What am I getting into?

Hey there - what a wonderful group you all are. I’m thrilled to have found you!

I’m 34 and just starting to consider med school. I have two degrees (BA in Music and AA in Fashion Design) and, until a year ago, thought that my future was in art.

Well, a friend convinced me to take an EMT class last year and now I’m working on an ambulance…and holy mackerel, but I LOVE IT. I love my job, love my patients, and love my experiences. My dad was a doctor (MD/PhD) so I really shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.

I’ve spent the last few days reading all your posts and enjoying your insight and inspiration. But I’m a bit confused on some things. Is there anywhere that references the steps one goes through to become a doctor? First its classwork then residency, I understand that. But there are all these acronyms that are floating around…tests…steps…what are all those?

I have to retake basic bio and chem and algebra - it’s been way too long - so there’s still some time before I go to med school. But the preparation has to start somewhere!

Thanks in advance - any pointers would be appreciated.


Hi and welcome I will start by just a quick outline of Premed:

Any major then

1yr Bio

1yr Chem

1yr O chem

1yr Physics


GPA 3.4 or better MCAT test 30 or better

Volunteering ( medical or anything)

Patient Contact experience

Shadowing a Doc

Applying to Medical school current year for the next.

Now for the Steps, there is 3 parts to the USMLE exam Step 1,2 and 3 During Medical School we take step 1 after the first 2 years and then step 2 after the 3rd year. Step 3 is taken during residency after graduation from medical School.

You are an MD or DO after graduation but you are Lic temp during Residency and after you have passed step 3 and done at least 1yr of residency ( 3 years for Caribbean grads / FMG’s) then you can be Fully Lic to practice Medicine.

Hope that clears a lot up.

MCAT = medical college admissions test

AAMC = American Association of Medical Colleges

AMCAS = American Medical Colleges Admissions System, or something like that, administered by the AAMC. It’s the centralized admissions service for all M.D. schools in the U.S. (with very, very few exceptions)

AACOMAS = American Ass’n of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Admissions System, or something like that, administered by AACOM or whatever the AAMC equivalent for DOs is

USMLE - United States Medical Licensing Exam, giving in 3 steps; Step One after basic sciences (first two years of med school); Step Two prior to graduating from med school after at least one year of clinical exposure; Step Three usually taken at the conclusion of first year of residency.

COMLEX = the DO equivalent of the USMLE

That’s a start but there are ALWAYS more acronyms!


Maybe this should be a sticky? LOL

There is a book you might want to consider that goes through each stage from the premed application stage through to the residency stage. It’s pretty good and informative.

It is called “Med School Confidential: A Complete Guide to the Medical Experience - By Students, For Students” by Robert H. MIller and Daniel M. Bissell, MD. I bougt mine through Amazon.


I liked a book by Sanford Brown, M.D. - can’t remember the complete title but it’s the only title under his name having to do with med school. It’s been through many, many editions and it is simple but complete.

Thank you thank you thank you!

That information was very helpful, and I’ll try to pick up one or both of the books today between calls.

I got to watch a minor surgery yesterday - our patient wanted to stay on our gurney, and the doctor and resident were more than happy to let us stay in the room and explain what they’re doing. Very neat, and I felt honored.

I did find myself getting a little queazy during the initial scalpel work, but once that was over I was fine.

Do/did any of you experience any queasiness when you were just starting? My dad said it’s common in med school (he said classmates would actually pass out sometimes!) and with more exposure you get over it. What do you think?

Again, sorry if this is silly!


Someone in my med school class told me he threw up the first time he saw a birth.

On the topic of quiezieness …

I was wondering what you thought of ‘breaking the ice’ as early/quickly as possible.

I’m starting med school in one month, day-for day, and have never witnessed trauma of any kind to speak of. So, I’m wondering, would it be a wise idea to ask (a teacher, mentor, friend doctor, the local hospital …) to shadow a doc in the ICU, ER, birth clinic, autopsy … prior to start of classes. I’m unsure as to how I’ll react when I first come across an ‘unusual trauma’.


i agree! i was talking to my cousin who is doing her 2nd year of residency in anesthesiology, and she told me a patient came in 2 night ago, that was hit by a car, and had trauma to her head, and her brain was leaking out of her ear!! i don’t think i could handle something like that!!

