medical school, you will be completing your clinical rotations. You will complete a series of rotations at hospitals affiliated with the medical school you are attending. The length of each rotation may vary. During rotations, you will be trained by residents and will perform varied duties depending on the rotation and the resident you are working with. 

You may perform basic medical exams and procedures, but you will be gaining valuable experience interacting with patients. Your duties may range from mundane tasks your resident does not want to do to helping with interesting procedures. You may have more responsibilities during your rotations in your fourth year of medical school. 

Typical rotations may include internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, psychiatry and emergency medicine. You may also have the option to choose some of the rotations you want to complete, which is a great way to decide what type of medicine you want to pursue. 

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