What exactly does the path to becoming a doctor look like?
So I know that this answer will vary depending upon the type of doctor you decide to be, but a general answer will suffice. Is it just get you B.S/B.A, go to medical school, residency, and then a job? #medicine #doctor #medical #healthcare #hospital-and-health-care #doctor
Step 1: Do Well in High School
If you're serious about becoming a doctor, you'll do yourself a big favor by getting focused in high school. As mentioned, this is a pretty competitive field, so the earlier you start distinguishing yourself as a great student, the easier the process will be.
Here's what you can do in high school to help prepare you for later steps.
Focus on Science and Math
To fulfill all pre-med requirements in college (I'll get to that in a bit), you'll have to take quite a few science and math classes. Lay a solid foundation by taking a science and math course every year, and make it a priority to take advanced and/or AP courses. You'll also want to keep your GPA (in these classes and all others) as high as possible.
This is an important step because it gives you a tiny glimpse into what college and medical school will be like. If you don't enjoy science and math courses in high school, it's unlikely you'll enjoy them later on. Use this as an opportunity to think critically about whether you'd like to pursue this career.
One of the single most important parts of your college application is what classes you choose to take in high school (in conjunction with how well you do in those classes). Our team of PrepScholar admissions experts have compiled their knowledge into this single guide to planning out your high school course schedule. We'll advise you on how to balance your schedule between regular and honors/AP/IB courses, how to choose your extracurriculars, and what classes you can't afford not to take.
Do Plenty of Community Service
Being a good doctor isn't just about being a science and math whiz—it's about being invested in caring for other people. Show how you care about helping others by volunteering consistently in high school.
It's best if you can do volunteer work that's at least somewhat related to healthcare. You might see whether there are any opportunities at a nearby hospital or clinic (for example, I had friends in high school who helped escort people who were visiting family members in the hospital). These volunteer opportunities can also help you decide fairly early whether a career in medicine is something you're actually interested in pursuing.
Of course, you don't have to volunteer exclusively in healthcare environments—any community service opportunity in which you're helping other people is a good fit. Read more about the benefits of community service, and then check out our list of the best places to volunteer.
Is working in healthcare a good fit for you? Volunteering in the field is a great way to find out.
Get a Great Score on the ACT/SAT
To get into a great medical school, it helps to go to a great college. And to get into a great college, it helps to get a high score on the SAT/ACT.
Plan on taking your first test by the end of your junior year—this gives you time to take your test of choice again if you want to try to raise your scores.
Read these guides for more info on how to get a great SAT/ACT score:
What counts as a good, bad, or average ACT or SAT score?
How can you get a perfect score on the ACT or SAT?
How long should you study for the ACT or SAT?
Submit Stellar College Applications
Your senior fall will be all about researching and applying to colleges. You don't necessarily need to go to a school with a dedicated pre-med program, but it'll be better if your college or university has strong science and math programs, since these will be more helpful in preparing you for the MCAT and med school.
If you want to go to a top-tier private school, you'll have to submit applications with the following:
A high GPA
Impressive SAT/ACT scores
Strong letters of recommendation
Polished and thoughtful personal essays
Some great public schools might not require letters of rec or applications essays. Nevertheless, it's wise to start preparing these materials early on in the college application process if you think you'll apply to any colleges that do require them.
If you're still working on college research, I suggest checking out these guides:
The best pre-med schools for becoming a doctor
The best college ranking lists and whether you should trust them
Whether it matters where you go to college
How to decide where to go to college
Step 2: Get Into a Great College
College is where you really start focusing your studies and preparing for a career in medicine. Here's everything you should do as an undergraduate to prepare yourself for the next major step in becoming a doctor: medical school.
Meet All Pre-Med Requirements
Most medical schools require students to have taken a series of courses as undergraduates. This ensures that they have strong foundational knowledge in math and science and will be well prepared for the more advanced courses they'll have to take as med students.
