How many years is medical school? Traditionally, a medical school education takes 4 years. However, in recent years 3-year medical schools have become more popular for an accelerated way through medical school. There are also alternate pathways to getting an MD which shorten the typical timeline. For premeds looking for the easiest way to become a doctor, the truth is there are no real big shortcuts. But is possible to streamline the path from premed to medical school student and from med student to practicing physician. In this blog, we’ll explore how many years is medical school, the traditional 4-year timeline, accelerated medical school options and what can affect your medical student journey.

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How Many Years is Medical School? How Many Years is Medical School: Accelerated Paths to Graduation What Affects How Many Years Medical School Takes? How to Speed Up the Medical School Journey FAQs

How Many Years is Medical School?

Medical school education is usually 4 years. To graduate with a DO or MD degree, you’ll generally complete 2 years of coursework and lab work, followed by 2 years of clinical training in various medical specialties in different environments.

Traditional medical schools almost all use the 4-year curriculum, although the specifics can vary from school to school. A growing exception is 3-year medical schools, which shorten how many years medical schools is. There are also accelerated paths through medical school including accelerated programs and dual degree programs.

No matter what medical school program you enroll in, the basics of your medical training will be the same to prepare you to become a doctor. Here’s a quick overview of what to expect from each year of medical school.

Medical School Year 1

Your first year of medical school will be exciting, but it also means a huge transition. You may have heard that the first year of medical school is an informational overload, and this is true. You’ll be learning a substantial volume of new information and you’ll need to learn how to study in medical school and fast.

In the first year of medical school, you’ll complete the first round of essential coursework and lab work, taking classes in anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, immunology, physiology, pathology and pharmacology. Essentially, you’ll learn how the human body works and how to treat various illnesses and disease. The first year of medical school also introduces you to how to assess patients, how to interview them and some of the more interpersonal aspects of being a doctor.

Some medical schools will organize their curriculum traditionally by course, while other schools will take a systems-based approach. Meaning, you’ll spend blocks learning about individual organs through the lens of physiology, pathology, pharmacology and so on, before moving on to the next.

Although there is a lot of information to process and plenty of studying to do, use this time wisely to develop essential study skills and organizational habits The toughest parts of medical school are still ahead of you!

Medical School Year 2

In year 2 of medical school, your coursework will continue, but the major part is preparing to take the USMLE Step 1, or the first step to getting licensed as a physician in the US. The second year of medical school is all about studying for this exam and wrapping up the pre-clinical part of your curriculum. All of the studying strategies you honed during your first year will be put to the test, literally, here.

Although recent changes to the USMLE Step 1 mean it is a pass/fail instead of a grade, it’s still in your best interest to ace the exam on the first attempt, both to save yourself time and because residency programs may take multiple attempts into account.

By the end of your second year, you’ll need to start preparing for clinical rotations, too!

Medical School Year 3

Year 3 is the start of your clinical training. You’ll begin training at hospitals or health clinics attached to your medical school, getting up close and personal experience with patient care and treatment under the supervision of residency doctors or senior physicians. For the most part, you will be an observer, but you’ll have tasks to complete and opportunities to present during rounds what you’ve learned.

Your clinical rotations are in fact, graded, and you are being evaluated! While you’ll still be hitting the books, you do need to prepare for long hours on your feet in a clinical environment and get comfortable working with and presenting in front of others.

The structure of your clinical rotations or clinical clerkships will again be different for each school. Some medical schools dedicate more or less time to certain medical specialties, but most will give you a comprehensive experience in internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, psychiatry, emergency medicine and family medicine. Rotations can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, so they can easily cover the final 2 years of med school training.

Your clinical rotations are the best time to develop and improve your patient assessment skills, since you’ll be immersed in hands-on learning. During your training, you’ll encounter a diverse patient population and see a range of diseases and illnesses you may have previously only read about. This is truly the time to use the coursework knowledge you’ve gained and start putting it into practice.

It’s important to ask questions and be open to feedback to make the most of your clinical training. This is also the time you’ll be spending with practicing doctors, so now is the time to not only take advantage of their mentorship but understand how to collaborate and work with other healthcare professionals. The better you perform in your clinical rotations, the better your grade and medical student evaluations will be, which will help you tremendously when you’re applying for residency positions.

Medical School Year 4

Your last year of medical school is very exciting, but it can be one of the toughest years, too.

First, you’ll be completing your clinical rotations, usually in electives that interest you or specialties you want to explore more in-depth. Second, you’ll be studying for the USMLE Step 2 CK, or the MCCQE Part 1 if you’re attending a Canadian medical school.

