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The Part of 4th Year No One Talks About

Fourth year of medical school is something medical students look forward to since the beginning of their training. Student doctor and one of our SheMD editors, Morgan Sweere, visits the blog today to talk about the widespread change associated with fourth year.

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Fourth year is a time that is looked forward to for most of medical school. “Fourth year, best year.” It is one of the most enjoyable times of school, but it is also one of the most difficult and important times for a young almost-physician about to start their career professionally. The fourth year of medical school is very different from the first three years, in just about every way. Fourth year is the year that you get to choose more of your schedule, rotating in your specialty of choice and other electives. Students may also be doing away rotations at other schools, and will certainly be applying for residency and interviewing throughout the year. Students will often have more “free time” than in any other part of their medical school journey.

But what about the part they don’t tell you about? Fourth year is HARD. It is tough mentally, emotionally, physically, financially….just about every way possible. For me, the emotional part of the fourth year is something that I was not prepared for. I knew it was going to be a lot of work. I knew it was going to be expensive to do an away rotation and to apply for residency and interview. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to experience and anticipate so much change.

Leaving my dog for a month was a stress I didn’t know I wasn’t ready for. Going on an away rotation for a month is something that emergency medicine applicants all do, so I knew I was probably going to be doing this. However, I didn’t think about ACTUALLY leaving my friends, family, and my sweet four-year old husky/lab mix Lily back in Arkansas as I traveled to Florida for the month. I think there is a psychologic aspect associated with moving to a new place—even if for a month. There is definitely something associated with anticipating the possibility of moving to a new place for residency.

I also didn’t think about all of the “lasts” I would have throughout my fourth year. The last welcome week. Last test of medical school. Last study group with my friends. Last time I will hang out with my friends and classmates before they move all over the country to complete their respective trainings. There are so many things to feel. There is so much happiness associated with match and celebrating so many accomplishments that we have worked so hard for over the years. It’s bittersweet at the same time, though.

We are in a strange middle ground, knowing it will all end soon. You don’t feel like a medical student, but you don’t quite feel like a doctor yet. We will leave or stay soon and begin our residency programs, getting back into the groove of working hard and learning as much as we can. Matching into a program is a huge milestone to celebrate, but the workload that begins that summer looms over our heads at the same time. We are going to be someone’s actual doctor at that point. Something we have all been working for most of our lives.

Medicine is all about change, and medical training in the fourth year is no different. The emotions are going to change day to day. It is normal to feel scared, labile, apprehensive during big change. Medicine is an adventure. One of the greatest adventures. One that we are all about to begin.

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