Medical School Curriculum

Hello Aspiring Physicians!

Let’s talk about the medical school curriculum. What exactly do you learn during your 4 years in medical school? I get this question quite a bit. So let’s do a quick breakdown of what you learn and do each year.

The first year is purely academic meaning you are in the classroom or doing some kind of independent study if offered at your medical school. I call this year the “normal”. During this year you learn how the human body is supposed to work. The courses included in this year are: Anatomy, Physiology, Embryology, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, Genetics, Nutrition, Ethics, Introduction to Clinical Medicine. Yeah I know that’s a lot.

Gross Anatomy will be your first or maybe even shocking experience in medical school. You will be grouped with 4-6 of your classmates and you are required to dissect a cadaver(dead body). We can discuss more about that later but remember that some special person donated their body to help you learn and become a better doctor!

In your physiology course, you will learn the complex and dynamic interplay among body systems. This course will go hand in hand with Anatomy.

You likely took a Biochemistry course prior to medical school but yes it comes back to haunt you again. So don’t throw away that awesome Krebs cycle picture that you made in undergrad. You will re-visit this concept as well as many others.

Cellular Biology will cover the life cycles of different cells of the body, how we age, how we renew ourselves. You will look at the immune system in depth as well.

Neurobiology can be challenging as it takes you through the brain and nervous system. I think that most medical students find this course the most challenging as you will deal with a plethora of information and complexity. Usually embryology is linked with this class.

The second year continues the didactics! During this year, you will make the transition from normal Anatomy and Physiology to studying diseases. The course work in this year includes: Pathology (impact of disease on anatomy), Pathophysiology (impact of disease on the body’s function), Pharmacology (how we treat diseases with medications), and Microbiology (study of the organisms that cause certain diseases).

Between your 2nd and 3rd years, you will take Step 1 exam. We can talk about this exam more in detail later, but it will be important for residency. This exam marks the transition from the classroom to the wards or clinical years.

The third year is the beginning of your clinical years. This does not mean that the classroom work and studying are over, because frankly studying and lifelong learning will be a part of you for the rest of your career, whether you decide to go into academics or private practice. The third year takes you through a more structured path through all of the core rotations. These include internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and psychiatry. The rotations typically last for 4-6 weeks. This year gives you a glimpse of most of the specialties, but really gives you the opportunity to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life. And yes you are graded during each rotation by your Attending. These grades are also very important for getting into residency. Surviving the wards/clinical rotations is a whole section in itself because it is completely different from the first two years. You are talking with real patients with real problems and with possible life-threatening diseases.

During your 4th and final year of medical school, you are still on the wards but you get to pick your rotations this year to a certain degree. Hopefully after the third year you have an idea of what specialty you want to pursue. This year will be dedicated to going through the match process for residency, getting recommendation letters, applying to residency programs and preparing for the next step in your medical training.

So, in essence, every year in medical school is important. There is a reason that it takes 4 years to complete. After you graduate from medical school you have earned an M.D. or D.O. degree. This is a huge accomplishment and you should be extremely proud of yourself. Some of you will decide to do take 1 or 2 years off during medical school to do research and may earn your PhD as well. Kudos to you.

I hope this gives you a good overview about what you have signed up for. If requested by you all, I am happy to discuss residency training but remember that it is specialty specific.

I do enjoy your comments and questions, please keep them coming. I love hearing about your successes and I sympathize with your rejections and failures. This journey is difficult, you will have successes and failures throughout your career. Just remember to pat yourself on the back and take time to enjoy those successes and pick yourself back up after those failures. The failures will define you and make you better if you can learn from them now.

You can do this. Keep grinding and keep your head up!


Your Med Mentor

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