A career as a doctor can be fulfilling. The path to becoming a medical doctor includes several years of education, practice, and exams to ensure you’re qualified and prepared to care for patients. Understanding just how many years to become a doctor is eye opening. It’s a lengthy and challenging process, but it’s rewarding for those who are dedicated hard workers and committed to a career in medicine. If you’re interested in becoming a doctor, knowing the steps and timeline can help you become mentally prepared for the process.
1) Graduate From High School
The very first step to becoming a doctor is to earn your high school diploma. Your college curriculum will be heavily focused in science and math. Focusing on mastering these subjects in high school will set a good foundation for both college and medical school. Scoring well on college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT will help you get into the undergraduate school of your choice.
Community service in high school will not only help you qualify for scholarships, it also prepares you for a career in helping others. Community service in a healthcare-related organization will affirm that your decision to pursue a medical career is the best choice for you.
2) Get Your Bachelor’s Degree
You should start applying to undergraduate colleges beginning in your senior year in high school after you’ve taken the ACT or SAT. If you’re aiming for a top-tier school, you’ll need a high GPA, high SAT/ACT scores, recommendation letters, and a strong personal essay. The earlier you apply for college, the sooner you can learn whether you’ve been accepted into the college of your choice. Applying early is also essential if you want to qualify for scholarships, grants, and other types of financial aid.
Once you’re enrolled in school, focusing on the right courses is important for getting into medical school. What subjects you need to become medical doctor are key at this stage. Medical school will require you to take certain undergraduate courses including:
• Biology with laboratory
• Inorganic chemistry with laboratory
• Organic chemistry with laboratory
• Math, at least one semester in calculus
• Physics with laboratory
Because your undergraduate degree requires so many courses in sciences, you may choose a major like biology or chemistry.
If you can’t fit all your courses within four years, you can stay an extra semester or year to finish up these requirements. Keeping your undergraduate GPA as high as possible will improve your chances of being accepted into medical school.
Build a strong network around the college campus, even with professors and other faculty. Getting into medical school will require strong recommendation letters. Having established relationships and a strong, positive reputation will ensure you receive the highest recommendation from respected professors.
Continuing with community service even when you’re in college strengthens your personal character, builds on your network, and prepares you for a career in medicine.
3) Take the MCAT
The Medical College Admissions Test is used to predict how successful you’ll be in medical school. When you’re applying to med school, your MCAT result will play a major role in whether you’re admitted.
The MCAT takes 7.5 hours to complete. The sections include: physical sciences, verbal reasoning, biological sciences, and psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior. You’ll receive individual scores for each section as well as an overall score for the exam. The test costs $305 to $355 – signing up further in advance will typically lower the cost of the exam.
Once your score is calculated, it will automatically be released to the American Medical College Application Service. This means you won’t have to submit your scores separately to medical schools you apply for.
You can prepare for the MCAT by studying independently, taking a prep course, or hiring a private tutor. Purchasing an official practice test can help you get used to the test format.
4) Apply to Medical School
Applying to medical school can be a lengthy process in itself. You should start putting in applications as early as your junior year in college if you’re planning to attend medical school the next fall after completing your undergraduate degree.
The first step is to send a primary application to the American Medical College Application Service. This application will include your official transcripts, your MCAT scores, your resume, and a personal statement. If a school asks you to submit a secondary application, you’re one step closer to acceptance. Secondary applications vary by school – some may be simple and straightforward while others may be lengthy.
After your secondary application, the medical schools that are interested in having you attend will invite you for an interview where you’ll demonstrate your interest in a medical career and your eagerness to learn.
Plan to apply to at least a dozen medical schools for the best chance of getting admitted into one.
5) Earn Your Medical Degree
After all the exams, applications, and interviews, you’ll finally be accepted into medical school. You’ll spend four years earning your medical degree. In the first two years, you’ll take classroom-based courses. Then, at the end of the second year, you’ll take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) which tests to see whether you should continue with medical school. Some schools will require you to pass this test before you can go on to the third year of medical school.
The third year of medical school focuses on rotations, which gives you hands-on experience in different medical specialties. After rotations, you’ll have the experience to choose a specialty and the fourth year of medical school will primarily focus on elective courses that take you deeper into your specialty. In the fourth year of medical school, you’ll also take a second level USMLE which tests your clinical knowledge and skills.
6) Complete Your Residency
After graduating medical school, you’ll complete a residency, which is a type of internship at a teaching hospital. You’ll spend between three and seven years in your residency program depending on your specialty. If you are following the steps to becoming a surgeon, or a general surgery residency, for example, it is 5 years. Other specialty areas include: pediatrics, internal medicine, anesthesiology, radiology, emergency medicine, and psychiatry. Becoming a radiologist for example can take upwards of 12+ years of advanced education. In the first year of your residency, you’ll take the USMLE-3 which tests whether you’re ready to practice as a licensed physician. Just how long you study to become a doctor is extensive when you include your residency.
7) Obtain State Licensing
Once you’ve completed your residency and you’ve passed all your board exams, you’re able to practice as a licensed physician. You must have graduated from an accredited medical school, completed your residency, and passed all your board exams to receive your state license. Regardless of your specialty area, you’ll have to keep up with continuing education to keep your skills and knowledge up to date. Some states require continuing education for your periodic medical license renewal.