It is a LONG road to become a doctor, but one that has been worth it for me.
It all started when I was a little girl, going to the doctor’s office. They always had lollypops in the drawer and after you saw the doctor, you got to pick one out. My parent’s always joke that the lollypops are the reason I went into medicine and wanted to become a doctor –> to be closer to the lollypops!
Fast-forward to high school, I still wanted to become a doctor. I spent some time shadowing my family practice doctor, who had taken care of me and my family since I had been born. I really liked the diversity of the patient population and how he took care of the entire family. This really solidified my desire to become a doctor.
I went to University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire for undergrad. I got a 4 year degree with a bachelor of science in biochemistry and molecular biology with a minor in Spanish. In my junior year, I took the MCAT exam (the entrance exam for medical school). And I started filling out applications for medical school. Interviews for medical school were in the fall and winter. I got accepted to Des Moines University in January. I still remember checking my email at my parent’s house and running upstairs to tell my Mom that I was going to be a doctor!
That summer, I started medical school.
The first two years are classes. You repeat a lot of the basic sciences the first year, like biochemistry, genetics, anatomy, physiology, and physical medicine. You take your first board exam after the first year to test you on all the basic sciences.
Then, second year is more system based. So, we had a cardiology, gastroenterology, surgery, pediatrics, etc. And you take another board exam.
Then, the last 2 years are rotations. You spend 4 weeks doing each specialty/area of medicine. And a little longer in the primary care areas (like family medicine and hospital work). It is important that no matter what area you go into, you still graduate being a well rounded doctor. i.e. even if you are an skin doctor (dermatologist), you still have an idea of how to delivery a baby or take care of a person having a heart attack.
Then, after 4 long years of lots of studying. . . graduation!
At that point, you are a ‘doctor,’ but still not able to practice on your own.. . that is what residency is for!
Residency is specialized training in the area of medicine you decide you want to practice. So, in my case, I wanted to be a family practice doctor, so that is a 3 year residency program. Each program is a different length. Like general surgery is 5 years and OB/GYN is 4 years.
In a family practice residency program you start seeing patients in your own clinic, but with supervision. For the first 6 months, you have to have your attending physician see all of your patients before they leave. So, you go to see your patient, talk to them, examine them, and then go chat with the attending physician, telling them what the patient is coming into the office for, what you think is going on and what you would like to do for them, tests to order, prescriptions to write, advice to give, etc. Then, the attending will come back to the room to double check anything that the first year resident was concerned about, and to help the resident counsel the patient.
After 6 months, the attending doesn’t have to see every patient anymore, only the ones that are complicated or that you as the resident would be concerned about.
So, as you progress further thru the program, you get more independence with your clinic patients. In addition to seeing patients in your family practice clinic, family practice residents do further rotations in each area of medicine for 4 weeks at a time. This is to get further learning in each area of medicine that we will see in our own clinic, as family practice doctors usually see the patients before they see a specialists. One of the things that is most critical that we learn when we are on rotations is when the patient needs to be referred to a specialist for further care.
At the end of the 3 years, then you take the final board exam. After you pass that exam, you are then ‘board certified.’ Board exams are repeated every 7-10 years depending on the specialty.
Medicine is a never-ending learning profession. There is no way that you can know everything about medicine in 3, 4, or 5 years. We have continuing education credits, like many other fields, in an effort to keep up on all the research and new medical information. I also read medical journals specific to family medicine. And try like crazy to keep up with the latest in medicine. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my job.
Linking up with Amanda today for Thinking Out Loud!!