Although a medical student’s workload is intense, it’s not insurmountable. Once you see exactly how medical school is structured, you’ll know what to expect and how to manage your time and study habits accordingly.

The stages from medical school student to fully licensed physician include:

  1. Basic Sciences: the first two years of med school, during which students participate in classroom seminars with labs and complete the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1.
  2. Clinical Sciences: the last two years of med school, during which students participate in core and elective rotations in teaching hospitals and complete the USMLE Step 2CS and USMLE Step 2CK.
  3. Residency: Graduates then apply to residency programs that allow them to practice independently at teaching hospitals, but under the direct supervision of established physicians. Here they will complete USMLE Step 3, the final Step exam.
  4. Fellowship:  after residency, a physician (or fellow) is able to act as an attending physician in the general field of his or her training, while taking on a secondary role to learn a relevant sub-specialty.

During the first two years, you’ll spend a majority of your time in lectures and labs. These require a lot of studying if you want to stay ahead without falling behind. At American University of Antigua (AUA) College of Medicine, Basic Sciences are taught on a two-semester schedule, while schedules at other Caribbean medical schools differ (some relying on a three-semester structure). Med students in their first two years can expect to spend about eight to nine hours in class and an additional three to four hours revising. On the weekends, some students take a day for themselves but most will spend half of each day off studying. During exam periods, these hours tend to become more extreme.

During the third and fourth year, rotations completely remove any sense of consistency from your schedule with some lasting as little as two weeks and others taking as many as twelve. Rotations are immersive and emphasize hands on training by allowing the student to function as a “student-teacher” doctor and apply knowledge from the classroom to practical situations. The level of difficulty varies as does the workload. Areas like family practice and pediatrics are more conventional, operating during normal business hours, while other rotations have more erratic schedules, such as surgery, emergency medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology. Students in these rotations often do overnight shifts of up to 30 hours a week.

After you earn your MD, you’ll have more responsibility and more time interacting with patients. While residencies and fellowships can both be very time consuming, they provide real world learning experiences.  Long hours are not uncommon, but the rewards are significant. By the end of it, you’ll finally earn your license to practice throughout the United States.

The difficulty of medical education doesn’t end after acquiring your license. You’ll need to work hard for the rest of your medical career if you want to succeed. However, the discipline you’ve practiced to complete medical school, residency, and fellowship will help you solve any challenges you encounter as a physician.