Are you wondering how long is medical school?

You’ve probably heard that becoming a doctor takes years and this is correct. But what about the time that you’re only in medical school.

The answer to your question is that medical school itself is only four years.

These four years aren’t the same though because medical school is split into two separate parts:

  • Basic Sciences
  • Clinical Rotations

Basic Sciences

You pay your dues as a medical student during the first two years of medical school where you spend virtually all your time in the classroom or in the lab.

You cannot become a doctor without first knowing the basics of medicine, hence the name. One of the corner stones of making the transition to medical school is your gross anatomy lab.

I won’t go into details about anatomy but I remember my first time stepping into the anatomy lab in medical school. I walked into the lab and I’m a very expressive person with my facial expressions and apparently I gave off the vibe I was uncomfortable.

Because the lab director took one look at my face and goes, “Are you okay, you’re not going to pass out on me.”

You have to remember I had never seen cadavers aka “dead bodies” up close before and had been uncomfortable going inside funeral homes.

But it didn’t take me long to get used to walking into the anatomy lab and getting to work dissecting my cadaver and learning the inner workings of the human body.

Obviously, anatomy is at the foundation of medicine but there are lots of other courses you’ll encounter during the basic sciences portion of medical school.

In answering how long is medical school, during the first two years known as the basic sciences classes include:

  • Histology
  • Primary Care
  • Biochemistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathology
  • Immunology

and the list can go on and on because there’s a ton of courses you will take during your first two years of medical school.

As you can tell there is not a whole bunch of patient contact in the first two years of medical school. The goal is to give you a basic foundation of knowledge and skills that you can take with you into third year.

Clinical Clerkships

Some medical students would argue this is where the fun actually begins. You see now a majority of your time is actually spent in the hospital learning and seeing patients. You will work a tremendous amount of hours almost like the actual doctors on the clinical service you are working under.

For instance, I stayed with a friend of mine who was third year medical student and this is how his schedule went during his clinical rotations.

He was expected to be at the hospital at 7:00am to round on patients and take part in their care throughout his 12 hour shift. And since he was a student the work did not stop once he got home at about 7:00pm each night.

At home he was expected to study the clinical medicine that was relevant to the specialty he was rotating on. So this meant a good 4 hours of additional study each night after working a very long day or night at the hospital.

Studying and doing well is very important because medical students are graded based on their performance during clinical years they will take “shelf” exams which are standardized tests for the specialty they are on. Also the medical student will be evaluated based on their knowledge an interaction with other members of the clinical team. As you can tell, it is very important to not only know your science but also to have good people skills too.

4th Year Is Awesome

This is where you can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. At this point in your career you are practically drained from all the studying and rotations and if asked about how long is medical school you’d reply that it is too long.

But the caveat is you have a lot of freedom during this final year of medical school.

Fourth year is used to help you figure out which specialty you would like to pursue. To make this a reality you will have the opportunity to do rotations at different institutions aside from your “home” medical school. Also you will be spending a lot of time on the road interviewing.

Fourth year is when you need to choose your branch of medicine which means setting up interviews anywhere and everywhere with residency programs that you are interested in.

And then in March you will find out the MATCH results which is were fourth year medical students learn what specialty and residency program they have matched into to begin their medical training as freshly minted doctors.

Yes, once you graduate from medical school you are officially a doctor but you cannot practice medicine on your own, you need to complete a residency and become licensed/certified.

This may all seem like a lot but it is the price to be paid to take on the priviledge of being responsible for the lives of your future patients. And when considering the amount of training you will be receiving, how long is medical school can make up a very small part of your total medical education as a doctor because medicine means becoming a lifelong learner.