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Training and Education Needed 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 and necessary steps well as details about degree programs, training, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Doctors are licensed medical practitioners who have undergone 11-15 years of training to gain a license. This usually includes four years of undergraduate education followed by four years of medical school, divided into two years of classroom training in medicine and two years of clinical training. Prospective doctors must then complete a 3-7 year residency program before their training is finished.

Required Education A science-focused undergraduate degree; M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) degree, along with a residency
Other Requirements Licensure required; board certification also available
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 18%
Mean Annual Salary (2013)* $187,200

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Become a Doctor in Five Steps

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

The path to becoming a doctor begins with a bachelor's degree program. Prospective doctors should choose an education program with a pre-med focus, which ensures that necessary science-based core curriculum is covered prior to the candidate's progression to medical school. These programs typically have a heavy focus on biology and chemistry, with plenty of physics, math and English courses to prepare a student to apply to med school.

Step 2: Pass the MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a multiple choice exam taken before admission into medical school. The MCAT tests an aspiring doctor's knowledge of the physical and biological sciences and verbal reasoning and writing skills. The test is computerized, and it takes approximately five hours to complete.

Step 3: Attend Medical School

The initial two years of medical school are spent in classrooms and laboratories, where students take the necessary courses to prepare them for diagnosing and treating patients. During the second year of medical school, students must pass the first of a series of the United States Medical Licensing Examinations, referred to as 'The Boards,' which are administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners. During the second half of their training, prospective doctors practice under the tutelage of attending physicians to learn the realities of practicing medicine. During their fourth year of medical school and first year of residency training, doctors take their remaining medical licensing examinations.

Step 4: Complete Residency Training

In their fourth year of medical school, candidates are paired with a residency training program in a rite of passage called 'Match Day.' Depending upon his or her specialty, a candidate may spend between three and seven years in residency at a medical facility. They work under the direct supervision of an attending physician and focus on practical training in general medicine and their chosen specialty.

Step 5: Get Licensed

In order to become a doctor, a candidate must obtain a license to practice medicine. Requirements for medical licensing differ from state to state and all states issue their own licenses based on state regulations. Licensing generally requires completing medical school and successfully passing all medical licensing examinations.

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