Saturday, August 3, 2013

Medical Jargon Demystified I: Wait, I'm still an Undergrad?

I thought it was high time I wrote a post clarifying some of the terminology associated with medical school and generally about the timeline.  This may be quite obvious to many of you out there but I myself was a little bit confused by all of this jargon before I was thrown into the thick of it.

First lets take a look at the timeline from high school onwards down the path of physician-hood

  1. Complete high school (4 yrs)
  2. Complete bachelor's degree aka undergrad (3-4 years)
  3. Complete medical school (4 years) (complete, HA . . . oh don't we all wish it was that simple) there are some added nuances here of allopathic (MD) vs. osteopathic (DO) as well as foreign grads (including some MBBS) but that is a story for another day
  4. Complete a residency training program (3+)
  5. OPTIONAL: Complete a fellowship training Program (1+)
  6. Become a practicing physician aka be an attending (FOREVA+)
Disclaimer: this is really a barebones look at how this breaks down for some people sometimes.  All of these steps do have to be completed, in this order but not necessarily in one fell swoop straight out of high school.  Many people insert alternate careers between steps 2 and 3, some choose to travel the world, others peace out for a little bit DURING STEP 3 (not to be confused with the USMLE Step 3, but again, another day another story).  Some follow the "traditional" route outlines above while others still opt for guaranteed admissions programs that couple college + medical school into a 7 (sometimes 6) year program. 

The nomenclature that I found the most confusing was that medical school which in my mind is professional school maybe loosely referred to as graduate school is called undergraduate medical education.  I thought to myself, "are they serious? I just finished undergrad, this makes zero sense to me."  This all started to make sense when I began hearing people refer to residency training programs as graduate medical education.  

Moral of the story: in med school you're the bottom of the food chain, again. 

In any case at the completion of medical school although you may have your professional title of Doctor there is still some board exam/licensing examinations and residency training that needs to be completed before you are able to practice independently.  

I hope that this post was able to clarify some of the confusion associated with this process.  Keep an eye out for more posts aimed at simplying and clarifying this journey that often feels shrouded in mystery. 

If you have any specifics or other questions feel free to comment below or e-mail at

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