And finally, you’ll be choosing a medical specialty and preparing for residency applications. Imagine combining everything you’re doing as a premed on top of also being in medical school full-time. It’s a huge amount of work!

In completing your clinical clerkships, you’ve hopefully finalized what you want your medical specialty to be. You’ll have to balance studying for the next step of your licensing exams with preparing your residency applications. During this time you might also be participating in sub-internships at other hospitals or institutions. Your organizational skills will be pushed to the limit this year!

The good news is, at the end of your fourth year you’ll officially be a medical school graduate! From here, you can take the next step towards becoming a doctor.

So, while you can usually expect to spend 4 years in your undergraduate and 4 years in medical school, there are ways to shorten this 8-year timeline a bit and cut down on how long it takes to become a doctor.

How Many Years is Medical School: Accelerated Paths to Graduation

Next, let’s look at the factors that affect the medical school journey and how to avoid common pitfalls that can slow you down.

Here’s how to get into medical school FAST!

What Affects How Many Years Medical School Takes?

If you’re looking to fast-track your journey to becoming a doctor, the truth is that it does take a significant amount of time and dedication to complete the necessary steps. But there are factors that can speed up or slow down your overall timeline.

First, we’ll look at the journey from high school to med school and what can affect your medical school application timeline and the time it takes to actually get into medical school. Then we’ll explore some ways to slightly shorten how many years medical school is and what your options are.

Here are some of the factors that can affect how long it takes you, as a premed, to successfully get accepted to medical school:

1. Researching Medical Schools

Your first step should always be researching medical schools and creating a viable and realistic list of medical schools to apply to. You need to know how to choose a medical school.

There are two reasons for this. One, to increase your chances of getting accepted. Two, to succeed in medical school once you’ve started.

Medical schools are notoriously competitive, and you need to know what you’re up against before you can conquer it. For your best chance of getting into the medical school of your choice, get to know the medical school requirements. These will be your guiding checklist. A great tool to use is MSAR, but you can also check the medical school GPA requirements by school and check out the accepted medical student profile, which many schools track and share. See how your own profile compares and make note of any gaps or missing items you’ll need to complete. Think hard about how you can stand out from other applicants.

The second part of medical school research is choosing the right school for YOU. Every medical student will have the same overall goal of becoming a doctor, but you may have unique aspirations personal to you. Look for the medical school that fits you and your goals, whether it be the best medical school for non-traditional applicants, a medical school that prioritizes cutting-edge medical research or a school with special ties to rural and remote communities and is dedicated to training rural physicians.

Not doing your research beforehand can mean you end up enrolling in a school that’s not right for you, causing you to drop out. Or it can lead to quick and easy medical school rejection!

2. Effective (or ineffective) Premed Prep

Effective premed prep can save you some time when applying to medical school, while ineffective prep can mean your medical school acceptance is put off by another year or more.

If you’re well prepared for medical school application season, you can avoid submitting a late medical school application and potentially risking your acceptance.

Premed prep means knowing what the admission requirements are, which medical schools you’ll be applying to and what your complete application timeline looks like. It also means planning when you’ll take the MCAT and when you’ll complete your extracurricular activities. For example, it’s important to find out how many clinical hours for medical school you need, how you’re going to earn these hours and how long it take you. The same is true for volunteer hours for medical school and shadowing hours for medical school.

There will be many moving parts and activities you’ll be participating in, on top of keeping up with your studies, studying for the MCAT and preparing your written application. Effective prep means being organized and motivated.

3. Med School Application Cycle

The medical school application cycle can be quite intense. It’s best to submit your application as early as possible if you want to increase your chances of acceptance, since most medical schools use rolling admissions. Luckily, there are medical schools with early decision programs if you want to cut down on your waiting time for that medical school acceptance letter.

By buckling down and applying early, you can shorten the med school application cycle and get a head start on your studies if a school accepts multiple intakes a year. You’ll also give yourself a bit of breathing room between submitting your application and matriculating to medical school for interviews and completing other activities.

4. MCAT Retakes

Retaking the MCAT can be done in a short turnaround, but for many students it can slow down their journey to medical school if they don’t get the score they want. If you do decide to retake the MCAT, consider how much time it will add to your journey to medical school, whether you have enough time to still apply during your desired cycle and whether your score is where it needs to be.

Of course, you can decrease the chance of needing a test retake by preparing effectively for the MCAT and acing it on the first attempt. Learn how to study for the MCAT or consider getting some MCAT prep help.

5. Medical School Rejection

Unfortunately, medical school rejection does happen, and it can mean your entry to medical school is put off by another year or longer. The decision of whether you should reapply to medical school next year is up to you, but of course it is ideal to avoid this outcome in the first place.

