Doctors diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries. People suffering from pain or poor health can speak to a doctor and may have to undergo some diagnostic tests to determine the cause and the appropriate treatment. Some doctors may offer advice or prescribe medications to relieve pain or resolve illnesses. Other times, doctors may need to perform surgery to repair health problems.
To be able to help their patients feel better and stay healthy, doctors need to go through many years of school and training before they can legally practice medicine.
What kind of training is required to become a doctor?
Doctors spend a long time on education and training before they are allowed to practice medicine. The required training to become a doctor will vary based on what specialty is chosen. There are many different areas in which a doctor can specialize. Some choose to specialize in the type of patients they care for. For example, pediatricians treat children and infants, and gerontologists treat the elderly. Some doctors specialize in diagnosing problems that occur in certain areas of the body; dermatologists treat the skin, neurologists treat the brain and nervous system, and cardiologists treat the heart and circulatory system.
Regardless of the area of specialization, all doctors must first finish an undergraduate degree program, which can take at least four years. Some students may be undecided on their major and need to switch once they make up their mind, making their undergraduate degree take longer. An undergraduate degree is required to get into medical school. Even though medical school doesn’t require a specific degree, and accept students with many different educational backgrounds, many students choose to take courses in biology, chemistry, math, physics, and writing. Some schools offer pre-med courses to help prepare students for their time in medical school. High grades are one of the many important criteria that medical schools look for in applications.
After completing an undergraduate degree, prospective doctors must pass their MCAT, or the medical college admission test, before they can be admitted to medical school. The exam is a five-hour computerized exam which tests students on physical science, critical thinking, biology, and verbal skills. Scoring well on this exam is important to get into top programs at medical school. It is also recommended that medical school applicants either volunteer or work in a health care setting.
Medical school takes four years to complete. The first two years are spent on studying textbooks and doing laboratory work so that students can prepare to diagnose and treat illnesses. In these first two years, students learn all about the foundations of medicine:
- The structure of the human body
- Gross anatomy – organs and tissues that are visible to the naked eye
- Principles of disease, such as pathology, pharmacology, and immunology
- Public health
- How to take a medical history
- How to interview patients
- How to examine patients
- How to build a relationship with patients
In the second year of med school, students take their United States Medical Licensing Examination. The last two years of medical school are spent doing their practical training in rotations at clinics and teaching hospitals. These rotations usually focus on one area of care, such as anesthesia, surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, critical care, primary care, and obstetrics and gynecology. Students observe and treat patients under the supervision of an experienced doctor. In the fourth year of medical school, the second licensing test is issued and residency training begins.
It takes three to seven years for doctors to complete their internship, or residency training. The length of time depends on the specialization they have chosen. In the first year of residency, doctors can take the final medical licensing exam. The residency itself consists almost entirely of practical training.
If all education and training is completed as quickly as possible, it would take at least 11 years to become a doctor.
Is there any licensing needed to become a doctor?
The necessary licensing for doctors can vary from one state to the next. Most states require students to pass a board certification exam in whatever medical specialty the student has chosen. Typically a minimum of one year in a residency program is also required. After fulfilling these criteria, a doctor is normally considered to be a fully licensed medical professional, and they are legally able to practice in their specialized field.
Doctors can choose to become certified in their area of care through the American Board of Medical Specialties. Although certification is not required, some employers and patients prefer a physician who is board-certified, as this shows they can meet the high standards for experience and education in their field.
How much money does a doctor make?
How much a doctor earns can depend on what field of medicine they practice. In 2012, the median annual salary for doctors in the US was $220,942. Physicians who were practicing a medical specialty made a higher median salary of $396,233. Anesthesiologists, for example, had a median salary in 2012 of $431,977. In 2015, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, on average, physicians and surgeons earned $197,700.
Doctors go through years of education and training to be able to practice medicine. In order to successfully diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries, doctors must complete an undergraduate degree, their MCAT exam, medical school, residency, and their licensing exams. It can take anywhere from 11 to 17 years to become a doctor. There are many different areas a doctor can choose to specialize in, whether they choose to specialize by the type of patient, which is the case for pediatricians, the type of treatment, like a surgeon, or the area of the body that is diagnosed, like for example an endocrinologist. Doctors can continue to learn and train in their field, and some may choose to enter hospital administration, become a partner at their practice, or even open their own private practice.