How Becoming a Doctor Works

Medical School Curriculum

Most medical schools have similar configurations. Generally the first two years are classroom-based, with patient contact beginning in the second year. The third and fourth years consist of rotations through the different major specialties of medicine.

The first year of medical school consists of basic sciences which educate you about normal body functions. Courses include:


  • Anatomy - the science of the structure of the body and the relations of its parts (especially those that can be seen with the naked eye). This course is taught by lecture and dissection of a human cadaver
  • Physiology - the science of the function of the body and its parts (and the chemical and physical steps involved)
  • Histology - the science of the cells and tissue on the microscopic level (microscopic anatomy)
  • Biochemistry - the science of the chemistry of the cells, tissue, and organs of the body
  • Embryology - the science of the development of a human from its most immature form
  • Neuroanatomy - the anatomy of the nervous system

In the second year of medical more emphasis is placed on disease and its treatment. Courses include:

  • Pathology - the science of disease, especially the changes in structure and function causing or caused by disease
  • Pharmacology - the science of medications
  • Microbiology - the science of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi
  • Immunology - the science of how humans fight disease

During the second year, medical students also take courses that introduce them to taking a medical history and performing a physical exam.

The structure of the first two years of medical school has been undergoing a transition recently. Some medical schools use an organ-based approach. In this system, all of the anatomy, physiology (normal function), pathology, pharmacology, etc. about one organ system (i.e. the heart) is taught at one time before going to the next organ system.

Some medical schools teach only one subject at a time. For instance, anatomy is taught all day, every day for eight weeks, then the next subject is taught. Some students find it easier to concentrate on only one subject at a time. Many schools are doing more teaching in small groups and less in large lectures and are using case studies to teach medicine. Of course, there are numerous medical schools that use a hybrid of the systems mentioned above.