The journey to becoming a physician is pretty complex, but we want to help simplify this journey. Here we will talk about how to become a doctor in the simplest way possible. We also provided timelines that would be helpful for this as well.
Step 1: Finish High School
High school is an important time to begin the process. Beginning early will allow you to set the right foundation for success. Also, the earlier you start the process, the easier the process will be later down the line.
Be active in your community. Show how much you care about others by volunteering consistently throughout high school. If possible, volunteer in something related to healthcare. However, any opportunity to help people is always good! These volunteer opportunities can also help you decide fairly early whether a career in medicine is something you’re actually interested in pursuing.
You want to lay down a solid foundation in math and science courses because these courses will be important for college, medical school, and beyond. Make it a point to take science and math classes every year. Taking these classes will give you an idea of whether or not you like the topics and whether you should continue on this journey. If possible, take AP classes. You also want to stay on top of your studies so you can get the highest GPA possible; this will make you eligible for college scholarships and put you in a good position to get into a good college. Also consider doing research in a lab or attending a summer college prep program. There are several available online.
To get into medical school, it helps to go to a good college; to get into a great college, it helps to get a high score on the SAT/ACT. Take the test seriously and prepare extensively. Having a high score will serve you and your future very well. You also want to prepare yourself to be the best applicant possible! Top applicants will have a high GPA, good ACT/SAT score, strong letters of recommendation, and great personal essays. This means start working on your college applications early, do your research about what schools want from students, and continue to work hard!
Step 2: Go to the right college
The college you attend is one of the most important decisions you will make. Put a great deal of thought into finding the right fit for you; this means the most prestigious school you get into may not be the best option for you every time. Also, consider attending Historically Black Colleges or Universities(HBCUs); these institutions have a reputation of setting students up for success.
To get into medical school, you can select any major you would like. However, medical schools have core classes that they 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
Many pre-med students choose science-related majors because they will allow students to have the best amount of foundational knowledge that will prepare them for medical school. It also allows them to meet both the pre-med requirements and the requirements to graduate. No matter what major you decide, your academic performance should be your #1 priority as you work your way through college.
Build relationships with your professors and find mentors early. These people will provide guidance and assistance that will make the journey a lot easier. They can also provide strong letters of recommendation and may even give you access to resources that they have. Go to office hours, actively participate in class, take opportunities to work on research projects, and attend networking events.
Get research experience! Even if you believe you won’t like research, exploring research will look great on your applications. If you do so, try to have something to show for it. Try to get a publication or present a poster at a conference. Look for research assistant positions on your campus, apply for summer research internships, or ask your professors if you can get involved in their projects.
Continue to be active in your community! You can volunteer in healthcare-related opportunities or in other things that you may be interested in or passionate about. Some students even use this opportunity to start new volunteer organizations.
Be active on campus. Do things you like to do while you’re in college! Play sports, be active in your favorite clubs, or join new organizations. However, be intentional about this. Your time may be limited, so you want to do the best you can to be involved, while still getting good grades.
Step 3: Take the MCAT and get a good score
Have a plan for the MCAT early. Make sure that you are able to take all the prerequisite courses before or by the end of your junior year of college. You should aim to take the MCAT in the junior year spring or summer before the start of senior year. Create a solid study plan and plan on studying 200-300 hours if you want to do well on the test. Even though you have the option to, you do NOT want to take this test twice.
Step 4: Apply and Get into Medical School
Begin the application process early. Do your research months before you apply to know what the requirements are! 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 the medical schools and make a list based on things that you’re looking for. Learn about the difference between Allopathic physicians and Osteopathic Physicians to determine which degree is the best fit for you. Put together your primary medical school application. After that, you will receive secondary applications from interested schools. Once you submit those, schools that are interested will invite you for an interview. The schools will have the option to accept you, wait-list you, or reject you.
Step 5: Attend Medical School and Pass your Boards
Here’s an overview of what these four years of med school will look like:
- Years 1-2: Primarily classroom-based courses
- You are mainly learning from lectures on advanced science courses. The purpose is to allow you to lay the foundation you need to succeed in year 3-4 and as a physician. At the end of your second year, you’ll take the United States Medical Licensing Examination or USMLE Step 1 or boards. Typically, you must pass this to progress to your third year of school.
- Year 3: Training in core medical specialties AKA Rotations
- You’ll be working with patients under the supervision of physicians, allowing you to gain hands-on experience. You’ll make the decision about what medical specialty 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
- Year 4: Elective courses based on preferred specialty
- This year is about preparing you for your preferred specialty and continuing gaining hands-on experience. This year, you take the USMLE Level 2, a two-part exam that tests your clinical knowledge (CK) part and clinical skills (CS).
- You will also submit your residency applications and begin interviewing for positions. You will take part in the match process and on Match Day, you will find out where you will be doing your residency.
Step 6: Graduate Med School and Complete Residency
In residency, you learn how to practice as a doctor in your specialty by practicing under the supervision of fully board certified doctors. The length of residency will depend on the specialty you choose. During your first year of residency, you’ll also need to pass your final licensing exam (USMLE-3); 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.The length of residency depends on the type of specialty you choose. After you graduate from your residency program, you can become fully board-certified in your specialty field. Here are some existing specialties and the length of their residencies:
- Anesthesiology: 4 years
- Dermatology: 4 years
- Emergency Medicine: 3-4 years
- General Surgery: 5 years
- Internal Medicine: 3 years
- Neurology: 4 years
- Neurosurgery: 7 years
- Obstetrics and Gynecology: 4 years
- Orthopaedic Surgery: 5 years
- Pathology: 4 years
- Pediatrics: 3 years
- Psychiatry: 4 years
- Radiology: 4-5 years
- Urology: 5 years
Are you fully licensed to practice medicine independently after residency?
Step 6.5: Complete a fellowship
A fellowship is a training period that doctors complete so they can further specialize in their field. The amount of time varies from 1-3 years. You will be paid during this time; it will be more than residency but less than what you’ll make as a licensed physician. For example, after completing an internal medicine residency, you can pursue a speciality in cardiology, pulmonary/critical care, nephrology, and a variety of specialties. Another example is how a general orthopaedic surgeon can specialize in sports medicine, spine surgery, or trauma, amongst others.
Step 7: Take your final boards and begin practicing
Once you’ve finished your residency (and fellowship) and passed all your boards, you can officially practice independently as a licensed physician! You will have the option to practice in a hospital, clinic, private practice, or even globally as a traveling physician! However, you must continue to learn. Medicine is constantly changing, so you must do your best to learn the new practices that your patients need.