How Long Is Medical School? Is It Too Long?

There has been much discussion on the length of medical school. Many young adults around the world dream of becoming a doctor. But perhaps the time it takes to complete is turning them away. In this article, I’m going to address how long medical school is in the U.S. vs other countries, and also whether medical school is too long and perhaps should be shortened.

How long is medical school in the U.S.? Typically, an undergraduate degree program for medical school is 4 years. For you to become a licensed doctor, who can practice your profession, you will need an extra 3 to 7 years to complete your residency and fellowship. That would be a total of 7 to 11 years.

In the United States, before you can enroll in any medical school, you have to complete a 4-year related pre-med course. Then you can enroll in medicine proper, which would deal with more medically related subjects, such as physiology, anatomy, biochemistry, immunology, microbiology, genetics, and pharmacology. 

The medical course will include a pre-clerkship period and a 12-month clerkship year or Principal Clinical Experience (PCE). This is where you can acquire clinical training on the various fields of medicine in actual settings, such as licensed hospitals or authorized health facilities. 

Afterwards, you can then pursue your chosen specialty. This would take at least 3 years. However, since there are advanced courses in some schools; it may take less than that. 

Yet, after graduation, there are still at least three licensing exams (in many states in the U.S.) that you, as the medical graduate, must hurdle successfully before you can truly practice your profession. In cases when you do not pass these exams, you would not be able to practice your medical profession, despite graduating from the course.

Depending on your study skills, ability, and competency, the length of time required to acquire a medical license would vary from 7 years and more, excluding the pre-med course. The pre-med courses are 4-year curricula, too. 

So if you add the pre-med course to the medicine proper years, the length of time would total up to about 7 to 11 years. Furthermore, your length of study would also depend on the existing laws on your particular state.

If you’re definitely determined to pursue medical school, then you may want to continue reading to know more about why it would take that long to acquire your doctor’s license.

How Long Is Medical School and Is It Too Long?

Generally, a minimum of 7 years is needed for medicine proper, excluding the 4-year pre-med course or program. If you combine the two, you would spend at least 11 years to be able to acquire your doctor’s license.

The pre-med programs are educational tracks that you can enroll in, in preparation for the medicine proper programs. You can pursue a baccalaureate degree in Pharmacy, Clinical Laboratory Science (Medical Technology), Physical Therapy, Bachelor of Science in Biology, or similar courses as your pre-med course. 

These programs or courses provide subjects related to the medical field, such as biology, pharmacy, biochemistry, anatomy, microbiology, and similar subjects. 

Among the pre-medical degree programs, a number of medical students recommended Clinical Laboratory Science or Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology as the best pre-med program to enroll in. 

This is because most of the major subjects of Medical Technology are also subjects in medicine proper. These are parasitology, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, immunology, serology, and hematology. 

Choosing the best pre-med course would help you understand more your medical proper or pre-clerkship subjects. This could facilitate your advanced lessons to prepare you more effectively for the medical boards. 

With regard to the question, “Is medical school too long?” Considering the fact that you would be dealing with lives, and that you could either kill or save a person based on your acquired clinical skills, it’s only appropriate that you should learn those skills until such time that you gain proficiency.

In fact, even as a doctor, you must keep studying to keep up with new state of the art technology, newly discovered drugs, and techniques. You also need to do your own research to further advance yourself and your profession. 

Once you commit yourself to the medical profession, your learning process is a lifetime endeavor.

Medical School in the US

how long is medical school in the us

As previously mentioned, most schools in the US require a medical student to enroll in the basic core subjects; go on to the pre-clerkship training, and then the clerkship proper, to be able to graduate. 

The first 3 to 5 years are devoted to acquiring skills and knowledge as a medical resident. Some specialties require more years, and then an additional 3 to 5 years for you to obtain your fellowship certificates. 

On top of that, as a medical student graduate in the US, you have to pass the 3 required board exams by the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). You have to pass these exams, so you could become a certified medical doctor and practice your profession. 

The medical board exam is comprised of 3 steps. The first step requires you to pass questions about your basic medical science knowledge. So, if you have been diligent in learning the basic information during your training, you would be able to pass step 1 successfully. 

The second step or step 2 exam is typically taken while you are in your 3rd or 4th year in medical school. You can take the 3rd or step 3-exam after you graduate or in your 4th year.  

During your clerkship proper, you will have to rotate in the various medical disciplines such as pediatrics, obstetrics-gynecology, internal medicine, surgery, radiology, psychiatry, neurology, anesthesiology, and family medicine. 

You have to choose your specialty judiciously as this would be your lifetime profession. Keep in mind that you will have to keep studying and learning about your field continuously, for as long as you are a practicing doctor.

