Medical school is challenging and rewarding, and you have a lot to celebrate having made it there. As you embark on your journey, you are probably wondering what to expect. The key to being prepared is finding trusted sources of advice on everything you’ll experience, including acing exams, electives, rotations; choosing your specialty; and staying well while keeping up with demands.
Many of the resources and opportunities the AAFP offers will be just what you need in the moment. You’ll find practical tools that will help you, as well as counsel developed by family physicians, residents, and students who have been where you are now.
Learn about the major milestones ahead in your training, how we can support your success, and the tips that have been useful through it all, from former medical students like you.
Your pre-clinical (first and second) years of medical school are spent predominately listening to lectures and reading. These lessons will provide the foundation for your career in medicine.
Your classes will also help prepare you for passing your first licensing exam – either the United States Medical Licensing Examination® Step 1 or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States Level 1.
Whether it is passing classes or the licensing exam, it will be important for you to build a support network. Family, friends, as well as senior medical students, residents, faculty, and staff can all be a helpful resource. They can provide you with emotional support, advice on courses and studying, and insight on exploring specialties.
Your clinical experience begins by your third year of medical school, or earlier for some institutions that have a consolidated pre-clinical curriculum or longitudinal clinical experiences in the first and second year. But by third year, most of your time will be spent in a hospital or clinic, applying the knowledge you've gained and building your clinical skills. You will likely complete six core hospital or community-based rotations, though these core rotations vary a bit by medical school:
Many medical schools also include emergency medicine, radiology, and neurology as core rotations, though the rotations may very in length.
Rotations provide you with the opportunity to develop the skills you need to excel as a physician. You will strengthen procedural and cognitive skills, practice patient interaction skills, and the experience will serve as a reference point in the journey toward choosing your specialty.
After rotating through a core clinical specialty, you will be tested on your knowledge in standardized shelf exams. To prepare for the family medicine shelf exam, many medical students use the AAFP’s practice board review questions, which medical student members can access for free.
Usually toward the end of third year you’ll take your second licensing exam of medical school, the USMLE Level 2 CK or COMLEX-USA Level 2 CE. This exam will evaluate you on your clinical knowledge. Your clinical skills will also be assessed.
The fourth year provides you with more flexibility to schedule elective and away rotations and time to reflect, evaluate, and make key decisions about your future. You will experience clerkships and sub-internships with greater responsibility and clinical autonomy. You will also research residency programs, submit applications, and conduct interviews and rank programs as part of the Match process.
Each year of your training will come with a new set of expectations and opportunities. You can set yourself up for success with advice aimed at building your confidence and focusing on your long-term goals. Here are five tips to help you now and in the future.
As a medical student it is important to recognize that imposter syndrome exists. Imposter syndrome can be defined as the persistent inability to believe thta one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills. It is likely you will experience it in multiple ways during the four years of medical school. It is a normal and natural phenomenon, but that doesn't mean you should accept it. You should actively combat it.
Medical school is a rewarding experience, but it is also intimidating and grueling at times. You are surrounded by other extremely intelligent people, and it’s natural to feel insecure at times. You might even ask yourself, “Do I belong here?”
Likewise, being a family physician is an awesome responsibility that requires a broad skill set, so it’s normal for students to wonder, “Will I be good enough to be someone’s physician someday?”
One way to combat imposter syndrome is to understand that you are a student who is learning, and you will always be learning. In a recent webinar Dr. John Gimpel, family physicain, AAFP member, and president and chief executive officer of the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners, offered advice to medical students. No matter whether you are a student, resident or practicing physician, be a lifelong learner.
It’s never too early for you to take on a leadership role, even in your first year of medical school. You may feel like your focus and time needs to be on studying, but getting involved will help you grow professionally, acquire valuable leadership skills, and provide you with mentoring and networking opportunities.
Ariana Rodriguez, medical student at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, says the connections you make while serving in leadership roles turn into valuable letters of recommendation during the Match process. She says being involved also keeps you engaged, and student leaders may be more likely to be selected for other leadership roles in the future.
As a medical student, you will feel a lot of pressure to make every moment count. The summer between first and second year is often the only "break" in the medical student calendar, as clinical rotations begin immediately after second year coursework completes. You may feel the need to fill that summer with research projects and volunteer work to boost your curriculum vitae, but the summer between your first and second years of medical school will not make or break your career.
Instead, Dr. Leon McCrea, senior associate dean of the office of diversity, equity, and inclusion and director at the Drexel Pathway to Medical School, advises you to spend those summers doing what excites you. Find an experience that matters to you and will help you recharge before the next academic year starts. These experiences will be beneficial when things get challenging in school.
Invest in your relationships and leverage support services that are available to you. For example, therapy services are often covered by student insurance and are a valuable tool even before school gets stressful.
Ariana Rodriguez also advises students to spend time with friends and family. Whether things are going well, or you are dealing with a specific challenge, regular calls or meetings can help. She says even a five-minute call can help you relax and provide the energy you need to keep going.
Social media can be a powerful tool for you make connections and expand your influence. Social media can help you connect with your peers, residents, and mentors as well as others in your community. You can also use it to learn about residency programs and keep up to date on new clinical information.
Dr. Rose Marie Leslie, Allina Health, reminds you to keep your posts professional. Be thoughtful, and review whatever you post or share. You’re representing not only yourself but your school and your future profession. Clearly state that you’re a student, and don’t provide personal medical advice.
Watch the “10 Secrets to Success in Medical School” webinar. Not a member yet? Join now it's free.