How to become a doctor
- Developing the skills and knowledge necessary to practice medicine requires a great deal of time and effort, so it is important to research the training process before taking the plunge. The following section outlines how physicians prepare for their careers.
- COMPLETE AN UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION
Medical school admissions boards require all applicants to earn bachelor’s degrees from accredited colleges and universities. While there is no specific undergraduate degree recommended for all medical school hopefuls, The College Board lists pre-medicine, biology and exercise science among potential majors.
- PASS THE MCAT EXAMINATION
College juniors interested in a career as a doctor should register for and take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice examination used by medical school admission committees to assess a candidate’s likelihood of succeeding in their program.
- APPLY TO MEDICAL SCHOOL
There is no required timeline for applying to medical school. Students generally begin the application process during the summer after their junior year in college, but some choose to take a year off after completing their undergraduate degrees before applying. Most medical schools in the US use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), a centralized application processing service from the Association of American Medical Colleges. Students select their target medical schools and submit a single application to AMCAS, which distributes the application to each institution.
- COMPLETE TRAINING AT MEDICAL SCHOOL
The path to becoming a physician begins in medical school, which generally requires four years of full-time study beyond one’s undergraduate studies. Curriculum is divided between classroom-based instruction in the sciences and clinical rotations where students develop applied skills in various areas of medicine.
- PASS PARTS I & II OF THE UNITED STATES MEDICAL LICENSING EXAMINATION (USMLE)
In order to practice medicine legally in the US, students must take and receive a passing score on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), a three-part examination taken during and after medical school. Medical students must pass the first part of the examination, which covers basic medical principles, before entering their third year of studies. During their fourth year, students must pass the second part of the exam, which covers clinical diagnosis and disease development.
- MATCH WITH RESIDENCY
During their final year of medical school, students start narrowing down their medical specialty options (e.g. pediatrics, anesthesiology). They submit an application for residency and are matched to open residency programs throughout the country.
- GRADUATE FROM MEDICAL SCHOOL & START RESIDENCY
Newly-minted doctors transition from graduate school residency programs. These programs generally require at least three years to complete and provide in-depth training in students’ chosen specialties
- PASS PART III OF UNITED STATES MEDICAL LICENSING EXAMINATION (USMLE) AND FINISH RESIDENCY
The final step of the residency process is to complete Part III of USMLE. This examination covers clinical management and assesses the doctor’s ability to practice medicine safely and effectively.
- EARN BOARD CERTIFICATIONS
Once their medical educations are complete, doctors may obtain certification in their chosen field. There are 24 specialty boards that certify physicians in hundreds of specialties and subspecialties. Board certifications require a written and, in some cases, an oral examination.
- GET A STATE LICENSE
Medical licensure is governed at the state-level by state boards of medicine, and each sets its own licensing requirements and procedures. Trained and board-certified doctors must apply for state medical licenses before they enter the field.
- APPLY FOR JOBS
The final step to become a doctor is securing a job. Many doctors begin their search during residency. It is common for residents to transition into full-time positions after their residencies end. However, some doctors choose to go on the open market and seek out career openings. Other physicians are contacted by recruiters to fill a position.