Here are the core classes that most medical schools require:
Two semesters of biology with laboratory
Two semesters of inorganic chemistry with laboratory
Two semesters of organic chemistry with laboratory
Two semesters of math (at least one in calculus)
Two semesters of physics with laboratory
Two semesters of English and/or writing
This comes to 12 course requirements at minimum, which doesn't give you a ton of wiggle room if you also have to meet requirements for a major without much pre-med overlap (e.g., foreign languages or studio art). Because of this, many pre-med students choose related majors such as biology or chemistry—this makes it much easier to meet both pre-med requirements and the requirements for your major.
If you decide later in college that you'd like to apply to medical school but you know you don't have time to fit in all these requirements, don't panic. It's fairly common for people to wrap up pre-med requirements by taking an extra semester or two in college (some schools call these students "super seniors").
You might also look into full-time post-bac programs if you have more than a few requirements left to fulfill. These options mean extra time and extra expenses, but they're helpful (and sometimes necessary) steps to take before applying to med school.
Keep Your Grades Up
Your transcript will be a very important part of your med school applications, so your academic performance should really be your #1 priority as you work your way through college.
Build Relationships With Professors and Mentors
You'll need a few strong letters of recommendation from respected faculty members when you submit your med school applications—use this fact to motivate you to network with as many people as possible.
Develop relationships with professors and mentors by going to their office hours, actively participating in class, and taking opportunities to work on research projects.
Your nerdy professors will prove to be invaluable resources when you're applying to med school, but only if you have relationships with them!
Get Some Research Experience
Having some research experience under your belt is a big plus for med school applications, especially if you can squeeze in a publication or two. Working in a biology or chemistry lab would probably be most helpful for medical school.
There are a couple ways you can get research experience as an undergraduate:
Work as a research assistant (paid or unpaid) in an on-campus lab or at an off-campus research institute. Look at campus job postings or approach specific professors in your department about potential lab openings. If you don't have time during the semester to take on extra work, consider summer opportunities.
Complete an undergraduate thesis, which involves research work. This usually requires a professor to officially take you on as their student. Each school (and each department within a school) will have its own procedures and policies for undergraduate theses, so educate yourself early on (i.e., during freshman year) if you're interested in this track.
Continue With Community Service
Medical schools are going to look at your community service record as an important part of your application. You should make time for volunteer work in college just as you did in high school.
The good news is that it should be easier to find relevant advocacy and community service clubs and organizations in college. Here are a few example activities you might be interested in (although this list is by no means exhaustive):
Volunteering at a homeless shelter
Joining a public health advocacy society or organization
Volunteering at a nursing home or engaging in other forms of elder care (e.g., Meals on Wheels)
Joining a peer counseling organization
It's better to stick with a few clubs or activities over the long term, as opposed to jumping around between activities year after year. This demonstrates that you're consistent and reliable; it also opens up opportunities for leadership roles, which will prove to be a big plus for your med school applications.
Step 3: Take (and Ace!) the MCAT
The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is used as a predictor of your success in med school, and as such is weighted pretty heavily when compared to other parts of your application.
Most students take the MCAT their junior year—this is arguably the most optimal time to take the test. Why? Because by this point you will have gone through many of your pre-med courses, making studying for the MCAT a lot easier.
MCAT Scoring and Logistics
In total, it takes seven and a half hours to complete the MCAT. The sections on the test include the following:
Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
Each section is scored on a range from 118 to 132, with a median score of 125. You'll receive an individual score for each section in addition to an overall score. Total scores range from 472 to 578, with the average score sitting at about 500.
This scoring system is still relatively new (since 2015), so there isn't much historical data available we can use to predict what a good or "safe" MCAT score will be for med school admissions. Current percentiles indicate that around 50% of test takers score 500, and 74% score 508, or what MCAT-Prep.com calls a "good" MCAT score. As such, the new MCAT encourages admissions officers to look favorably upon students who score around 500 or above.
The MCAT is administered 30 times per year, so you have quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to scheduling the test. Be prepared for some hefty expenses—it costs $320-$375 to register for the test depending on how far in advance you sign up. There are Fee Assistance Programs available for students who might not be able to shoulder these expenses.
