Earning a Doctor's Degree: Schooling to Become a Doctor

In the U.S., an M.D. is a professional degree that, in combination with state licensure, qualifies its holder to practice medicine. Students commonly train in advanced techniques in fields like biology, anatomy and physiology before beginning their specialty courses.

Essential Information

Medical doctorate students might explore various specialty fields, such as cardiology, toxicology, orthopedics, or oncology. Most programs then require students to complete one or more comprehensive exams before beginning several semesters of clinical rotation, which allow students to gain experience working with patients. Usually, programs take 4 years to complete, some combination bachelor's and doctorate take 6-7 years. The last year of a doctor's degree program might culminate in a dissertation or exit exam.

Graduates then must complete a residency to qualify to practice medicine in the U.S. Most such programs for aspiring doctors offer services that help students look for and apply to subsequent medical residency programs. To get into one of these products students need a bachelor's degree, MCAT scores, personal statement of intent and some programs require a master's degree.

Doctorate Degree in Medicine

Coursework in doctor of medicine (M.D.) programs often varies according to which specialty a student elects to pursue; however, some courses are required for all medical students. Examples of these core courses include the following:

  • Cell biology
  • Parasitology
  • Bioethics
  • Gastrointestinal and liver pathology
  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Pulmonary system

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The employment rate for physicians and surgeons was expected to rise 14% between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). This growth was anticipated mostly due to expansion of the health care industry and an aging population that would require additional medical care. Since there are numerous specialties for doctors to pursue, salaries may be very different. The median annual salary for family and general practitioners was $184,390 in May 2015, according to the BLS.

Continuing Education

While a medical degree is a terminal degree, graduates still must complete a residency and earn licensure. Medical licenses are awarded by state medical boards. Applicants typically must complete 1-2 years of residency, in addition to passing the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.

To become a medical doctor, students need to graduate from a 4-7 year M.D. program, pass the U.S. medical licensing examination and then complete a 1-2 year residency. The specialty curricula, salary and board certification will all vary by the type of doctor one becomes.

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