Requirements to Become a Doctor in the U.S.

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a doctor. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and licensing to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

The requirements for becoming a doctor in the U.S. may vary by specialty. In general, doctors complete a 4-year undergraduate degree program, spend four years in medical school and then complete 3-7 years of residency training, before they are eligible for medical licensing.

Required Education Bachelor's degree and medical school
Other Requirements Residency training and medical licensing
Projected Job Growth 18% from 2012-2022*
Median Salary (2014) $111,630 annually*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements

The educational requirements to become a medical doctor in the United States include obtaining two degrees and a clinical residency. Both degree programs typically include general medical coursework, while prospective doctors can choose a specialty later, during their residencies.

Bachelor of Science in Biology

Completing a bachelor's degree program is necessary to prepare prospective doctors to enter medical school. Though medical schools do not require specific degrees for admission, many students opt for programs heavy in biology and chemistry. Some schools offer specific pre-med programs that include the required classes for medical school, as well as prepare them to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Common courses in a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biology program include:

  • Chemistry
  • Biological studies
  • Physics
  • Human genetics

Medical College Admission Test

The MCAT is a multiple-choice examination that students must pass before they are admitted to medical school. Physical science, biology, critical thinking, verbal skills and writing abilities are all tested in a 5-hour computerized test. Most medical schools use this score when considering applicants for admission, so it's important to score well to be considered for top programs.

Doctor of Medicine

Medical school consists of four years of medical training and education. The first two years of a prospective doctor's medical school experience are devoted to book study and laboratory work to prepare students for diagnosing and treating illnesses. During the second year of med school, students take the first portion of the United States Medical Licensing Examination, which is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners (

During the last two years of medical school, students begin their clinical experience, going through rotations at clinics and hospitals. Students work under attending physicians to begin their practical training in medicine. The fourth year of medical school is when the second licensing test is issued, as well as when students begin their residency training. As an alternative to undergraduate degrees and medical school, some institutions allow students to take a 6-year combination training and education program, which gives students a compressed medical and academic education.

Medical Residency

A doctor's internship or clerkship period is known as a residency. Most doctors complete their residency in a 3-7 year period, depending on specialization. The first year of residency is when the final medical licensing exam is given, while the residency itself focuses almost completely on practical training in a medical environment, rather than classroom learning. Post-residency fellowships might also be beneficial, as doctors can choose to sub-specialize in areas such as internal, geriatric or vascular medicine.

Licensing Requirements

Licensing requirements for doctors vary by state, but most states require at least a 1-year residency program and the passage of a board certification in whatever medical specialty a student has chosen. Once these requirements have been met, a doctor is normally considered a fully licensed medical professional and is legally able to practice in their respective fields.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physicians and surgeons earned an average of $189,760 in 2014. In top-paying states like Mississippi, Minnesota, Maine, South Dakota and New Hampshire, the BLS reports physicians and surgeons were paid over $200,000 on average that year. Based on data from the BLS, there were 691,400 physicians and surgeons working in the U.S. in 2012, and employment opportunities for these professionals are expected to increase by 18% over the 2012-2022 decade.

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