How long is medical school and what will you learn there?

February 12, 2016

How long is medical school, and what will you learn during that time? This question can be quite confusing, as there is no definitive answer.

The fact is, the total number of years you have to spend studying medicine depends on the field you choose to pursue. However, one thing is sure – no matter which speciality you choose, the road to becoming a doctor is long and rigorous.

First, you’ll need to graduate from college, which usually takes about four years – longer, if you choose to take on extra courses. Next, you need to graduate from medical school, which takes another four years. After graduating from med school, you’re officially a doctor, but still not qualified to practice medicine until after you have finished residency.

After graduating from medical school, you need to complete your residency and fellowship, which could vary in length: specialties such as neurological surgery require a residency of seven years, whereas specialties such as dermatology or family medicine have relatively shorter residency requirements of about three years.

That’s a minimum of eleven years – from your first day of college – before you’ll be qualified to practice as a doctor.

The first four years

The first two years of medical school focus primarily on classroom education. Clinical experience is acquired during the third and fourth years. This experience exposes you to different medical fields – giving you a firsthand look at what’s involved, before deciding which field of medicine/residency to apply for.Here’s what you can expect to learn during the first four years of medical school:

Anatomy – This is a study of the human body, from the bones, organs and muscles to the arteries, veins, and nerves.

Biochemistry – Biochemistry covers the study of all enzymes and pathways. Here you will gain knowledge about fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism as well as DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis.

Genetics – Genetics focuses on hereditary diseases such as Graves’ Disease and Sickle Cell disease amongst others that are passed down from one generation to generation.

Histology – Histology concentrates on the study of human cells. In this course, you will learn to examine various parts of the human body under a microscope to see how different organs are composed.

Microbiology – This is the study of different organisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi that cause diseases. Considering that there are countless disease-causing infectious organisms, the amount of material you have to learn and memorise in microbiology is staggering.

Neuroscience – Also known as neuroanatomy, this course involves the study of the brain and spinal cord along with the various nerves and how they course though the body.

Physiology – Physiology delves into how the body works. Here you will gain knowledge about various bodily functions such as how the heart works to pump and distribute blood to different parts of the body, how the kidneys work to filter out urine and how the lungs take in and distribute oxygen.

All of the above subjects are common to all med students during the first four years. The residency focuses on more in-depth education in the field you have chosen to specialise in.

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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.