Typical Medical School Curriculum

Instructor: Rachel Diamond
Most medical schools combine core courses with clinical rotations. Read on to learn more about the required courses, electives and hands-on practice included in a typical medical school curriculum. You'll also find out how to prepare for medical school.

What Will I Learn in Med School?

The typical length of a medical school curriculum is four years, after which the school confers a Doctor of Medicine (MD). The four years are usually broken up into two years of core science classes followed by two years of clerkships (also called clinical rotations). Many medical schools require students to complete a capstone project before graduation.

First and Second Year Courses

Most core science classes in the first two years break the body down into systems, sometimes merging interrelated systems. Many first and second year medical school courses combine lectures with laboratory work.

The following table lists the most common courses required in the first two years of med school. Links in the table take you to related Study.com courses.

First Year CoursesSecond Year Courses
Anatomy and PhysiologyInternal Medicine
Normal Body FunctionPsychiatry/Neurology
Brain and BehaviorObstetrics and Gynecology
Foundations of Disease/MicrobiologySurgery
Intro to Clinical MedicineGeriatrics
Developing Clinical SkillsCommunity and Preventive Medicine

Third Year Courses

Typically, students spend the third year of medical school in a series of clerkships or clinical rotations. Some schools allow students some flexibility in choosing which clinicals they will pursue, while some schools dictate a certain number of clerkships and then let students choose one or two additional subjects. The most commonly required clinical rotations are:

  • Family Medicine
  • Obstetrics/Gynecology
  • Surgery
  • Psychiatry/Neurology
  • Pediatrics

Fourth Year Courses

After students have completed the required clerkships in their third year, they are often allowed to choose elective clinical rotations in their fourth year. Students can choose specific areas to explore more deeply, like:

  • Anesthesiology
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Ophthalmology
  • Radiology
  • Urology

Some students may choose to pursue research or international opportunities.

Students typically sit for the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) during this year, since they need to pass it before they can be licensed. Fourth year students are also preparing applications and interviewing for the residencies they hope to begin after graduation.

Considering Med School?

If you're thinking of applying to med school, your first step will be sitting for the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges. It's required by nearly all United States med schools.

Although it sounds serious, studying for the MCAT can be fun. Study.com offers an MCAT Test: Practice and Study Guide which covers each section of the test with short videos and articles. At the end of each article is a quick quiz, so you can make sure you're learning the material. The course covers a lot of ground, but you can watch the videos on your phone or tablet, so you can prepare for the MCAT on the bus, at the gym, on your lunch - it's the MCAT prep course that's ready when you are.

Earning College Credit

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To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

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