Curious how to become a doctor? First, doctors are categorized into two categories: medical doctors (M.D.) and doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.). Each of these two categories of doctors provides treatment to patients. However, D.O.s also make use of preventive medicine and holistic care treatment techniques whereas medical doctors frequently go for a specialization at the end of their training.
The educational requirement to become a doctor is quite extensive. It is also costly to train as a medical doctor but the salary can pay off. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, the numbers of doctors that are practicing in the United States reaches more than 900,000 and there is still a need for more. In 2013, the American Association of Medical Colleges projected that by the year 2025; there will be a shortage of roughly 46,0000 to 90,000 doctors across the United States.
Training to become a doctor to fill these positions requires a substantial amount of time and effort. This guide contains the steps you need to become a doctor. If you are looking for sufficient information on how to become a doctor, this guide will help you become well informed about all the essential requirements starting from medical school admission requirements to medical school training and give you a brief overview of a doctor’s career choices. This is step-by-step guidance on how to become a doctor:
1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
You need a bachelor’s degree to gain entrance into a medical school. Medical schools accept interested candidates who have an extensive academic background, a good knowledge of the natural sciences, and real-life work experience in the healthcare system. Although a particular major is not specified as required, to be accepted into a medical school, you must need undergraduate courses in biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics.
The majority of students enroll in disciplines that can offer them the experience they need to gain admission from the admissions board. The most commonly studied majors in the pre-medical courses are biology and chemistry.
A Bachelor’s of Science in Biology includes special courses that train you in organic chemistry, general chemistry, and the basics biochemistry and microbiology. It also includes core concept courses in human anatomy and physiology. This prearranged four-year course program prepares you to take the MCAT examination when you come to the end of your junior year.
Some of the courses under this program are:
- Human Physiology
- Organic Chemistry
A Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry provides you with the opportunity to learn natural sciences and humanities with the aim of preparing you for medical school. Examples of coursework covered include chemistry and biology courses, like organic chemistry. Chemistry programs assist students to obtain major laboratory and research skills and get them prepared for the MCAT test when they come to the end of their junior year.
Some of the courses under this program are:
- Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
- Polymer Chemistry
- Analytical Chemistry
- Organic Chemistry
While you are in the school, it is beneficial to take up a job in a medical facility. Gaining admission into a medical school is highly competitive. You’ll benefit more by leveraging every possible opportunity you have. Although, it is essential for you to get top grades, working as a volunteer at your local health clinic or getting a paid job in a healthcare environment is very helpful. This also helps you judge if the profession is right you and what aspect of healthcare you’d like to pursue.
You will also need letters of recommendation to be admitted into medical school. Even when letters of recommendation are not part of the admission requirement, they are still essential. Working in a healthcare environment can help you build relationships with those that would be able to write a recommendation letter. Building a good relationship with your premedical course lecturers also makes it easier for you to get a very good letter of recommendation.
After the completion of your bachelor’s degree program, you’ll have to sit for the MCAT.
2. Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
To be admitted into a medical school, you need to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). MCAT is a multiple-choice standardized examination that covers courses in biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics. It is also meant to access your critical thinking, problem-solving ability, scientific principles, and writing ability. You must excel in the exam to be accepted into the medical school.
The majority of medical schools in the United States require you to excel on the MCAT exam to be admitted. You are allowed to sit for the MCAT for a maximum of three times in a year. Those that perform well on the exam are enrolled into the medical school. Learn how to prepare for the MCAT.
3. Apply to Medical School
There is no specified timeline for you to apply to a medical school. Students commonly start the application process during the summer after their junior year in college. However, a few students prefer to take one year break after the completion of their undergraduate degrees before they apply. A number of medical schools in the United States make use of the American Medical College Application Service or AMCAS (link opens in a new tab). AMCAS is a central application processing service provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Students select their target medical schools and submit one application to AMCAS. AMCAS then distributes the application to each medical institution.