After your scores are calculated, they're automatically released to the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS); you won't have to submit them separately to any schools unless they don't use AMCAS.
If you're adequately prepared the first time you take the MCAT, you could save yourself the cost of an extra registration fee.
Studying for the MCAT
Plan on studying 200-300 hours if you want to do well on the test. Since it's a seven-and-a-half-hour exam, you really don't want to have to take it twice.
There are several different ways you can prep for the MCAT:
Independent study: This might work for students at schools with strong pre-med support who are also performing well in their classes. Solid foundational knowledge is the most important factor that affects performance on the MCAT, but students would still, of course, need to spend significant time preparing.
MCAT prep course: Pre-med students commonly take prep courses when they want a solid review schedule to keep them on track. There's a lot of material to cover, and a good course helps ensure that there aren't any major gaps in your content knowledge or strategy. They can be very expensive, unfortunately, with most costing several thousand dollars. Kaplan and The Princeton Review are a couple of the most popular options.
Online prep: Online resources can offer a great combination of structure and flexibility when you're working to cover a lot of material. Khan Academy provides some free study material if you're looking for a place to start, though it won't suffice if you're putting together a full study plan. Dr. Flowers Test Prep is another, more comprehensive resource for online prep.
Private tutor: Students whose grades aren't up to par or who have done poorly on the MCAT before might want to consider this option. If you decide to hire a tutor, pick someone with glowing recommendations and years of tutoring experience. They won't come cheap, but they're also less likely to waste your time and money.
You can also buy an official practice test for the MCAT through the Association of American Medical Colleges for $35, in addition to other official study guides and prep materials.
Step 4: Apply and Get Into Medical School
The medical school application process is extremely long. If you want to start med school the fall after you graduate from college, you'll have to start your applications your junior year.
Research Medical Schools
The average student applies to about 13 schools to optimize their chances of getting in—I wouldn't recommend that you put together a list much smaller than that.
The Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) website is one of the best tools for looking into important medical school information. For a $28 year-long subscription, you can easily access the following:
Average MCAT and GPA of applicants and accepted students
Numbers of out-of-state students
As with any school or program, there are med school ranking lists. Because US medical schools' admissions criteria and curricula are so stringent and rigorous, though, admission to any school in the country should be considered an accomplishment. If you end up in medical school and follow through with a residency at a good hospital, you'll have no trouble finding work as a doctor.
Know the Different Types of Medical Schools
There are two types of physicians in the US:
Allopathic physicians (MDs)
Osteopathic physicians (DOs)
Both types are fully licensed physicians and are often very similar in the way that they practice medicine—they just receive degrees from slightly different types of programs.
We're most used to hearing about doctors with MDs, so if you're not familiar with DOs, I encourage you to do more research on these types of programs. DOs receive additional specialty training in certain areas, including using the hands to diagnose/treat illnesses and injuries.
You can read more about osteopathic medicine on the American Osteopathic Association site.
Allopathic or osteopathic: which type of med school is right for you?
Put Together Your Med School Application
There are three parts of the med school application process.
Part 1: Primary Application
You send in your primary application by June the year before your first year of med school. Most med schools use AMCAS, which is like a Common Application for med schools.
This application includes official transcripts, a personal statement, your resume/CV, and your MCAT scores. Start preparing these materials a few months before submission.
Part 2: Secondary Application
This usually happens in July-August on a typical application timeline (i.e., one on which you submit the primary application in June). At this point, a school will either reject your primary application or ask you to complete its secondary application.
The secondary application will differ for each school you apply to. Sometimes, schools just ask you to submit an application fee to continue with the application process. Other times, though, schools send fairly extensive lists of essay prompts (e.g., "Why are you interested in attending this medical school?") for you to answer.
If the medical school is happy with your primary and secondary applications, you'll move on to the next part.
Part 3: Interview
If a school definitely does (or definitely does not) want to interview you, you'll hear back from them pretty quickly. Some students are left in limbo for a while as schools deliberate over what to do with them.
