Medical Education Glossary

From Undergraduate Student to Practicing Physician

Before Medical School

Premedical Education

The four years of undergraduate study required to complete a bachelor’s degree, held by most applicants to medical school. A range of majors are considered premedical or “pre-med,” as their course work prepares students for medical school.

Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

A standardized multiple-choice test of problem solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and principles, which are necessary for the study of medicine. MCAT scores are submitted as part of the application to medical school.

American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS)

A centralized online application system for applying to medical schools in the U.S. Applicants use AMCAS to submit their application and supporting materials such as a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and MCAT scores. Medical schools may also require a secondary application submitted through AMCAS.

As a Medical Student

Undergraduate Medical Education

The four years of study and training required to complete a medical degree. Despite medical students who hold bachelor’s degrees being college graduates, they are considered “undergraduate” because they have yet to complete the course work and training required for the MD degree.

Basic Medical Education (Foundational Medical Sciences)

The first phase of medical education, which introduces first- and second-year students to the foundational knowledge and skills necessary for the practice of medicine and prepares students for clinical training. Foundational medical sciences include anatomy, embryology, ethics, health equity, histology, immunology, interprofessional education, microbiology/infectious disease, nutrition, pathology, pharmacology, physiology, radiology, and more. Faculty teaching courses may be clinicians with MDs or researchers with PhDs, depending upon the subject matter.


The second phase of medical education, an experiential learning process in which third- and fourth-year students participate in patient care and gain exposure to the core disciplines of medicine. These disciplines may be organized into successive rotations through the traditional block clerkship or integrated throughout the year in a Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (LIC). Medical students at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine complete an LIC during their third year.

During the clerkship, students work in outpatient and inpatient care settings as junior members of the medical team, closely supervised by practicing physicians and sometimes residents. Students begin to diagnose and treat patients, expanding the foundational science knowledge and clinical skills learned during the first two years.


A clinical rotation similar to a traditional block clerkship rotation, where fourth-year students gain further experience in a discipline of their choice. Students participate in patient care as in a clerkship, but with additional decision-making and medical record-keeping responsibilities. The sub-internship helps prepare students for their internship, which is the first year of residency. All medical students at the College of Medicine are required to complete a sub-internship during their fourth year.

United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)

A three-part national exam that tests fundamental knowledge of the medical sciences and clinical practice. Students take the first part of the exam at the end of the second year of medical school and the second part of the exam in the first half of their fourth year of medical school. The third part of the exam is taken at the end of the first year of residency training. Passing all parts of the exam is one of the requirements for obtaining a state license to practice medicine in the U.S. as an MD.

After Earning a Medical Degree

Graduate Medical Education

Training completed after obtaining a medical degree, referring to residency training or fellowship training.

Residency Training

Training completed after obtaining a medical degree that provides medical school graduates with the additional hands-on experience they need to become independently practicing physicians. Residency programs are three to seven years long, depending on the discipline. Residents gain more independence and responsibility as they proceed through training, eventually supervising junior residents and medical students. Residency training is required to obtain a license to practice medicine in the U.S. as an MD. Most states require at least two years of residency training for licensure, although a few require only one year of residency training for some disciplines.


A term used to describe the first year of residency training. A first-year resident may be referred to as an intern, R-1 (Resident-1), or PGY-1 (postgraduate year one).

Fellowship Training

Additional subspecialty training completed after residency training. Fellowship training is required or highly encouraged for some medical disciplines, such as neurosurgery or otolaryngology. Fellowship programs are typically one to three years long, although they can be as long as seven years depending on the discipline. Fellowships often include an emphasis on conducting research.

National Residency Matching Program (NRMP)

A centralized system for placing medical students into most residency and fellowship programs in the U.S., overseen by the nonprofit organization NRMP. Medical students apply to residency programs during their fourth year via several possible application systems: the AAMC Electronic Residency Match Service (ERAS) for most programs, Military Match for the military, and San Francisco Match for ophthalmology. For the application, students submit an application form, personal statements, letters of recommendation, and USMLE test scores to their preferred residencies and are invited to participate in interviews. After interviews, students submit a list ranking their preferred residencies and residency programs submit a list ranking their preferred applicants to the NRMP. On Match Day, on the third Friday of March, students are matched with the highest-ranked residency program on their list that also ranked them.  

As a Practicing Physician

Board-Certified Physician

A physician who has passed a national examination administered by the board for their medical discipline, such as the American Board of Family Medicine for physicians who practice family medicine and its subspecialties. Most disciplines require board-certified physicians to undergo a recertification every 10 years to validate their expertise and commitment to continuing medical education.

Continuing Medical Education

Education physicians must complete after their residency or fellowship training to maintain their licenses. These education requirements ensure that physicians remain current in the latest developments in their fields.