First-year pediatrics resident Christine Thang, MD, answers the question, "What's it like to be a final-year medical student?" Christine graduated in June of 2015 from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM) and will continue her training with UCLA during residency.
A unique learning experience
At the end of a medical student's third year, he or she begins planning clinical rotations for the final year. DGSOM requires 30 weeks of clinical experiences, and students choose the rotations that will best prepare them for residency and their future career. Dr. Thang describes this time as an opportunity for exploration and development. "It gives you time to explore. You can go to different hospitals in the LA area and experience a variety of hospital settings. Or you can do rotations away from LA, which helps students if they want to explore a new city or if they want to go back East. There is lots of flexibility to plan your schedule and [tailor] it to what you want to do after you graduate."
Students choose their rotations based on their interests, with the assistance of a faculty mentor in the student's specialty who advises them on how to help their career progress. In the third year, the student selects their college within the David Geffen School of Medicine and fills out an application to be matched with a mentor that fits his or her interests. Dr. Thang requested her mentor, as he was someone that "was involved in medical education, a career path I would like to pursue. Also, he was someone who I worked with before, someone I could trust, and [who] understood what I wanted to achieve."
Final year workload
According to Dr. Thang, the fourth year, much like the previous one, is very clinically oriented, but students take more ownership of their patients. "The patient looks at you as the person who answers their questions. There's so much to learn in the third year, but in the fourth year, you are surprised at how much you have learned in taking care of patients. You are expected to be in the hospital longer ... As a final year medical student, you have more autonomy and independence, but not completely without residents and attendings guiding you along the way. There's a lot of great training in the fourth year, and you learn how to be efficient and manage your time — skills that you need for residency. "
The fourth year
Dr. Thang describes the fourth year as "coming in waves." The beginning of the year is academically focused because students are required to pass the USMLE Step 2 exam. After that, it takes a clinical turn: They continue their clinical experiences and subinternships and begin applying to residency programs. By January or February, students complete their interviews and remaining rotations. By Match Day in March, many students are finished with their rotations. Many travel, spend time with family and friends, get married, or participate in global health rotations.
"I went to Bangkok, Thailand, for my global health rotation. I was at an academic hospital and was surprised at the similarities. I had patients to care for and the healthcare teams were the same ... [W]e practiced evidence-based medicine, but I got to see how healthcare is delivered in a foreign country and experience a different culture," she says.
The final year is a valuable learning experience and helpful preparation for residency training, but it is also a time to celebrate the accomplishments and hard work of years past.
by Kyleigh Roessner