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How to Become a Doctor

Read about how to become a doctor and the training required for this occupation.

Those who become doctors will be welcomed into a strong job market. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Those who become doctors will be welcomed into a strong job market.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment for physicians, or doctors, will grow by about 14 percent between 2006 and 2016. As one of the highest-paid occupations, the outlook for a physician's career is very good.

Undergraduate School

The official start of a physician's training occurs in medical school, but students can lay a strong foundation of knowledge during their undergraduate years. Premed majors take courses in physics, biology, chemistry and math in addition to their core curriculum in the humanities, English and social sciences. A bachelor's degree may not be required by the medical school; however, most applicants have obtained one. And, since admission to medical school is highly competitive, it may be to a student's advantage to complete a bachelor's degree.

Testing

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is required by most medical schools for admission. The test is divided into four sections: physical science (including chemistry and physics), biological science, verbal reasoning and writing. Of these, the first three are multiple choice and the final consists of a written sample analyzing a topic statement provided by the test. The Association of American Medical Colleges provides advice on preparing for the MCAT exam. Practice tests are also available online from the AAMC for $35 each.

Medical School

Applying to medical school generally requires transcripts from an undergraduate education, MCAT scores and letters of recommendation. In addition, some schools require some medical health experience (volunteer or paid). Once the application has been vetted, prospective students may have to undergo one or more interviews.

The Association of American Medical Colleges provides a list of M.D.-granting medical schools by state. Alternatively, individuals can pursue a D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy) degree from one of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine-accredited schools.

Medical school lasts for four years, with the first two usually confined to classrooms and laboratories, where students take classes on physiology, pharmacology (the study of drugs), medical ethics and a number of other subjects. The third and fourth years of medical school consist of rotations in various concentrations of medicine, such as family practice and surgery, to give the students a general base of practical knowledge in diagnosing and treating illnesses. During these years, the medical students work under the close supervision of experienced physicians.

Residency

Following the fourth year of medical school, most students enter a residency in their intended specialized field for further training. Residencies are paid (although at a significantly lower rate than fully trained physicians) and can last anywhere from one to seven years, depending on the specialty. Physicians interested in a subspecialty will undergo additional years of training.

Licensing

Doctors must pass a state licensing exam before they can practice in their state. This usually includes taking the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Contact your state's licensing authority for more information.

There are many noble reasons to become a doctor, including a desire to serve humanity and to heal the wounded. There are also practical reasons: Doctors can enjoy the scientific aspects of a financially stable career with a good outlook. Whatever the reasons, it's helpful to begin your career with a broad understanding of the resources you'll be committing. It costs a lot of time and money to complete all the training required, and doctors often work long hours. But for a highly motivated, dedicated individual, being a physician is a very rewarding career.

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