I’m not exactly sure how Canadian medical school works, but often you have opportunities in the first two basic science years to shadow docs and the like before you are thrown on to the wards. People will not think any less of you if you become queasy the first time you see a surgery or birth or the like. In fact, while I was shadowing in the ED earlier this year, I had the opportunity to see a lumbar puncture. The attending asked if I had ever seen one before and since I hadn’t, MADE me sit down in a chair to watch. Apparently, he had had a medical student pass out upon seeing a LP for the first time and didn’t want to repeat the experience.

No, you don’t need to go seeking out gross stuff to see before you start med school. First of all, the only gross stuff you’re going to encounter initially is anatomy lab. VERY few people have seen a cadaver prior to their first lab and so your whole class is going to be uncertain and uneasy about it. You will support one another.

As to stuff you’ll encounter as a third year when you’re on the wards: well, generally you’ll have something to DO, you won’t just be a spectator, and therefore it’ll be a different sort of experience from what you are envisioning right now.

All of medical school, but especially third year, is an amazing experience in stretching your capabilities faaaaar beyond what you think you can do. Much of the time you are thrown into it without the time to think about whether you are going to like it or not; it is very uncomfortable but at the same time exhilarating because you are able to rise to the occasion and do these amazing things.

Of all the things I’ve done along this whole journey - ten years I’ve been travelling now - I would say that by far the most important lesson I’ve learned is that I can step into an unfamiliar situation and figure out what to do, and that I can push myself far beyond my comfort limit and still function well. I think everyone gets pushed in this way by the experiences of medical school, residency, and medical practice, and it is an exhilarating feeling. Anticipate this, don’t dread it, and don’t feel you need to desensitize yourself to the yucky aspects of it. Remember, this would be crazy if it weren’t fun.



Indeed the Quebec (and I assume also the Canadian) school system builds in several weeks of clinical shadowing time before external rotations begin. Nonetheless, in the month left between now and the start of school, I was pondering the relevance of getting a jump start on exposure to trauma.

I’m hesitating approaching my school with such a reqeust - because I expect their response to be - ‘in due time, young man’!

So if I do acquire exposure, I’m expecting it will have to be of my own initiative.



Thanks a million for sharing your background!

What you wrote makes perfect sense, and now I can move on to the more immediate tasks at hand: books, room, and biochemistry!

I can finally stop wasting time on that nagging question I had!


Seriously, Ron, I wouldn’t bother. Watch “the real ER” or whatever it’s called on the Discovery Channel if you feel you MUST get some sort of trauma fix. But surely you have way better things to do with these few remaining days. (Also note that you can stand around in an ER for 24 hours, and 23 hrs and 30 minutes of that time will be boring.) And your student and resident experiences will be different, as I said before, because you’ll have a role to play. Just watching other people deal with a trauma doesn’t sound like it is a particularly good use of your time.


four more days of vacation, then back to work!

You guys have really helped me, I just wanted you to know that. This is terribly exciting, though terrifying at the same time. I suppose those things go together, hm?

I haven’t had time to get the books mentioned above yet, but am going to swing by Borders on my way home this evening.

Thanks again - you’re the best!


i also just bought both of the books you recommended, as well as “essays that will get you into medical school” from amazon.com…can’t wait to read them!! thank you!

btw, i got all 3 books, and read them front to back!! (can you tell i’m a bit excited??)

i was very interested in the last part of sanford brown’s book, where he mentions the current plight of physicians, and where the future may lead…i.e. the possibility of doctors being out of jobs…

i was really surprised, and called my father (a general surgeon) to ask him his thoughts on this, and he begged to differ…he doesn’t think doctors will ever be out of a job…

any thoughts?

  • Quote:
I was really surprised, and called my father (a general surgeon) to ask him his thoughts on this, and he begged to differ......he doesn't think doctors will ever be out of a job....

any thoughts?


I agree with your father. The nice thing about the medical profession is that people are always going to need doctors/nurses/admin staff, etc. It's a commodity business and fulfills all the requirements of the basic supply & demand model. I think a lot of people get the idea confused about the future of the medical field as the push becomes more & more prevalent amongst politicans for universal healthcare (aka-socialized medicine). I think many doctors will leave medicine in the U.S. if that ever becomes the system of mass healthcare in our country, but never will doctors physically be out of a job due to economic conditions and/or issues. Medicine seems to be a dynamic, and that's good because its nature seems to change all the time, but I agree wholeheartedly with your father that you're not going to see a doctor with a sandwich board standing at the corner begging for food anytime in the near future.

I don’t see doctors ever being out of work. I just see the compensation not being what it should be to keep them IN medicine. Very few will be the ones to stay in medicine if your are working 80+ hours/week to break even.