The United States Medical Licensing Examination allows up to 6 retakes in case you fail in your first attempts to pass the board exams. The passing of the USMLE is touted by medical students to be one of the toughest phases of becoming a doctor.

Comparison of Medical Schools in the UK, Germany, Australia, and Japan

United Kingdom

In the UK, it can take you up to 16 years to be able to become a board-certified medical doctor. You’re required to undergo 5 to 6 years of graduate courses; 2 years of post-graduate courses; and then another 3 to 8 years of specialized training in the discipline that you have chosen.

Germany

Germany appears to be more ‘accepting’ of non-bachelor degree holders, but the training is also rigorous and commendable. You will have to complete a 2-year pre-clinical phase studying basic sciences, and then a 4-year clinical phase in which you’re trained in the clinical aspects of medicine. You can then pursue your post-graduate residency in your chosen specialty for 48 to 72 months or more. 

According to a study, one of the major differences of medical schools in Germany from that of medical schools in the US is that medical residency in Germany is significantly variable. While the US primarily requires a Bachelor’s Degree and passing the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), Germany requires a high school diploma only. (source)

Australia

For Australia, the length of medical school can last from 9 to 16 years, or even more, depending on the medical career pathway that you have chosen. You have to undergo 4 to 6 years of medical school, 1 year of internship, 1 to 2 years or more of residency, and then 3 to 4 years or more for your fellowship certificate, or for specialty training programs.

Most schools in Australia follow the pre-clinical (1 to 3 years) and clinical (2 to 3 years) set-ups for medical schools. Furthermore, the Medical Board of Australia requires the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) of doctors or clinicians, to ensure that they continue to enrich themselves with regards to up-to-date technology and diagnostic procedures.

Japan

Japan offers medical schools to high school graduates, in which they pursue medicine for 6 years. They are then required to complete a 2-years clinical experience and then 3 to 5 years or more for their specialty training. 

For you to be able to compare clearly, we have provided a comparison table below:

USUKGermanyAustraliaJapan
Major Pre-requisiteDegree holder
Degree holder High school diplomaPre-med coursePre-med course
Post-graduate programs3 to 5 years2 years48 to 72 months for postgrad and specialty training1 to  2 years2 years
Specialty training3 to 5 years3 to 8 years  3 to 7 years3 to 4 years3 to 5 years
Pre-qualifying test for medical schoolMedical College Admissions Test (MCAT)Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT)University Entrance Qualification TestGraduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT)Proficiency Test for Medicine

Is US Medical School Too Long?

is medical school too long

In comparison to other major countries, US medical school is not too long. However, it’s a little bit more expensive than other schools, as there are few medical public schools.

A recent study revealed that doctors are one of the top 3 most respected professions in the US and even around the world; however, the number of medical students is not increasing.

This may be because medical graduates are getting more and more into debt after they are done with medical school. The medical school’s cost ranges from more than $36,000 to $59,076, leaving medical graduates with large student loan debts. (source)

The huge cost of medical school could be one possible reason why fewer students are enrolling in medical school. This is aside from the fact that it also takes a longer length of time for students to be able to graduate and practice the profession.

According to the projections reported by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), due to the aging population of Americans, the country will experience a shortage of around 122,000 doctors by 2023.  (source)

Should Med School Be Shorter?

One of the solutions to the predicted shortage of doctors is to shorten the length of medical school to reduce cost, as well as, the length of study. A minimum of 9 years could be ideal, rather than spending 12 to 16 years of training before becoming a certified doctor.

The 9 years of study could be distributed in this manner:

3 years – pre-med course

3 years – clinical or clerkship training

3 years – specialty training

This would ensure that enough training is conducted for medicine training and specialty training. Some of the pre-med courses usually include non-medical subjects, such as languages or physical education that could be substituted with more medically related subjects, as with the case of medical schools in Germany. 

Germany accepts students to their medical schools, even if they are not degree holders. Nonetheless, the country can boast of competent and skilled doctors who are on par with any country in the world.

Benefits of Shorter Med School

There are various benefits of a shorter length of study for medical school. These are:

Motivates more students to enroll in the course

When students learn about the shortened length of medical school, they would be encouraged to enroll. Becoming a doctor is high on the list of dream careers for millions of young people around the world. Perhaps by shortening the length of the school, it would motivate more to take the first step and enroll.

Reduces medical school cost

With the shorter length of medical school, its cost would be significantly reduced as well. This would, surely, motivate more students to enroll. With the current cost of medical school, it’s seemingly impossible for graduates to pay their school loans. Hence, they would opt for other courses.

Of course, there are always remedies and solutions to these monetary problems, but it would be a welcome note for prospective students that the cost of medical school is reduced.

Quicker return of ROI

For those who are responsible for financing the cost of the students’ medical school, the shortening of the length of school would also be good news for them, as this would allow them to get back their return of investment (ROI) more quickly.