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What to Expect as a Medical Student: Your Medical Education and the Process of Becoming a Doctor

Once you are accepted and register for a medical school, you should withdraw any applications you submitted to other schools. You will probably still be attending college and completing your Bachelor's degree. You may be tempted to withdraw from your undergraduate program so you can have a few months of freedom before beginning the grueling years ahead. Don't do it! Firstly, the medical school has probably admitted you with the understanding that you will be completing your degree, and secondly, just in case you don't get through med school, you'll want to have that diploma in hand. However, unless you were instructed to take or re-take some specific class, you can probably get away with taking the easiest classes you can to still obtain your degree. After all, the next seven years or so will almost certainly be the toughest of your life.

Your Medical Education: The First and Second Year Medical School Curriculum

The first two years of your medical education will be spent in the classroom. The sheer volume of what you must learn will probably overwhelm you for the first few months, but US medical schools grade on a pass/fail basis and surprisingly, over 97% of entering students graduate in 4 years with an MD degree. Basic medical science curricula in the first and second year vary from school to school, but will include the following courses or similar subjects:

Gross Anatomy
Biochemistry
Microscopic Anatomy
Human Embryology
Behavioral Medicine
Molecular Biology
Human Genetics
Medical Neuroscience
Medical Ethics and Humanities
Physiology
Physical Diagnosis

Second year courses include the following:
Microbiology and Immunology
Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Introduction to Clinical Medicine and Physical Diagnosis
Clinical Correlation
Pharmacology
Advanced Physical Diagnosis

Upon completion of the second year of the medical school curriculum, you must take the first part of the three-part exam, the United States Medical Licensing Examination, or USMLE, Step 1. You must pass the three parts of this exam with a minimum score to become licensed to practice medicine in the United States. Most schools include classes to prepare you to sit for this exam which you must pass before continuing on to your third year. Step 2 is administered after your fourth year of medical education and must be passed before residency, and Step 3 is taken prior to completion of residency to gain licensure.

Click here for USMLE resources, sample test, strategies and more.

Your Medical Education: The Third and Fourth Year Medical School Curriculum

The third and fourth years of medical school are spent learning hands-on patient care. They are the "clinical" years. Third year students complete eight week rotations through various departments in the hospital which include:

Internal Medicine
Surgery
Pediatrics
Psychiatry
Obstetrics/Gynecology
Family Medicine

The fourth year rotations are longer and are called Clerkships. Students are required to rotate through Internal Medicine, Surgery, and often Neurology, but are encouraged to choose elective rotations in departments that they may be interested in pursuing as a specialty. Students are also given time off to apply for residency and interview for prospective programs.

Paying for Your Medical Education

Most medical school students accumulate a great deal of debt. The 2009-2010 AAMC Annual Student Tuition and Fees Report found that the average in-state tuition and fees for first-year medical students at public universities was $23,622. For out-of-state nonresident students, the average public university tuition and fees were $44,309. The average tuition and fees for first-year medical students at private universities was $41,063. These costs do not include health insurance fees, possible tuition and fee raises, books, housing, and other living expenses incurred during the typical course of medical school.

Tuition and fees for a medical education range from about $10,300 per year for residents at public universities, to $51,200 per year for non-residents at private schools. On top of tuition you can add costs of around $3,000 per year for books, fees, and materials. Unless you live with your parents or a supporting spouse, you will have basic living expenses too. Working while in medical school is virtually impossible since you simply will not have the time. Therefore you will most likely take out a few student loans. Fortunately, your earning potential will be great, so obtaining loans isn't very difficult. The Financial Aid office at your school will have many resources and a lot of information to help you fund your education.

Try this link for Student Loan Consolidation

Articles in this series:

  • Becoming a Doctor Are you trying to decide whether becoming a doctor is right for you? Take a realistic look at what it takes to get there.
  • Steps to Become a Doctor Premed Planning - The timeline and steps to become a doctor, including undergraduate studies, gaining experience in the medical industry and taking the MCAT.
  • Applying to Medical School Ready to apply to medical school? Be prepared for the application process and for medical school interviews.
  • How to Become a Doctor What to Expect in Medical School - Medical school curriculum, USMLE, and the cost of medical school
  • NRMP and Medical Residency What is residency for doctors? Medical Residency, ERAS, NRMP, the Residency Match and the Scramble - The process of getting matched with a medical residency position, and the medical resident's role.
  • Being a Doctor What It's Like to be a Doctor

Visit all the MomMD resources for becoming a doctor.

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