In a recent live, interactive panel, AAMC staff asked four medical students to share how each year of medical school differs and what they wish they’d known before starting.
No matter how much time you’ve spent preparing to become a medical student, you’re likely to encounter some things you never anticipated once you begin your official training.
To give you a clearer picture of what to expect when going to medical school, we asked a handful of medical students to share how each year in medical school differs and what they wish they’d known before starting. Read their advice, tips, and lessons learned below.
- M1 Year in Medical School:
Students commented on the unique opportunity the M1 year provides to bond with classmates. In the first year of school, you will spend the most amount of time with your peers, so take advantage of any school-sponsored events, clubs, or activities to help you get to know your peers. Students also commented that M1 offers the most flexibility in your schedule since many lectures are recorded and available to watch live from an alternate location or on demand.
In addition, students echoed the importance of not “forgetting your non-physician self,” as Issac Duggan put it, a first-year medical student at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. Issac said he was surprised to find that he had more time than he initially thought to pursue hobbies and activities outside of studying.
- M2 Year in Medical School:
Students agreed that the second year of medical school is marked by slightly less flexibility but more opportunities for patient interaction. Colin Hammock, an M2 at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said, “As an M2, you are responsible for patients pretty quickly.” This can vary by school, but just four months into his M2, during his OBGYN rotation Hammock had already assisted with pap smears, delivering babies, completing stitches for cesarean sections, and more.
Part of the second year is also spent studying for licensing exams, such as Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), a three-part exam for medical licensure in the United States.
- M3 Year in Medical School:
While the curriculum will vary based on the school, the majority of third-year medical students will complete clinical rotations in various specialties. These rotations help students select their specialty at the end of their M3.
Also, students noted that at this stage of your medical career, you can spend more time with each patient, compared to a resident or attending physician. “Take advantage of this opportunity to really get to know patients on a personal level — learn their stories and learn about their life,” said Stephanie Pintas, an M3 student at the University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine.
Many M3 students will also spend time studying for the USMLE Step 2.
- M4 Year in School:
It was noted by students that your fourth year of medical school can look very different depending on the school you attend and your intended specialty. Typically, by this point most of your core rotations are complete, which frees up time to focus on elective rotations and/or internships. Also, the beginning of year four will be spent preparing for residency applications. The fourth-year student on the panel, Troy Kincaid, echoed the importance of remembering that even at this stage “It’s OK to not know everything.”
You can watch the entire panel on A Day in the Life of a Medical Student on our YouTube channel.
Thank you to our volunteer medical student panelists:
- Issac Duggan, M1, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine.
- Colin Hammock, M2, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
- Stephanie Pintas, M3, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine.
- Troy Kincaid, M4, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
- LeAnn Lam, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (session moderator).
- Claudia Stephens, University of South Alabama College of Medicine (session moderator).