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Advice From a Third-Year Medical Student

March 8, 2017
Valerie Libby

Get advice about third year from a medical student who’s been there.

Learn how to get the most out of your third-year as a medical student.

Most would assume that upon reaching your third year of medical school, you’d pretty much have things figured out. But what they may not realize is that third-year is like medical school part two—and a totally different ballgame.

After completing two years of textbook education in a classroom, you are all of a sudden given the opportunity to have patient experiences all day, every day. Is it overwhelming? Yes. Is it amazing? Yes. Does it make the first two years of sitting at your desk, listening to lectures, and studying for tests worth it? Definitely.

Here are a few tips based on one medical student’s experience to help prepare you as a third-year medical student:  

How third-year is different for medical students

Third year of medical school is divided into six clerkships: Internal Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, OB/GYN, Family Medicine, and Psychiatry. Clerkships last between 6 and 12 weeks and are conclude with a “Shelf Exam.” At our school, we are able to choose our clerkships schedule, which quickly becomes a “who can click the fastest on the computer” race.  

Scheduling third year is an art. I met with four deans and talked to about five upperclassmen when scheduling my rotations. Some people say to do Internal Medicine first because it provides a good foundation for the rest of the year and leads to better evaluations from your clerkships. Some say to do it last so you can be better prepared for the USMLE® Step 2 exam at the end of the year. Choose whichever order makes most sense to you.

The objective of third year in medical school

The objective of third year is to help students get exposure to all fields of medicine and aide in their decision on which field to pursue for residency. Most students have absolutely no idea which field they will pursue when entering their third year, but by the time February rolls around and students are applying for away rotations, most have narrowed it down to two at most.

Advice: If you have any idea of what field you want to go into, schedule these rotations towards the beginning of third year. Otherwise, in February, you end up applying to away rotations in multiple fields which becomes tedious, exhausting, and takes away from your study time.

Schedule more intense rotations early on

For example, I started my third year with a Surgery rotation. For me, this consisted of three weeks of Urology, three weeks of the Burn ICU, and three weeks of Trauma Surgery. Though I never decided to pursue Trauma Surgery as a specialty, it was one of the most demanding and fascinating rotations ever. I got experience helping patients with everything from lost limbs, burns, gunshot/stab wounds, suicide/homicide attempts, and unfortunately, some unavoidable deaths.

Thus, I encourage you to schedule rotations that will expose you to many things early on. That way, it will be easier to narrow down your options based on your experiences rather than your assumptions.

To supplement your clinical work in medical school and get closer to your chosen specialty, prep for the USMLE with Kaplan—the world leader in test prep.  



Valerie Libby

Valerie Libby Class of 2013 at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. I studied Psychology and Spanish at the University of Texas at Austin and spent a semester studying in Argentina. After college, I coached tennis in Spain and France and then moved to Washington, DC where I did my Masters in Public Health specializing in Global Public Health. I lived in Kenya for 6 months completing my thesis on community-based education of medical, dental, nursing, and public health students. In my 1st and 2nd years I organized and taught a class in medical school to fellow students called Public Health and Medicine. I received an MD with Distinction in Medical Education.


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