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What Happens After Medical School Graduation?

Discover what to do after medical school graduation: internship, USMLE Step 3, residency, board exams, job applications, continuing education, and more.

For medical students, graduating from medical school marks a significant milestone along the path to becoming a physician! It is a major accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated and also prompts reflection on the path ahead. Those considering a medical career may find themselves wondering what happens after medical school. What can and should doctors do after graduating?

What comes after medical school graduation is a series of pivotal stages in practical training and career development. In this blog post, we’ll guide you through the key milestones that doctors encounter after graduating from medical school.

Steps to Becoming a Doctor

Internship Year

The first step post-graduation is the internship year, also known as the preliminary year or PGY-1 (Post-Graduate Year 1). During this year, new doctors rotate through distinct specialties, gaining hands-on experience and honing their clinical skills. It’s time to translate theoretical knowledge into tangible patient care decisions.

USMLE Step 3

The USMLE Step 3 comes after your internship year and is the final part of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) examinations. This two-day test assesses your ability to apply medical knowledge and understanding of biomedical and clinical science, which are essential for unsupervised medical practice. Successfully passing Step 3 is important if you intend to practice independently in the United States.

Structure and Content of USMLE Step 3

  • Day 1 focuses on assessing your knowledge of basic medical and scientific principles. You’ll encounter approximately 233 multiple-choice questions, spread over six 60-minute examination blocks. The content covers various topics, including medical ethics, patient safety, and clinical epidemiology principles.
  • Day 2 focuses on clinical applications and patient management. It includes approximately 180 multiple-choice questions, spread over six 45-minute examination blocks. Additionally, you’ll complete 13 computer-based case simulations (CCS) that simulate real-world scenarios that test your ability to make critical decisions and apply clinical knowledge.


Following the internship year, you’ll apply to match into a residency program, which can last two to seven years, depending on your chosen specialty. During residency, you’ll gain:

  • Clinical Competence: Residents learn to manage patient care independently under the supervision of attending physicians.
  • Specialized Training: Each residency program provides focused training in a specific area of medicine, such as internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, etc.
  • Professional Development: You’ll develop critical thinking skills, professionalism, and effective communication with patients, families, and colleagues.
  • Preparation for Board Certification: Residency prepares you to pass the specialty certification exams necessary to become a board-certified physician in your chosen specialty.

While challenging, residency lays the groundwork for a rewarding medical career. It significantly impacts patient care and healthcare outcomes, making it a rewarding step in your journey to becoming a practicing physician.

Not matching into a residency program is not the end of the road. There are several pathways you can take:

  • Reapply Next Year: Many students take an extra year to gain additional experience, conduct research, or improve their application before reapplying.
  • Transitional or Preliminary Programs: These programs can provide additional training and experience, making you a more competitive candidate in the next match cycle.
  • Alternative Careers: Some graduates explore alternative careers in healthcare, such as medical research, public health, or healthcare administration.

Read how Caribbean medical schools are improving medical careers for more on alternative pathways and enhancing medical career prospects.

Launching Your Medical Career

Specialty Board Exams

As you near the end of your residency, you’ll need to prepare for your specialty board exams. These exams certify that you have the knowledge and skills to practice independently in your chosen specialty. Passing these exams is often a prerequisite for obtaining hospital privileges and insurance panel participation.

Additional Training Programs

Some doctors choose to pursue additional training through fellowship programs. These programs provide advanced education in subspecialties such as cardiology, oncology, or pediatric surgery. Fellowships can last one to three years and offer an opportunity to gain specialized expertise and conduct research.

Applying for Jobs

Once you’ve completed your residency and any additional training, it’s time to start applying for jobs. Whether you join a hospital, private practice, or start training others, job searching is a critical step in launching your medical career.

Lifelong Learning

Continuing Education

The medical landscape is constantly evolving, making continuing education essential for medical practitioners. In many countries, including the United States and Canada, continuing education is mandatory for maintaining licensing.

Continuing education helps doctors stay abreast of the latest research, technologies, and treatment options. This updated knowledge enables them to provide more accurate diagnoses, make well-informed decisions about patient care, and offer the most effective treatments. It also enhances their communication skills, empathy, and cultural understanding, improving patient satisfaction and overall healthcare outcomes.

Continuing education can take many forms, such as attending conferences, participating in workshops, and completing Continuing Medical Education (CME) courses. For instance, in the United States, doctors might attend the American Medical Association’s (AMA) annual conference or participate in CME courses offered by renowned medical institutions such as Mayo Clinic. In Canada, physicians may attend the Canadian Medical Association’s (CMA) General Council meeting or engage in CME activities through the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.


Every phase of medical school, from graduation, internships, and residency to board exams and job applications, is an opportunity to learn and grow. Even if the path isn’t always straightforward, there are many ways to achieve your goals and contribute meaningfully to medicine. So embrace the journey, stay curious, and keep learning— both your future patients and career will benefit from it!

Explore the MD Program at St. Matthew’s University for more information on medical training and programs.

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