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Medical Doctor: Step-By-Step Guide for Becoming a Doctor of Medicine

A medical doctor is a health care professional who examines patients, diagnoses ailments, and offers treatment strategies. Doctors work in clinics, hospitals, and private practices. Preparation for this career generally takes 11 years - four years of undergraduate studies, followed by four years in a medical program and three years in a residency. View article »

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Should I Become a Medical Doctor?

A medical doctor, also referred to as a doctor or a physician, is responsible for treating the illnesses or injuries a patient may present with. A doctor can work in a number of environments, including a private office, at a hospital, at a private company, in the military, or even on a cruise ship. The options are nearly limitless. Physicians observe their patients and take a medical history, assess the severity of the situation, diagnose their patients based on current medical standards, and treat appropriately according to the standard of care. There are general physicians who treat a wide range of patients and illnesses, and there are also more specialized doctors who only deal with a small subset of problems, such as cardiologists, ophthalmologists, and surgeons.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Licensure/Certification Licensure and passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is required.
Experience Residencies generally last three years or more
Key Skills Empathy, a desire to learn, logical thinking, an open mind, extremely hard working attitude, ability to handle intense pressure and stress, and intelligence
Salary $187,200 (Mean annual wage as of May 2015 for all physicians and surgeons)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, NHS Careers

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Steps to Become a Medical Doctor

Step 1: Complete Undergraduate Pre-Med Requirements

Some colleges and universities offer a pre-med major, but many schools may not. In those cases, students may consider majoring in biology, chemistry, or a science-related field. These programs prepare students for medical school through classes in physiology, anatomy, and biochemistry. Students may also consider accelerated medical programs that allow students to earn both a bachelor's degree and a medical degree in seven years instead of the typical eight. Graduates must take and submit the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) to be admitted to medical school.

Step 2: Take Foundational Medical School Coursework

The first two years of medical school focus on providing students with an education on the foundations of medicine and patient care. In the first year, students may study biology, genetics, and nutrition. Other topics covered may include clinical skills and public health. In the second year, courses expand upon basic topics and introduce more scientific topics. Courses may include pharmacology, clinical skills, ethics, and pathology. In some programs, clerkships begin in the second year.

Step 3: Complete Clerkships

Through a clerkship, students work under the supervision of a licensed doctor in a medical setting and apply the skills they have learned to care for patients. Clerkships often feature rotations where students focus on specific areas of medicine, such as surgery, emergency medicine, and intensive care. Students may have to make a diagnosis and back it up by doing research and providing a detailed explanation of why they came to their decision. This process helps them to cultivate their critical thinking skills and develop their abilities to make an accurate diagnosis.

Step 4: Become a Licensed M.D.

Upon completion of medical school, graduates earn a doctorate of medicine (M.D.), but all states require medical doctors to be licensed by their respective state boards to practice medicine. Licensure typically requires graduating from an accredited medical school and passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Some states may require that applicants complete one year of residency training prior to taking the USMLE examination.

Step 5: Complete Residency

Residencies offer medical school graduates paid on-the-job training in a variety of wards, ranging from internal medicine to the emergency room. Residencies generally last three years, but may be longer depending on the chosen career path. For example, students becoming board certified specialists in a particular field, like cardiology, may be required to complete additional training. These professionals may also be subject to final examinations and presentations in order to achieve board certified status.

Step 6: Opportunities for Career Advancement

Specialized training is one option for those considering a career in medicine. Students who complete one of these specialized residencies could improve their employment prospects.

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 14% job growth for physicians and surgeons overall during the 2014-2024 decade, the employment outlook was expected to be especially favorable for doctors trained in radiology and cardiology specialties.

Medical doctors must have a Doctor of Medicine, complete clerkships, become licensed, and complete residencies.

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