What to Expect After Graduating Medical School
Are you considering a career in medicine and wondering what’s after medical school? A student who graduates from an accredited medical school—such as American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC)*—receives a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and is officially a doctor, but the road to practicing medicine continues.
So what happens after medical school? Let’s begin to answer this question by understanding the path to becoming a practicing physician, including medical school, residency, and beyond.
Students start their last year of medical school with an important date etched on their calendar: Match Day. Usually in mid-March, Match Day is when medical students find out if they “matched” into a United States residency program which they will enter after graduation.
Students research residency programs for their chosen specialty and apply to the ones they would like to learn more about. Residency programs offer interviews to select medical students based on their applications. But while interviewing with residency programs is very much like a job interview, the interview process is not one-sided. Medical students interview the residency programs as well. A doctor spends several years as a resident physician and will want to look at various aspects of potential programs, including the acuity level of the hospital, the workload, quality of faculty, training opportunities, location, and overall compensation.
Once the interviews are completed, medical students rank the residency programs in order of preference in a system called the National Residency Matching Program® (NRMP®), while residency programs rank the medical students they’ve interviewed in the same system. A mathematical algorithm then matches students to residencies.
This build-up to Match Day can be exhilarating, but what happens after medical school is determined by this one momentous day. Once the Match Day celebrations and commencement are over, it’s time to get on with the business of becoming a licensed doctor.
What Happens After Medical School?
New doctors start their residency as a first-year intern and then dive deeper into the medical specialty they’ve chosen, spending three to seven years learning from attending physicians and gaining experience in different healthcare settings, with different patient populations, and with the various clinical services that their specialty offers.
After a doctor has finished their residency and passed the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 3, the final exam required to obtain a medical license (usually taken within the first two years of residency), there are several paths they can follow.
Some doctors jump right into their careers by applying for jobs. New doctors can seek positions at a variety of healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, academic medical centers, community health centers, or rural health centers.
Other doctors choose to apply for a fellowship program, pursuing additional training in a subspecialty. For example, a doctor who completed a residency in neurology could apply for a fellowship in child neurology, or a doctor trained in internal medicine might pursue a geriatric medicine fellowship. A fellowship may take one to four years to complete.
Another option after a residency is a research career. However, this career can begin right after medical school, with no further training. The newly minted doctor may alternatively pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in one of the biomedical science fields, social science, or health science, or the doctor can apply for a research residency.
Doctors make a commitment to their patients to keep up with the latest advances in drugs, treatments, and best practices. To demonstrate this commitment to continuing education, some physicians become board-certified in their specialty area. This requires an initial exam, as well as recertification requirements to remain board-certified.
What Do Doctors Do After Medical School if They Don’t Match to a Residency Program?
Every year some medical students don’t match to a residency program. So for some new doctors, the question still remains: what to do after medical school?
There are usually some empty residency slots after Match Day. Unmatched students can apply through the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance program (SOAP). SOAP is the process during Match Week through which unfilled positions are offered by programs to SOAP-eligible unmatched and partially matched applicants. This is offered through the NRMP who runs The MATCH℠. Keep in mind that residency positions offered through SOAP may not be in the doctor’s chosen specialty.
What’s after medical school if a student didn’t match to a residency? If a new doctor applies for a different specialty residency program and doesn't get accepted, or chooses to wait and apply again next year, they will need to keep up their skills and make themselves more competitive in the next round of applications.
A doctor without a residency should consider taking the USMLE Step 3 exam while the material learned in medical school is fresh on their mind. Passing the USMLE Step 3 may give the doctor a leg up when applying to residency programs the following year.
A doctor in search of a residency may also work in the medical field as a researcher or physician assistant. It isn’t direct physician patient care, but staying in the medical field demonstrates a commitment to medicine and a desire to continue education through residency.
Now that you know a bit more about what happens after medical school, and you are ready to begin your path to becoming a physician, apply to AUC today!
*American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine is accredited by the Accreditation Commission on Colleges of Medicine (ACCM, www.accredmed.org), which is the accreditor used by the country of St. Maarten.