Interviews are the final decision-making phase. Your interview will either make or break your application. Preparing for interviews is tough because each school (and each interviewer) will have its own priorities and questions.
Overall, you want to come off (1) committed to the medical track, (2) confident in your abilities, (3) eager to learn, (4) warm and empathetic, and (5) grateful for the opportunity to be there.
Step 5: Attend Medical School and Pass Your Boards
After fulfilling all the pre-med requirements and submitting all those applications, you finally arrive here: medical school. You'll spend four years here, but that doesn't mean the experience will be very similar to that of your undergraduate education—there are more decisions to be made, more opportunities for hands-on experiences, and more professional licensing requirements to worry about.
Here's an overview of what these four years of med school will look like:
Years 1-2: Primarily classroom-based courses
Year 3: Training in each major medical specialty (also known as rotations)
Year 4: Primarily elective courses based on preferred specialty
There are some other important steps along the way, such as board exams, that I'll address in this section as well.
Years 1-2: Classroom Work
You won't have much say in what courses you'll take during your first two years of medical school. Your education during this time will be an extension of your pre-med requirements—you'll take many advanced courses that will give you the important biological, anatomical, and chemical foundations you'll need to work as a physician.
These courses will obviously have an important impact on your GPA, which will affect how competitive you are when you're matched for your residency/internship (we'll get to that shortly). As such, it's important to keep your grades up—your future self will thank you!
At the end of your second year, you'll take the United States Medical Licensing Examination, or the USMLE-1. This test assesses your medical competency to see whether you should continue with your education and medical licensure (another name for the USMLE exams is "Boards").
At most med schools, you need to pass this exam in order to progress to your third year of school.
Year 3: Rotations
In your third year, you'll start working with patients in a medical setting (under a supervisor) within different medical specialties. This helps you gain hands-on experience as a physician, but, perhaps more importantly, you'll learn more about what sort of specialty you may be interested in.
After the bulk of your rotations experiences in your third year, you'll have to decide what sort of medicine you'd like to pursue. This decision will dictate what kinds of elective courses you'll take in your fourth and final year of med school, as well as how long you'll spend in your residency (we give more information on this in the Residency section below).
Med school rotations are a bit more productive than the one the hamster's doing on this wheel.
Year 4: Pursuing Your Specialty
As you now know, your fourth year of med school is dedicated mainly to taking elective courses to prepare you for your preferred specialty and continuing gaining hands-on experience. You'll also take the USMLE Level 2 (which is similar to the first examination, except that it simply tests more advanced knowledge); this exam includes a clinical knowledge part and a clinical skills portion.
Step 6: Complete Your Residency
Residencies, also known as internships, are supervised positions at teaching hospitals. You will be matched to an available residency position through the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).
You'll be able to note your preferences, but you won't have ultimate decision-making power over your matches. Once the NRMP sets you up, you sort of have to take what you're given.
You will spend at least three years in your residency program but may spend more time there depending on your specialty. In your first year, you'll be known as an intern and will be at the bottom of the totem pole—but not for long.
During your residency, you'll also need to pass your final licensing exam (USMLE-3). The third and final licensing exam is taken during the first year of your residency. It tests your ability to utilize your medical knowledge and provide care in an unsupervised setting, which is what you will have to do as a licensed physician.
You'll get a salary as a resident, but it won't be much. The average resident earns about $48,000 a year, which should cover living expenses and your minimum medical school loan payments.
Here are some example specialties and their respective residency requirements:
Anesthesiology: 4 years
Dermatology: 4 years
Emergency Medicine: 3-4 years
General Surgery: 5 years
Internal Medicine: 3 years
Neurology: 4 years
Obstetrics and Gynecology: 4 years
Pathology: 4 years
Pediatrics: 3 years
Psychiatry: 4 years
Radiology: 4-5 years
Step 7: Take and Pass Your Final Boards
Once you've finished your residency and passed all your boards, you can officially practice independently as a licensed physician! It probably won't take you long to find work. You might want to practice in a hospital, clinic, or private practice.
