If you’re considering applying to medical school, or maybe you’ve already been accepted, you may be wondering what to expect as you transition to this new phase of your life. Medical school can feel a bit daunting, especially in the beginning, so we’ve outlined some general expectations that cover what to expect in medical school.
Medical School Timeline
How Long is Medical School?
Before you enter medical school, it is important to have a broad understanding of the timeline for your medical school experience. While most other graduate-level programs can be completed in 2-4 years, a comprehensive medical school program will take 6-9 years including residency. During this time, you’ll complete a variety of research and hands-on training that will prepare you for providing medical care in your chosen field after graduation. Most U.S. medical school programs and programs modeled after U.S. medical schools, including the programs at American University of Antigua (AUA), are structured into the following phases.
Pre-clinicals – Years 1 & 2
The first two years of your program, known as pre-clinicals, will primarily be focused on basic science courses and foundational medical knowledge. Most of your education during this phase will be structured like your typical college classes – a teacher will deliver lesson content according to a syllabus and assign readings and other homework from a course textbook.
Expect to spend 6-8 hours studying each day as you will be learning a lot about many different medical disciplines during these first two years, including anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, pathology, neurology, and others.
Clinical Rotations – Years 3 & 4
Your clinical rotations typically occur during years 3 and 4 of medical school. During clinicals, you will work at a hospital that has a partnership with your medical school. Some medical schools partner with a single local hospital, while other schools, such as AUA, have a wide network of many hospitals for students to complete their clinical rotations.
Your exact rotations may vary based on your program and desired career path, but most medical students will complete a rotation in several core medical disciplines, including internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, neurology, and psychiatry. As you complete each rotation, you will gain experience with real patients in real medical situations under the guidance of medical residents and attending physicians.
Once you have completed your initial four years of medical school, you will apply for residency in a program of your choice. Residency applications are highly competitive, and most medical students apply for 6-10 different programs in hopes of landing a spot at one of their top choices. The length of your residency will vary based on the medical discipline and program location, but most residency programs last 2-5 years. For example, a surgical residency at a highly competitive training hospital will typically last longer than an internal medicine residency in a less competitive hospital.
During residency, you will simultaneously be preparing for the final steps in the medical licensing process. Without passing all of your licensing exams, you cannot practice medicine, even if you complete your residency program. Once you have completed your initial residency, you can choose to continue your training through a more specialized residency program or fellowship, or you can pass your licensing exams and begin to practice medicine once you have obtained the proper medical license in your state.
Medical School Expectations
Medical school is a rigorous program that isn’t for the faint of heart. If you go into medical school thinking it will be a quick and easy way to make a comfortable living, you will quickly find your expectations don’t match reality. That said, over 25,000 medical students graduate each year, so you can accomplish your goal if you start out with clear expectations from the beginning.
What Medical Schools Expect of You
Medical schools have a reputation to uphold, and they are investing time, effort, and potentially scholarship funds into all the students that are accepted. Once you are a part of that elite group, your medical school will have certain expectations for you to fulfill your end of the bargain:
• Show up. This may sound obvious, but the first step to success in medical school is showing up with your best self, ready to learn. This isn’t about perfect attendance – it’s about taking care of your personal well-being so you can avoid mental and emotional distractions that hinder learning.
• Ask questions. Teachers won’t always know when or where you’re struggling, and asking questions helps to reinforce learning. From application processes to intricate surgical procedures, there’s a lot to learn in medical school. You’re bound to have questions along the way, so don’t be afraid to ask.
• Plan to study daily. While it’s okay to take a day off now and then, your general plan should involve study time each day. Regular study time allows you to address relevant questions immediately, rather than several days or weeks later when the teacher has already moved on to the next lesson.
• Be a self-directed learner. If you realize you’re especially interested in a topic, don’t feel constrained to the course syllabus or structure of your program. Take the initiative to research the material by watching videos or attending office hours. This will help cement your learning and set a good precedent for your future career.
• Take advantage of additional learning opportunities. From student organizations to internships or guest speakers, you’ll have a plethora of additional learning opportunities available throughout medical school. While these activities are technically “optional”, get involved whenever possible. Remember, medical school is about the holistic experience, not just the degree at the end of the journey.
What You Can Expect from AUA
While we can’t tell you what you can expect from other medical schools, we can tell you what you can expect here at AUA. Even if you don’t attend here (but we hope you do!), make sure you look for a school you can count on – one that you can confidently expect to deliver on the following:
• A holistic approach to application review. We believe students are more than just an MCAT score or a GPA. At AUA, we evaluate potential students on a rolling basis, up to one year before their ideal start date. While our admissions process is competitive, we encourage all students to apply and share what makes them a great fit for AUA’s programs. We’ll review your entire package and make the best decision based on all of your accomplishments, not just a single number.
• Commitment to diversity. Patients come from diverse backgrounds, and we believe physicians should, too. AUA is committed to promoting diversity in medical education through our partnerships with Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). Minority students from schools such as Charles Drew University in Los Angeles, Fisk University in Tennessee, and Central State University in Ohio are guaranteed admission to AUA if they meet the general admission requirements.
• Plentiful financial aid opportunities. Students can take advantage of U.S. Federal Student Loan programs, Canadian provincial loans, and numerous scholarships, grants, and service awards. Many of our scholarship programs are designed specifically for minority students to further our initiative to increase diversity in medical schools.
• Highly accredited programs that are continuously reevaluated. Thanks to the high standards of our programs, graduates from AUA are eligible to practice medicine in all 50 U.S. states, Canada, the United Kingdom, India, and in several other countries around the world. Our programs are accredited by the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP), and we have received numerous recognitions from various medical education authorities around the world.
• A learner-centric education program. In many medical school programs, students don’t receive hands-on education until the third year of medical school. At AUA, we believe that earlier hands-on clinical training helps prepare students for clinical rotations and makes for more successful students overall. Our students can shadow physicians, participate in simulation labs, and benefit from other hands-on experiences as early as their first year in medical school.
• Lifelong support for alumni. The AUA Alumni program offers job and referral postings, teaching fellowships, connections to other alumni, and a host of other benefits. Joining the AUA community is for life, and we are proud to recognize and support our alumni throughout their careers.
The Med School Experience
Your experiences in medical school will shape your future – both personally and professionally. No matter what field you choose, which school you attend, or how well you perform academically, you can expect your medical school experience to shape you in several key ways.
Medical school is a shared bonding experience that fosters life-long friendships. For students who choose to study in the Caribbean, this is even more true. For most students, this will be the first time they have lived abroad, and the unique island culture builds even closer relationships.
Especially for students who study in the Caribbean, you will gain a global perspective that will help you better care for your patients and ultimately make you a better physician. Surrounding yourself with diverse community members will encourage you to challenge any preconceived notions you may have about healthcare, other cultures, or life in general. These life experiences will develop you, both personally and professionally, into a well-rounded physician who can relate to people from all walks of life.
At its core, medical school is about learning the fundamentals of medicine. But if medical school was only about learning the textbook material, every medical school program would be equal. The broader value of a comprehensive medical school program comes from the partnerships and connections you make while working through your program. Medical schools like AUA that offer numerous partnership opportunities can increase your chances of landing competitive residency spots, make invaluable introductions to key leaders in the medical community, and open numerous doors that can help you shape your career pathway as you see fit.