What happens after medical school? Once you receive your MD or DO, you throw your cap into the air, walk into the nearest hospital, and begin your hard-earned career in medicine, right?
Well, not so fast. It turns out finishing medical school is just one milestone (albeit a very important one) in your journey to becoming a physician.
Your career in medicine starts with “the match”
While those two words might not mean much to you now, they’ll always be in the back of your mind as a medical student, especially as you get closer to graduation. After all, the match will likely define your entire medical career.
The match is the process by which applicants (MS4s) are matched to residency programs. At the beginning of the fourth year, residency applications open, schools receive them, and medical school interviews are conducted.
What differs from the AMCAS application, however, is that both the candidate and the school will rank each other on a list: The candidate will rank his or her top residency choices and the school will rank their top candidate choices. A computer algorithm will then choose the optimal pairing for all the applicants and the assignments will be released on Match Day (February for DOs and March for MDs). Those who do not find a match will be notified and can participate in the post-match process, also known as the “scramble,” which, as indelicate as it might sound, entails students scrambling for the remaining open residency spots that are available, whether or not they are in the specialty they originally wanted.
Surviving Your Residency
So, you made it past the match. You’ve graduated medical school. Now you’re ready to coast into your career in medicine right? Think again. You’ve come a long way, but there’s more responsibility on your shoulders now.
Residency is one of the most important aspects of your training as a physician. It’s where you will learn to perform all the responsibilities and duties of your specialty. By the time you are finished, you should be ready to practice without supervision and lead your team in taking care of patients.
Residency training is grueling, to be sure, and you will be expected to perform at a high level consistently. During your first year as a resident, you will likely spend time among the different wards of a hospital to gain experience practicing different areas of medicine. In your next few years (which can range from two to four), you will gradually focus on your medical specialties and subspecialties, eventually becoming experienced enough to require minimal supervision.
It’s a tough road, but for many it’ll be the last step before launching into a well-earned career in medicine.
For a few though, the road doesn’t end there. Some areas of medicine are complex enough to require additional training after residency. These are generally called fellowships and can range from one to three years in length.
For example, if you’re interested in a career in infectious diseases, you need to finish a residency in internal medicine (three years) and then complete a two-year fellowship in infectious diseases. If you fancy becoming a trauma surgeon, you would need to complete a general surgery residency first (five years) before going on to a trauma surgery fellowship (one to two years).
Board certification is a different process than residency, fellowship, or medical licensing. There are board certifications for both MDs and DOs, as well as most—if not all—specialties. Physicians can undergo this voluntary certifying procedure once they’ve completed their training. The certifications consist of both a written and practical examination. Just remember, when you get there, Kaplan has you covered in studying for your boards, as well.
Keep this in mind when planning out your medical career: Your dream job may have you in for the long haul—but only you decide it’ll be worth it.