You'll have to keep up with Continuing Medical Education in order to practice as a physician, no matter your specialty; this ensures that you stay educated and up-to-date on the latest research and best medical practices.
Your education doesn't end here—you'll be working to keep up with new information and best practices for the rest of your medical career.
Summary: The 7 Critical Steps to Becoming a Doctor
This is a ton of information to take in at once, especially if you're at the beginning of this process or if you're still unsure about entering the medical field.
To recap, here are the seven major steps you must take to become a doctor:
Do well in high school
Get into a great college
Take the MCAT (and get a good score)
Apply and get into medical school
Attend medical school and pass your boards to become a licensed doctor
Choose your specialty and complete your residency
Take and pass your final boards to practice independently
You should also keep in mind two important takeaways:
You don't have to decide at the beginning of college that you want to become a doctor (although it does make it easier to fulfill pre-med requirements). The path to becoming a physician isn't completely rigid, especially if you're interested in other biological and physical science careers.
You don't have to think about all these steps at the same time. Once you're in medical school, your peers will be thinking about (and worrying about) the same things—there's no way you'll forget any important steps!
Becoming a doctor is definitely not for everyone—getting into medical school is really tough, and you still have a lot of training to complete even after you graduate. But if you decide you want to enter the medical profession, you now have the info you need to start off on the right foot!
Pick a major that interests you so you don't mind devoting a majority of your hours to studying. You will need to get good grades in college in order to apply for medical school. At the medical school I attended, the average GPA is reported to be 3.85, so even one or two B's can hurt your chances of acceptance.
Aside from this, any major is acceptable as long as you complete the prerequisite courses.
Typical medical school prerequisites include:
Biology: Lecture – 4 semesters; Lab – 1 semester
General Chemistry: Lecture – 2 semesters; Lab – 1 semester
Organic Chemistry: Lecture – 2 semesters; Lab – 1 semester
Biochemistry: Lecture – 1 semester
General Physics: Lecture – 2 semesters; Lab – 1 semester
Math: Statistics – 1 semester
English: Rhetoric (Composition) and Literature – 2 semesters
Try to find opportunities to pursue research.
Volunteer at your local hospital or low-income clinic. Ask physicians, PAs or other clinical providers if you can shadow them.
During college study for and complete the MCAT. Devote an entire summer to studying for the MCAT and consider paying for a prep course if you can afford it.
My son used MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review 2019-2020: Online + Book + 3 Practice Tests (Kaplan Test Prep) Kaplan Test Prep
Kaplan Test Prep
Sold by: Amazon.com Services, Inc
It was about $140 and he achieved his goal score.
Apply to medical schools during your last year of college.
Medical school takes 4 years to complete.
After medical school physicians complete a residency for additional training. These can last 3-6 years and are sometimes followed by an additional year or two of fellowship subspecialty training.
The first step is to attend college and fulfill the requirements to apply for medical school usually:
Two semesters of biology with lab
Two semesters of chemistry with lab
Two semesters of organic chemistry with lab
Two semesters of math
Two semesters of physics with lab
Two semesters of English and/or writing
Those requirements might change based on COVID-19 and I would talk to a counselor or look at specific schools' websites for more detail. While in college you will study and take the MCAT exam. I would also focus on shadowing physicians and volunteering during this time to show interest in medicine.
You will go through the application process for medical school and then start medical school which is 4 years. Most schools have 2 years of classroom based didactic learning and 2 years of clinical learning in hospitals/clinics. While in medical school you will study and take multiple licensing exams called COMLEX or USMLE exams.
After medical school you will graduate with either an M.D. degree or a D.O degree. You will attend a residency in the field of your choice (you apply your 4th year of medical school). Residencies are at least 3 years but if you are interested in a certain specialty it can be 4 or 5 years.
After you have completed your residency and taken all of your board exams you will be a licensed physician practicing in a hospital, clinic, etc.
