How Long Does Medical School Take?

Nursing sick people back to health—especially those who are critically ill—is not an easy task. This is why medical doctors have to go through an intensive and lengthy training before they are allowed to diagnose and treat patients. You may have already heard or read about it before, but if you’re contemplating on becoming a doctor, it’s worth repeating that the road towards getting a medical degree is tough and rigorous. No doubt about it, only the most dedicated and yes, the brightest, are able to get through it successfully.

From the time you graduate from high school to the moment you start with your bachelor’s degree to the end of your medical residency, obtaining your medical degree can last for anywhere from 11 to 16 years. The road starts with a bachelor’s degree which takes at least four years to complete. While there is no specific undergraduate degree major for those who want to go to medical school, coursework in the sciences like biology, chemistry, physics as well as math and English are going to be required. It’s very important for you to get really good grades while working towards your undergraduate degree because this is going to be one of the considerations that medical schools will look at when you start applying to them. The results of your Medical College Admission Test, your co-curricular activities, letters of recommendation from your professors and your personality will also determine if you are going to be admitted to the highly competitive selection process in medical schools.

Formal medical education takes another four years. The first two years are spent learning the foundation courses and skills of the medical profession and are typically spent in the classroom and in the laboratories. The last two years are spent in actual healthcare settings like hospitals and clinics where you’ll get a chance to work under the supervision of experienced doctors. You will be rotated in various departments—internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, surgery and others—and be given the opportunity to diagnose and treat patients.

A few schools in the United States combine undergraduate and medical school in shorter programs that last about seven years. In these programs, formal medical school is typically shortened to three years. While some laud these programs because it enables students to finish medical school faster, others say that cramming four years of medical education into only three years can lead to too much stress and burnout.

Once you have graduated from medical school, you’ll need to enter a residency program in the medical field where you wish to specialize in. Some of the medical specialties are emergency medicine, family practice, internal medicine, obstetrics-gynecology, orthopedic surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry and surgery. The length of time you’ll spend in residency will depend on the type of specialty you choose. Family practice, internal medicine and pediatrics typically require three years in residency while emergency medicine takes three to four years. Obstetrics-gynecology and psychiatry have a four-year residency requirement while general surgery requires five years. Those who would like to specialize in orthopedic surgery will also spend five years in residency.

If you want to further specialize in a medical subspecialty, you’ll have to spend more time in school. Undergoing fellowship—the term used to describe training for a subspecialty—can take anywhere from one to three years depending on the requirements for that particular field. Internal medicine, for example, has many different subfields which internists can specialize in. These include gastroenterology, cardiology and oncology.

You should also factor in the time it would take for you get your license. All physicians who wish to practice in the United States should hold a license. A medical degree, completion of residency and passing written tests are all necessary for doctors to get licensed. At the least, there is a 60-day wait from the time you submit your application for a license and the time the license is given. If there are issues with your application or you fail any of the tests, you would have to wait longer to start processing your license. You also have to factor in your review time to ensure that you will be able to pass the boards.

Finally, doctors are required to continue learning even when they are already practicing. The continuing education requirements vary from state-to-state but they generally ask that doctors keep themselves updated on the latest events in the medical industry by taking up continuing education units.

Career Spotlight: Doctor

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