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How to become a medical doctor in the United States

Updated on April 20, 2011
Medical Doctors
Medical Doctors | Source

Becoming a doctor requires a lot of commitment and rigorous training. Students are required to complete an undergraduate degree program, medical school and a residency program.

The entire process can take 11 to 14 years subsequent to high school, depending on the length of time taken to complete each program and the specific field of medical interest that is pursued.

This article details the steps that a high school graduate should take towards becoming a medical doctor in the United States.

Undergraduate School

Although students have the option to major in just about any field of study during undergraduate preparation for medical school, it is advised that students should major in fields that are relevant to the medical field. Fields such as biology, biochemistry or any other category of science are recommended as majors, since most medical schools have the following prerequisites for entry:

  • 1 year of Biology (with lab)
  • 1 year of Chemistry (with lab)
  • 1 year of Organic Chemistry (with lab)
  • 1 year of Physics (with lab)
  • 1 year of Calculus
  • 1 year of English or Expository Writing

The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

Almost all US medical schools require applicants to submit MCAT exam scores. However, many schools do not accept MCAT exam scores that are more than three years old.

The MCAT is a standardized multiple-choice examination designed to assess the examinee’s problem solving critical thinking, writing skills and knowledge of science concepts and principles prerequisite to the study of medicine. Students may take the exam up to three times in one calendar year, but may register for only one test at a time.

Medical School

Before applying to medical schools, students should be knowledgeable of the prerequisites, locations and reputations of the medical schools that are of interest to them. Students should also know the average GPA and MCAT scores of the students attending their preferred schools of choice.

Once accepted into medical school, students can expect the following:

Year 1 and Year 2: During these first two years, students are introduced to a broad spectrum of medical specialties. They learn to take medical histories, to examine patients and to diagnose illnesses.

It is during these initial years of medical school that students start preparing for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, as most schools require that students pass this exam before entering Year 3.

Year 3: This year introduces students to each of the major medical specialties. Under the supervision of experienced physicians at clinics and hospitals, students are allowed to work with patients. During this time they develop doctor-patient skills and learn about chronic, preventative, acute and rehabilitative care.

Year 4: By the 4th year of medical school, students would have selected their medical specialty of choice, and would take electives based on their chosen specialties.

During this year, students apply to residency programs and take the USMLE Step 2.

Residency Training

After completing medical school, aspiring medical doctors must undergo a period of residency training. This takes place in a hospital setting where residents treat patients and prescribe medications under the supervision of senior residents and attending physicians.

During the period of residency, residents earn salaries (about $40K- $50K annually) while being trained.

Residency typically lasts about three years. However, depending on the resident’s area of specialty, up to eight years of residency training is required.

During residency training, residents take the USMLE Step 3 exam. Passing this exam grants the trained medical doctor state certification to practice medicine.

Medical doctors may also obtain licensure to practice in other states, usually without taking any additional exams.



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    • Junaid Ghani profile image

      Junaid Ghani Durrani 5 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan

      Very nice words at the last... Interest required for this field!