I hope this helps! Here is an article explaining the steps as well: https://blog.prepscholar.com/how-to-become-a-doctor
-Finish High School + Take ACT/SAT
-Attend College + Take MCAT
-Attend Medical School + take board exams
-Attend Residency + finish licensing exams
Let me know if you have any other follow up questions I would be happy to help if I can.
college. usually 4 years but it's up to you. many applicants will have more than 1 undergraduate degree and some will have masters or PhDs. size and location of the school aren't important. your grades are. and the specific courses that you take.
believe it or not, you'll actually refer back to many of the scientific and statistical concepts you learn in your college classes. and hopefully you'll make life-long friends with lots of other pre-meds and others.
major & courses. major in anything you want, science or non-science. but no matter your choice you'll need to do very very well in it. you might need to go to summer school or take an extra year to get in all the courses you need, especially if you have to hold a job during college.
extracurriculars. pre-meds need these to show they understand what they're getting themselves into. innumerable choices here. your college's health professions counselor can help you with this.
MCAT. just as important as your grades. nearly all pre-meds will need to prepare for it. some people need over a year to prepare. some will pay big bucks for specific preparatory courses.
med school application & interview. very competitive as everyone is exceptional. hopefully you'll have some idea which city, state, or school you want to go to. lots of preparation time goes into this as well.
med school. usually 4 years. some don't make it to the end.
you can think of the first year as basically graduate school in science. you'll build on what you've learned in college and start learning more about the human body & mind. this is when you do the infamous anatomy lab.
the second year is clinical. that means that they start preparing you to interact with patients. you'll learn about specific disease processes, diagnostics, how to gather information from patients. you'll start learning medical lingo, how to draw labs, perform certain tests like EKGs, and interpret test results.
third year you finally get to wear a white coat and interact with living patients in a big way. you may or may not get to make patient care decisions but you'll learn how to present cases to doctors, wear scrubs, do paperwork, and take care of patients throughout a hospital stay. generally you work your tail off and learn the most during this year.
fourth year you continue to take care of patients in the hospital but now you get to start directing your career path. up till now all of the courses & rotations have been standard for all. but in the 4th year you get to choose some electives, maybe do some research, and start applying to residency programs. you'll also go back to the classroom to learn a few other important things, like legal and ethical considerations.
match day. after you interview with some residency programs you do something kinda like the NFL draft. all the residency programs and all the medical school grads rank their choices, magic happens, and you learn where you're going to spend the next several years of your life.
residency. you've finally got the big MD behind your name, an institutional license, and you get a (small) salary. this is when you start learning how to become an actual doctor. you're given more decision-making authority and the responsibility that goes with that. you might choose to do some "moonlighting" jobs for extra cash.
the real world. during your final year of residency you'll apply to and interview with specific practices, hospitals, or health systems. OR you could choose to go out on your own. you'll also usually choose to take the board certification exam for your chosen specialty.
practicing doctor. omg. you made it the whole way. you might notice people treating you with some respect (or not.) you might earn a big paycheck (or not.) you might get to choose how you want to practice (or not.)
in my case, i started in outpatient private practice, then ran a methadone clinic, then moved to another city to work in an urgent care, then became a hospitalist, then did house calls and ran a hemorrhoid clinic, then moved to another city to work in an indigent clinic, then traveled the state filling in for other doctors (a locums doctor), and now take care of Eskimo elders for the Indian Health Services.
so it can be a little more complicated than what you describe in your question.
but, hopefully, your journey has taken you to exactly the place you intended. OR it's taken you where you were meant to be. then again, for some doctors, the journey doesn't end with a medical career. Some go into academics or business or politics or maybe law.
i want to leave you with this basic premise to life: that people can bear any how as long as they have a why. i encourage you to find your own why. think hard now why you want to take this long, difficult path. write it down, refer to it often. then go do it. good luck.
Remember that you have to get an undergraduate degree including premed requirements.
Medical school is 4 years.
Then residency is 3-5 years (occasionally longer). You start earning income as a resident which is really nice.
Fellowship (1-3 years) if you want to subspecialize.