4. Attend Medical School
Your training to become a doctor in a medical school commonly takes four years to complete. The first two years of your training commonly requires classroom and laboratory work, whereas, during the last two years, you are given an opportunity to work directly with patients under the direction and surveillance of experienced doctors.
The first two years of the program involves training in many topics which includes medical laws and ethics, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and biochemistry. During the last two years, you would gain experience in fields like surgery, pediatrics, internal medicine, psychiatry, gynecology, and obstetrics.
In your third year, you’d usually be given the chance to have clinical experiences in various speciality areas like neurology, radiology, and medicine. The clinical experiences are meant to help you check the type of residency program you’d love to pursue when you graduate from the medical school.
The Doctor of Medicine (MD) program lasts four years. It involves a combination of academic coursework with clinical training.
You are expected to engage in an internship program as well. Your internship program choice must be focused on a particular speciality area. This will assist you to get into a residency program later in your career. The internship is frequently undertaken during the summer months between your third and fourth years
5. Complete a Medical Residency Program
After your graduation from the medical school, you’ll undertake a residency program. During your residency, you’ll be given training on-the-job. This period of your training is usually paid for. Your residency training would be given in a hospital. This provides you the opportunity to start treating patients under the guidance of an experienced doctor. During your residency you may craft problem lists, carry out physical examinations, and put together patients medical history data. The length of your residency program depends on your specialization. It can last from as little as three years to as much as eleven years. Again, it all depends on your area of specialization.
Medicine offers many different specialization options. The American Medical Association has more than 200 lists of speciality courses. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (link opens in a new tab) has over 140 specialities and subspecialties. Some of these are allergy and immunology, anesthesiology, critical care medicine, gastroenterology, orthopedic surgery, and cardiology.
Examples of different career specializations for graduates of medical school include:
- Family physician
- Surgeon median
6. Obtain your Medical License
You must obtain a medical license to be allowed to practice in hospitals and other medical facilities. To obtain your license, you must pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). This is a three-section examination that covers topics which include scientific and medical concepts, patient care, and ambulance management.
Generally, you must pass the first part of the examination which includes basic medical principles prior to your entrance into your third year of studies. In your fourth year, you must pass the second part of the exam. This covers clinical diagnosis and disease development.
You must be licensed before you would be allowed to work as a doctor in all states. To be qualified for the licensure, you must graduate from an accredited medical school. You must also finish your residency training program before you’d be qualified.
While MDs are required to take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), DOs are required to take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). If you want to obtain information on the licensing protocol of a particular state, you’d be required to contact the medical board of that state.
Medical licensing is managed at the state level by state boards of medicine. Every state sets its own licensing requirements and procedures. As a trained and board-certified doctor, you must apply and obtain a medical license before you can operate legally as a doctor.
You also need to renew your license from time to time. Before you apply for a license renewal, you need to complete no less than fifty hours of ongoing education. Because the licensing requirements of each state varies, it’s wise to get an idea of what the requirements for your state is before you apply.
7. Optional: Certifications and Fellowship Programs
Although you don’t require a certification to practice as a doctor, obtaining one may boost your employability. Obtaining a professional title can show that a doctor is an expert in a particular area of medicine. To be certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), you must go through a thorough process of evaluations and assessments. You need to undergo an ongoing medical training to obtain a recertification. You can apply for medical certification in your preferred field as soon as you are done with your medical training. There are 24 speciality boards that certify doctors in hundreds of speciality and subspecialty areas. To obtain board certifications, you need a written and sometimes an oral examination.
When you finish your residency program, you may decide to undertake fellowship programs in your chosen speciality area. Examples of fellowship program you can enroll in include oncology (cancer treatment) or neurology.
8. Apply For Jobs
Your last step to become a doctor is applying for and securing a job to begin to practice in the medical field. Some doctors start their job search during their residency program. In a good number of instances, resident doctors transit into full-time employment when their residency is over. A few doctors decide to go to the open market and search for job openings while other doctors get called by recruiters to fill up vacant positions.
The Kaiser Foundation, Total Professionally Active Physicians.
Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Research Shows Shortage of More than 100,000 Doctors by 2030.