Schooling Required To Be A Doctor

Last Updated on January 17, 2023

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UK college offers medical students $13,700 to defer their degree

Schooling Required To Be A Doctor

So you want to become a doctor. It’s certainly a lucrative profession: the mean salary of a doctor in the United States is around $300,000 per year.1 Not surprisingly, it’s a tough profession to get into with a lot of schooling and training required.

Doctors, also called physicians, diagnose and treat people’s illnesses and injuries. Based on differences in their training and philosophies, they have either the designation M.D. (doctor of medicine) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathic medicine) after their names (for example, Jane Brown, M.D., or Jim Smith, D.O.).

The first step to becoming a doctor is to find out if you have the characteristics that will help you succeed in this career. Because your training will primarily consist of science coursework, you need a strong aptitude for this subject. You also will need specific soft skills, and you must be compassionate and sensitive to other people’s feelings. Also necessary are strong critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as excellent listening and speaking skills, will allow you to communicate with patients and colleagues. You should also be well organized and detail-oriented.

Required Education

If you want to become a doctor, get ready to commit to spending at least 11 years on your post-high school education. After going to college for four years to get a bachelor’s degree, you will have to attend medical school for four more years. That will be followed by three to eight years of graduate medical education (GME) in the form of an internship or residency program.

You must attend a medical school that is accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) or the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA). Both organizations’ websites list accredited programs.

What can you expect to study in med school? Your coursework will probably include the following, but may differ depending on whether you attend an allopathic or osteopathic program:

  • Biomedical building blocks
  • Integrated pathophysiology
  • Human gross and developmental anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Medical genetics
  • Pharmacology
  • Histology and embryology
  • Human nutrition
  • Immunology
  • Infectious diseases
  • Ophthalmology
  • Principals of medicine
  • Principals of surgery

In addition to your coursework, you will also receive extensive clinical training through clinical rotations. Expect to work in a variety of clinical specialties including pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, family medicine, surgery, emergency medicine, and internal medicine.

Getting Into Medical School

Admission into medical school is very competitive. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), an applicant with the best chance of getting into a school of osteopathic medicine “is well-rounded, has a broad background, [and] has demonstrated academic excellence.” In addition, he or she “wants to get involved in his or her community and spend time getting know his or her patients, is compassionate, and has solid communication skills and a healing touch.”2

The article also states that many applicants to osteopathic medical programs are non-traditional students who are older (25% of admitted students are age 26 or older). They come from a variety of career backgrounds. 

Allopathic (M.D.) programs also are extremely competitive and selective. Like D.O. programs, they look for students who have performed well academically. They prefer applicants with excellent communication skills and who have demonstrated leadership qualities. 

Applicants typically must have fulfilled prerequisite college coursework in the sciences, including biology, general and organic chemistry, math, English, and statistics. Although specific requirements vary by school, the American Medical Association (AMA) states that a grade point average of three and a half to four on a four-point scale is required for admission. In addition, one must perform well on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).

After Completing Medical Education

After completing your medical education, you will have to become licensed to practice medicine in the state in which you work. All 50 states in the United States, as well as the District of Columbia, have state medical licensing boards that are responsible for licensing doctors.

While each board has its own requirements, all of them require having completed an accredited medical school and graduate medical education. An M.D. must pass all three parts of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), and a D.O. must pass all three levels of the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). Contact the state medical board in your state to learn about its requirements. The Federation of State Medical Boards also publishes the State-Specific Requirements for Initial Medical Licensure.

In addition to getting a state license, many doctors choose to become board certified in a medical specialty. Each of the member boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties grants certification which must be renewed every several years. Initial certification requires completion of medical school and graduate medical education, and passing a written or oral exam in that area of specialization.

How to Get Your First Job

Preparing to become a doctor takes a lot of effort, not to mention money: four years of college, four years of medical school, and three to eight years of post-graduate medical education. After all that, there’s an exam to pass.

Getting a license can be a long process and a very expensive one with fees ranging from a few to several hundred dollars. By the time you are ready to look for a job, you will be well-prepared to work. Here are some of the qualities employers want in job candidates:

  • Adheres to the highest standards of medical practice, ethics, and professionalism at all times
  • Accurate and timely documentation of medical records
  • Shows respect and sensitivity for cultural differences
  • Ability to motivate and work effectively with others
  • Problem solves with creativity and ingenuity
  • Must be a team player and have a passion for what you do
Best Medical Schools in the World - University Rankings 2021 -

requirements to become a doctor in usa

Doctors must complete a four-year undergraduate program, along with four years in medical school and three to seven years in a residency program to learn the specialty they chose to pursue. In other words, it takes between 10 to 14 years to become a fully licensed doctor. Once you finish your medical education, including your residency program, you need to take an exam for the state you plan to practice medicine in.

While the amount of time and money it can take to become a doctor is high, you also have a high earning potential as a doctor—especially if you decide to open a private practice. The average annual salary for a doctor is $163,908 per year, but salaries can increase if you live in an area with a higher cost of living.

How to fulfill the requirements to become a doctor

Follow these steps to become a doctor:

  1. Complete your undergraduate degree program.
  2. Perform well on your Medical College Admission Test.
  3. Finish four years of medical school.
  4. Enroll and complete your residency program.
  5. Obtain a medical license in your state.

