Medical internships in the United States

July 4, 2012

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Interns are essentially first year residents, who work alongside fully qualified doctors and medical staff in a working environment, where they practice and train under direct supervision. Internships are a crucial step to becoming a qualified doctor, dentist, surgeon or podiatrist, and the process begins during the last year of medical school.
In their final year, students are expected to apply for postgraduate internships in a chosen field of specialization, by contacting hospitals and medical centers for placements. Internships are highly competitive, especially those in the more desired fields of specialization such as surgery. Interviews and careful matching of a graduate to an internship often takes many months, and it is not uncommon for interns to have to apply for several programs before they are accepted.
In the United States, completion of an internship is the minimum requirement for which a general license to practice medicine is granted. Many interns, however, continue for several more years working as a resident in the hospital or medical centre, acquiring all the skills and experience necessary to specialize in their chosen field of medicine. Increasingly, internships are being integrated with residency programs, and the term intern is slowly being phased out, with many medical settings now referring to interns as “first year residents.” Interns work alongside qualified medical practitioners in medical settings, practicing medicine under supervision. Many interns find that their internship is the first time they get to practice actual hands-on medicine experience, with their preceding medical training having provided them with the theoretical background.

Qualifying for an internship

To qualify for an internship, a medical student has to have successfully obtained a medical degree, and usually take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) in order to qualify to practice general medicine. Internships are notoriously hard work. Many interns find themselves working long hours, up to 16 hours continuously, with a working week often exceeding 60 hours. The work is also hard and varied. Interns perform the same tasks as qualified medical practitioners, albeit under supervision, and often find themselves conducting tasks that other professional prefer not to do.
While successfully completing an internship and attaining the USMLE or COMLEX qualifications enables a graduate to practice medicine, many interns continue with their residencies. Internships provide graduates with the opportunity to finalize which field of medicine they wish to specialize in, with the exposure to a proper medical setting helping them to decide if certain areas of medicine are actually suitable. If interns continue with a residency, then the long, unsociable hours continue, with it not uncommon for residents in their second year to face 24-hour shifts and over 80 hours in a working week. Despite the pressure, many interns find they learn more during their internship than in the whole time at medical school, with the hands-on experience proving invaluable for their future careers.

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