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Branching Out in the Clinical Years

I’m sure many of you have heard about the new curriculum at UMMS, where the second-year medical students hit the wards after just one year of bookwork. At many other universities, this process begins at the beginning of third year. At Michigan, the curriculum is all “Trunks” and “Branches”— we are in Ann Arbor, after all. Some confusion remains about these changes and I am here to set the record straight, or at least give you my perspective on what it is like to be a “Branch” student.

During Branch years, there is life beyond studying and shelf exams! Here I am admiring the Transcending monument in Detroit, MI.

So far, I am halfway through my third year of medical school. I have completed a year of classroom learning (the Scientific Trunk), followed by a year of core clerkships, such as surgery, pediatrics, OB/GYN, internal medicine (the Clinical Trunk). Before the start of my third year, I had also taken Step 1 and Step 2CK. For perspective, friends of mine at other institutions with a traditional curriculum have completed Step 1 and are about halfway through their core experiences at this point. I now have roughly 10 months of elective time before I fill out applications for residency.

That time is aptly named the Branches. The goal of the Branches is to allow us to take electives that interest us and give opportunities for further career exploration before applying for residency. I can do electives in dermatology or ophthalmology or radiology, all specialty electives that students rarely get to experience during the core clerkships. We also have time to complete a Capstone for Impact project in whatever field we want, which can springboard people’s future career paths.

For me, I have set my mind on primary care and am using the Branches to further immerse myself in the endless possibilities that I will have for a future career as a family physician. Through a partnership with Henry Ford Hospital, I packed a few bags and will spend the next six months doing various clinical rotations and scholarly work in Detroit, Michigan to help serve the urban underserved population. I will also complete my Capstone through this elective experience. My friends have chosen different paths; one wakes up at 4 am to break and set bones on her orthopedic elective, another friend has spent a month on anesthesia intubating and extubating people during surgery. Other classmates have taken this time to finish up some research projects, and others still have taken a couple vacation weeks to travel wherever their hearts and loan money will take them.

We all have different paths with the end goal of receiving an excellent education to get us there. The Branches allow us to individualize our learning plans and it seemed daunting at first to pick what we will learn, but I can tell you that it has given me life in medical school. It’s refreshing to wake up every day and do something YOU choose to do. Even if it turns out that orthopedics was not what you thought, at least you can say, “tried it, not for me, next.” You won’t be stuck wondering if that was your calling, or choose a residency without trying it and then hating it. I start on emergency medicine this month and who knows, maybe I’ll fall in love with it and switch career goals. That’s the beauty of the Branches, we have time to really figure it out.

Christina is a third-year student at University of Michigan Medical School. She is interested in adolescent medicine and underserved populations.