As we mentioned, effective prep is essential for acceptance, but you also need to make your medical school application stand out as much as possible. There are thousands of premeds applying to medical school, and schools will only accept a few hundred at most. Your competition is fierce, so do everything you can to stand out from the crowd.

6. Taking a Gap Year

If you choose to take a gap year before medical school, this of course adds to the time it takes to complete medical school. There are many benefits to taking a gap year, though, including getting a premed gap year job to fulfill your requirements or give your application a boost.

Some premeds also choose to enroll in a post-bacc or premedical program to complete any medical school prerequisites they’re missing or increase their GPA. For a better chance of getting into specific, competitive medical schools, you can enroll in a special master’s program with linkage to a medical school.

So, while a gap year does slow down your med school journey, it can be the best choice for some students.

How to Speed Up the Medical School Journey

What are the best ways to prepare for med school applications? How can you effectively speed up your journey to medical school?

As we said, there aren’t any secret shortcuts, but we have a few tricks to make the process easier and smoother.

1. Plan Your Premed Journey

To streamline your transition from undergraduate to medical school student, plan your premed journey obsessively. Create a list, make a plan and keep yourself organized.

This covers all those important steps such as choosing a medical school, researching admission requirements, finishing your undergrad studies, taking the MCAT, submitting your application and preparing for medical school interviews.

Aside from your applications, start thinking about more practical planning for med school, such as paying medical school tuition and arranging medical school housing. When planning how to pay for tuition check out the medical schools with best financial aid or apply for medical school scholarships. Think about whether you’ll be living on campus or off and the associated costs. Many schools require you to arrange your on-campus housing ahead of time so add this to-do to your list!

2. Apply to Medical Schools with Fewer Requirements

Another way to get into medical school faster is to simply apply to schools that have fewer admission requirements. This means potentially less work for you, but it can narrow down the list of potential medical schools to apply to.

For example, there aren’t many medical schools that don’t require the MCAT, but there are quite a few more medical schools that don’t require CASPer. Applicants in the UK or Australia can apply to medical schools in Australia without GAMSAT requirements or medical schools in the UK that don’t require the UCAT or the BMAT for admission.

If you want to reduce the size of your application materials, there are medical schools without secondary essays or medical schools that don’t require letters of recommendation. This equals a bit less effort for you and overall less application time.

3. Get Expert Med School Application Help

To avoid medical school rejection and get accepted to some of the hardest medical schools to get into takes a great deal of hard work and dedication. For some students, expert medical school application help can be the support they need.

From medical school advisors to medical school admissions consulting, there are many different options for professional help on the premed journey. An admissions consultant can help you with the entire application process, but there are other more specialized services to help you with MCAT study, writing your personal statement or interview prep.


1. How many years is medical school?

Traditionally medical school education is 4 years, including 2 years of coursework and labs, plus 2 years of clinical rotations and training.

2. What is the shortest time to become a doctor?

The shortest time to become a doctor is typically 11-12 years. This includes your undergraduate, your medical school education and your residency. This timeline can shift depending on how long your residency is, whether you complete a medical fellowship and a few other factors. For instance, some medical schools will accept you with only 3 years of an undergraduate degree and there are 3-year medical schools available.

3. What are 3-year medical schools?

3-year medical schools are a growing number of medical schools that have condensed their curriculum into 3 years instead of the traditional 4. Their goal is to make the medical school experience more efficient and less expensive.

4. What is the hardest year of medical school?

This can vary depending on individual opinion, but most med students will say year 3 and 4 of medical school are the toughest. 

5. How old are most med school students?

A majority of medical school students are 23 and older, because most applicants have just completed their undergraduate degree. However, there is also a large number of medical school students who are mature or non-traditional applicants over 30, 40 and even 50+.

6. What year of medical school do most students drop out?

Studies show that most medical school students drop out in the first year, with the number decreasing after that. Knowing how hard medical school is and what to expect can help prepare you for some of the challenges of medical study, but some students may simply decide becoming a doctor is not for them. It’s important to consider whether medical school is worth it and is the right path for you before applying.

7. How long does it take to become a doctor?

It takes 10+ years to become a doctor, when factoring in completing your bachelor’s degree, applying to medical school, completing medical school and finishing your postgraduate training. 

8. Do you get paid during medical school?

No, medical students are not paid during their studies, and because of the intensive academic and clinical schedule, many students rely on loans, scholarships and bursaries. Some medical students do choose to keep working while they’re in school and balance their work with their studies.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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