How Can I Become A Doctor?

"I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I want to do with my life, and I am pretty sure I want to become a doctor. I know it’s going to be a long, hard path, but I’ve been doing some volunteering at the local hospital, and it’s been a really amazing experience for me being able to help people. How do I become a doctor, step by step?"

asked by Jim from Minneapolis, MN

Becoming a doctor is indeed a long, involved process, but it can lead you to a very fulfilling career. To get started, you’ll need to earn an undergraduate degree (you can theoretically skip this as long as you meet the admissions requirements at a medical school later, but I advise that you don’t). It is not particularly important what you major in. It does not even have to be a science. You can major in English, History, or anything else, as long as you remember to complete the standard prerequisites.

Each medical school has its own set of prerequisites, so you may find some variation. It is always wise to check with a school you are thinking of applying to later to make sure that you are on target. Generally speaking, you will need a year of English, a year of calculus, a year of biology with labs, a year of physics with labs, and two years of chemistry with labs (general and organic chemistry—a year of each).

At some point during your junior year, you will have to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Keep your GPA as high as you can during your undergraduate training. This will help you to impress the admissions boards.

Once you are accepted into medical school, you will study anatomy, physiology, and other medical topics for two years. You will then complete the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) Level 1. After you pass either or both, you will be admitted to year three. You will study different specialties at this point, and in your fourth year, you will take more electives based on the specialty that you have chosen. This is also when you will pass USMLE Step 2 and/or COMLEX Level 2. You’ll start doing clinicals, and will apply for your residency.

The typical residency lasts several years, and you will earn a salary during this time. Working under senior doctors, you will practice medicine. If you have a very advanced specialty, your residency may last longer than most. You will need to take and pass USMLE Step 3 and/or COMLEX Level 3. At that point you will earn your certification.

Some doctors also go on to complete additional training called fellowship training. This is applicable in high specialized fields, and may last one to three years.

Since becoming a doctor takes so long and is such a big investment, it pays off to take some time at the start of your education to map a path through these steps. Start researching medical schools and specialties so that you can stay on track, and work closely with an advisor.

Career Spotlight: Doctor



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