How to Become a Doctor

The Steps to a Career as a Physician

The process of becoming a physician is not easy, but this rewarding career is worth the years of preparation, studying, testing and training. Explore the process, your future career options as a physician, and chart your path to practicing as a physician.

How to Become a Doctor

How do you become a doctor? If you’re serious about becoming a doctor, you’ll help yourself by getting focused in high school, particularly in math and science. Lay a solid foundation by taking a science and math course every year, and make it a priority to take advanced and/or AP courses. 

College is where you really start focusing your studies and preparing for a career in medicine. Most medical schools require students to have taken a series of courses as undergraduates. This ensures that they have strong foundational knowledge in math and science, and will be well-prepared for the more advanced courses they’ll take as med students.

The MCAT (or Medical College Admissions Test) is used as a predictor of your success in med school, and as such is weighted pretty heavily when compared to other parts of your application. Most college students take the MCAT their junior year. This is arguably the most optimal time to take the test. 

After fulfilling all the pre-med requirements and submitting applications, you finally arrive at medical school. You’ll spend four years here.

Next up is your residency. Residencies, which include the internship year, are supervised positions at teaching hospitals. For an internal medicine physician, such as a family practitioner, the length of the residency is three years. Residencies are longer for some surgical specialties, in some cases over eight years.

Once you’ve finished with your residency and passed all your boards, you can officially practice independently as a licensed physician.

What Is It Like to Be a Doctor?

The physician career profile outlines some of the basics of being a physician such as schedule, skills, work environment, and challenges. To learn more about a "day in the life" of a physician, check out the interview with Dr. Cohen, a gastroenterologist who shares his first-hand perspective on being a physician.

If you think you are interested in becoming a surgeon, the surgeon career profile provides additional information about surgeons' careers. Surgeons typically must train longer than physicians who practice medicine sub-specialties. Surgeons' schedules can be a challenge since they often have to be on call for emergencies and be prepared for long hours in the operating room.

Types of Physicians

Deciding to become a physician is only one choice of many you will make throughout the process of becoming a physician. Another big decision is choosing what type of physician you want to be - and what type of medicine you wish to practice. This decision doesn't have to be made until you're in medical school, even though many people have an idea before entering medical school.

Your decision may change through medical school and residency as it becomes clearer the skills needed in different areas of medical practice, as well as the length of specialty training and the usual working hours and conditions for each specialty.

How Much Do Physicians Earn?

How much do doctors make? You can start at the American Association of Medical Colleges and their list of starting salaries for physicians. There are many variables in how much a doctor can earn, depending on where they practice as well as the type of medicine in which they specialize. 

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