1. Complete your undergraduate degree program

Four-year undergraduate education is the precursor to going to medical school. Even though you don’t need to have a specific major to be eligible for medical school, a lot of aspiring doctors major in biology or chemistry. Other applicable degrees include pre-med, psychology, nursing, medical technology or exercise science. Some of these undergraduate courses include subjects like anatomy, physics, biological studies and human genetics. Be sure to check the undergraduate degree programs each school offers so you can select the right major and make a relevant choice to put you on the path to becoming a doctor.

During this time, you can also network with doctors operating in your area by scheduling an informational interview or a job shadowing opportunity, which can give you full exposure to the daily responsibilities of a doctor. It provides you the chance to ask key questions about the career path they took and get personalized tips about your education and professional career.

2. Perform well on your Medical College Admission Test

While you’re receiving your undergraduate education, you can prepare for and take the Medical College Admission Test. The MCAT is a five-hour, multiple-choice exam taken on a computer that displays if you possess valuable knowledge to proceed in enrolling to a top medical school. You’ll be tested on subjects like biology, critical thinking and physical science. A score of around 500 is considered average for this exam.

It’s practical to take this exam one full calendar year before you begin medical school. For example, if you plan to start medical school in July 2021, then you should aim to take the MCAT in April or May 2020.

3. Finish four years of medical school

Medical schools supply you with four years of medical training to help you excel as a doctor. The first two years consist of learning inside a classroom and working on labs to treat patient conditions. You’ll also learn advanced concepts related to biology and chemistry. The last two years of medical school pertain to earning clinical experience, where you can evaluate how you apply medical knowledge outside of the classroom by completing rotations at hospitals or clinics.

The next benchmark you must account for is the United States Medical Licensing Examination, which is a three-step exam that shows your competency in medical terminology. You’ll need to take the first two steps while you’re in medical school. The results of your exam can be an indicator of your progress with your medical education.

4. Enroll and complete your residency program

A residency program is equivalent to an internship for a doctor, and they take three to seven years to complete. Pay attention to the specialty you select so you know how long it should take to finish your residency program. The good news is residents earn full-time salaries, which can help cover living expenses and potentially some of the loan payments incurred in medical school.

Usually, you start training for your residency program during your fourth year of medical school. The majority of your time is working directly with patients in a certain medical environment. If you want to specify your experience in an area like internal medicine or pediatrics, you can also complete a fellowship after you finish your residency program.

5. Obtain a medical license in your state

You are eligible to get your medical license after you complete the first year of your residency program. The combination of experience in an academic and clinical setting should set you up to pass the exam. Nevertheless, you must study the criteria for the state’s exam, and you should consider taking practice tests to help you prepare for the questions you’ll need to answer.

The questions should tie into your specialty, but it also helps to ask colleagues and your mentor for advice on what helped them get their license in addition to essential concepts you must know. If you pass, you’ll be legally certified to treat patients in the state in which you take the exam.

easiest way to become a doctor

The American Medical Association lists the most competitive medical specialty fields (in order) as integrated interventional radiology, orthopedic surgery, integrated plastic surgery, radiation oncology, neurological surgery and otolaryngology. The team at International Medical Aid advises that family medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, anesthesiology, pediatrics and psychiatry are the least competitive. So, this list encompasses the quickest doctors to become.

The reasons why some fields are more competitive than others include the time needed to get the degrees, subject matter difficulty and pay. A general practice doctor is probably the easiest doctor to become. Even though students must complete four years of medical school and one or two years of a residency, this is the minimum amount of education required for medical doctors. Internal medicine and pathology are other less complex areas of medicine worth considering.

When course difficulty is not as big a concern as the amount of time it takes to complete the program, potential doctors may look into one of the medical schools that offer options to fast-track their degrees, explains the team at The Nest. This option condenses the four years of medical school into three, but it may leave out specialty options. Fast-tracking means no time off and intense studying and training. Before applying, be sure that you fully understand the implications of a fast-track medical school.

What’s the Easiest Surgeon to Be?

Neurosurgeons work through long surgeries that can take up to 12 hours and operate inside skulls. Orthopedic surgeons work on entire musculoskeletal systems and perform complicated procedures such as repairing nerves in limbs. Cardiac and thoracic surgeons focus on pathological conditions inside patients’ chests relating to lung cancers, heart valves and coronary arteries. These and other more difficult fields require in-depth, specialized knowledge and proven expertise.

The easiest surgeon to be is a general surgeon. These physicians treat many kinds of ailments that require surgeries that are usually less complicated than specialty surgeries. They spend their days performing appendectomies, removing gallbladders, and other routine procedures. It is not unusual for a general surgeon to switch over to a specialty after a while.

Doctor and Surgeon Salaries

The experts at Weatherby Healthcare post that the highest-paid physician specialties for 2020 are specialists in plastic surgery at ​$526,00​, followed by orthopedics/orthopedic surgery at ​$511,000​ and cardiology at ​$459,000​. These were the same three highest in 2019. At the lower end were public health and preventative medicine physicians at ​$237,000​, family medicine at ​$236,000​, and pediatrics at ​$221,000​.

This source also reported that self-employed physicians earned more than those who did not have their own practices. Self-employed doctors earned ​$352,000​ annually compared to ​$300,000​ yearly salaries earned by other doctors. There was also a disparity in pay according to gender: Male primary physicians made 27 percent more than females at ​$269,000​ versus ​$211,000​, respectively.

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