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Steps to Becoming a Medical Doctor: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a medical doctor. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in medicine. View article »

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  • 0:00 Should I Become a…
  • 1:21 Step 1/Step 2: Take…
  • 2:38 Step 3: Apply to…
  • 3:38 Step 4: Choose an Area…
  • 4:18 Step 5: Complete an…
  • 5:02 Step 6: Certification…

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Medical Doctor?

Degree Level Medical school degree
Licensure and Certification Must be licensed; voluntary certification is available
Experience Residency
Key Skills Communication and organizational skills; attention to detail; patience; physical stamina and dexterity
Salary $187,200 (2015 median for physicians and surgeons)

Individuals who enjoy working with people and have an ability to learn math and science may consider careers as medical doctors in a variety of specialty fields. Doctors diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses within their field of specialty. Types of medical doctors include pediatricians, general practitioners, gynecologists, dermatologists, and many others. All surgeons are medical doctors, as well.

Depending on the type of work a medical doctor performs, the work environment may vary drastically. Doctors in hospitals work very long hours on their feet, while private practice physicians may enjoy more limited hours in a medical office setting. Almost all doctors earn high wages, and the career can be very stressful.

A medical school degree is required. Medical doctors must be licensed. Voluntary certification is available. Medical doctors must successfully complete a residency. Key skills include communication, attention to detail, patience, organization, physical stamina, and dexterity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for physicians and surgeons was $187,200 as of May 2015. Let's take a look at the steps needed to become a medical doctor.

Step 1: Take Prerequisite Courses

Take prerequisite courses for medical school. Nearly all medical schools require a bachelor's degree, with a few exceptions, and some colleges offer premedical courses of study. However, it's not a requirement to major in pre-medicine. Medical schools look for well-rounded individuals with the required prerequisite courses, such as inorganic and organic chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, English, humanities, and the social sciences.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Gain experience working or volunteering in a medical services environment. Because it takes so much time to become a medical doctor, it's helpful for students to gain experience working in the field of healthcare to find out if it's a career they would enjoy. Some medical schools require experience before they'll accept people into their programs, with opportunities ranging from volunteering at a hospital to becoming a medical assistant, licensed vocational nurse, or emergency medical technician.

Success Tip:

  • Shadow your doctor. Some doctors may allow aspiring medical students to shadow them. First, potential med students should express their reasons for shadowing and ask for permission. If permission is granted, they may follow their doctor through a typical work day.

Step 3: Apply to Medical School

Apply to and attend medical school. Admission to medical school is competitive, and students should look for schools that match their interests. Most schools require students to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), which takes preparation. Medical school curricula usually consist of two years of didactic coursework in medicine and the biological sciences and two years of clinical rotations in a variety of areas such as emergency care or obstetrics. These rotations are meant to help students decide which area of medicine they wish to pursue.

Success Tip:

  • Prepare for the MCAT. Organizations such as the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) offer online MCAT practice exams, study guides, videos, and books to help prepare individuals for the MCAT exam. Other useful information is available through the AAMC for Medical Students and those in the residency phase of their education.

Step 4: Choose an Area of Specialization

After clinical rotations, students are required to choose an area of specialization. There are more than 145 specialty and subspecialty areas recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. These specialty areas include obstetrics and gynecology, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics.

Success Tip:

  • Make the right choice. Because medical school is both timely and costly, it's imperative that medical students take their time choosing an area of specialization, rather than having to go back and start a residency over again.

Step 5: Complete an Internship and Residency

A paid medical residency typically takes between 3-5 years to complete and is undertaken after the traditional four years of medical school training. The exact length of a residency will depend on the specialty chosen. It involves working in a specialty or subspecialty area under the supervision of a licensed physician, often in a hospital setting. Residents are graduates who have received their Doctor of Medicine (MD), but aren't yet fully licensed to practice medicine on their own. Some medical students complete an internship before the residency and a fellowship (a year of further specialization in a subspecialty area) after the residency.

Step 6: Certification and Career Advancement

Although not required, specialty certification may be an advantage when seeking employment. Certification entails an examination administered by the American Board of Medical Specialties that is taken after residency. Specialty residency training may take as many as seven years. Ongoing maintenance of board certification signifies physician competence in the chosen specialty and assures patients that the physician is continuing his or her education. Depending on the specialty chosen, it may be worth considering opening a private or group practice rather than work for a hospital or other similar institutions.

Success Tip

  • Join a professional organization. Organizations such as the American Medical Association (AMA) can be helpful to physicians in several ways. They offer continuing education, information on topics such as ethics and medical laws, as well as information for private and group practices.

The road to becoming a medical doctor requires earning a doctorate in medicine, completing a residency, and obtaining and maintaining certification.

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