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

In the United States, a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) is a professional degree that, in combination with state licensure, qualifies its holder to practice medicine. In the first years of an M.D. program, students commonly train in advanced techniques in fields like biology, anatomy and physiology.

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. 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 United States. Most such programs for aspiring doctors offer services that help students look for and apply to subsequent medical residency programs.

For bachelor's degree holders, M.D. programs commonly take four years of full-time study to complete. However, some schools offer specialized programs that allow students to earn a bachelor's degree and a medical degree simultaneously. These programs usually take 6-7 years from start to finish.

  • Prerequisites: Bachelor's degree; Some programs require a master's degree; MCAT scores; Personal statement of intent
  • Some Program Specialization: Cardiology; Toxicology; Orthopedics; Oncology
  • Program Length: Four years; Six to seven years (combination bachelor's and doctorate)
  • Other Requirements: Dissertation or exit exam for graduation

Doctorate Degree in Medicine

Coursework in medical 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 18% between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( 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. For example, the median annual salary for family and general practitioners was $180,180 in May 2014, 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.

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