Being a doctor is a noble profession that lets you make people’s lives better. Potentially, you can save lives or help prevent lifelong afflictions. It’s by no means an easy job, but it can be one of the most fulfilling ones. Of course, it also comes with prestige and an impressive salary.
It’s no secret that pursuing a career in medicine takes a great deal of effort, not to mention years of extensive education. If you want to learn how to become a doctor, here are the steps you need to take:
1. Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree
To get into medical school, your educational background needs to be rather broad. Although you don’t need to have a specific major, your undergraduate work needs to be comprised of courses that are necessary for getting accepted into medical school. These include chemistry, biology, and physics, as well as advanced math that covers calculus and statistics.
It’s important that your pre-med education is high-quality from the very beginning. You need to pay close attention to your GPA, as most medical schools in the US require a GPA of 3.55 or more. To get into elite private schools, you need at least 3.75.
It’s also a good idea to engage in some volunteering work in this period. Not only will it look good on your medical school application, it will also help you develop the necessary skills for this profession. By choosing the right volunteering job, you can familiarize yourself with the world of medicine.
2. Graduate from Medical School
Aside from a bachelor’s degree, you need to pass the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) to get into medical school. There’s no rule for how high you need to score, as this depends on the number of applicants compared to the availability of slots.
The MCAT lasts about six hours, and it tests your skills and knowledge across various fields. As far as the content areas go, you can expect to take a test in general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, and physics. Aside from this, the exam assesses your:
- Writing skills
- Verbal reasoning
- Problem-solving abilities
If you’re accepted, you start your 4-year journey towards becoming a doctor. Over the course of the first two years, you’ll mostly do classroom and laboratory work. Then, once you have the necessary knowledge, you’ll start working with patients under an experienced doctors’ supervision.
This is a great time for you to choose your specialty. You’ll cover many different fields of medicine, so by the time you graduate, you should have an idea on the field you want to work in. This is also where the focus shifts from theory to practice, and you start learning how to become a doctor in real life.
3. Complete Your Residency
In the US, you’re not allowed to practice medicine without a residency. Despite extensive education, you still need to spend some time preparing for the actual career.
Depending on the field of medicine you choose, a residency can last 3-7 years. Programs like pediatrics and internal medicine often take less time than fields like psychiatry and neurosurgery.
This is when you truly start experiencing the life of a doctor. At first, you might be responsible for more mundane tasks like compiling a medical history or developing problem lists, but with time, the scope of your responsibilities should get broader. Even though you can’t expect a high salary during this time, you will get a stipend that should cover your everyday expenses.
4. Pass the USMLE and Get Your State License
Upon completing your residency, you need to obtain a license in order to have the right to practice medicine. To do this, you need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
The USMLE is a three-part test that takes between 3-6 days to complete. Each of the steps is designed to assess whether you can apply the knowledge you have to real-life situations. It takes a few months to prepare for the test, so make sure to start studying on time.
Aside from the US license, you also need to have one for the state you’ll practice in. The requirements vary according to each state, and it can take anywhere from 3-9 months until you get your license.
5. Pass the Board Exam for Your Specialty
The last formal certificate you need to obtain concerns your specialty. To obtain it, you need to pass the exam by the American Board of Medical Specialties. This used to be optional, but now a majority of hospitals and offices require it.
This part consists of a written and oral exam, and tests your abilities to apply the knowledge you have in your area of expertise to real-life situations.
6. Beyond Examinations
Depending on the institution you plan on working in, you might have to obtain a few other credentials. This usually isn’t a big issue, and by getting your specialty certificate, you should be able to start your career as a doctor without obstacles. There are also other optional internships and trainings you can take if you want to up your chances of being a successful doctor.
Of course, the learning never really stops. You need to renew your license multiple times during your career, and go to the classes and conferences that keep you up-to-date with the latest developments in your area.
Is This the Path for You?
As you can see, becoming a doctor is by no means easy. If you plan on pursuing this demanding career, make sure you’re willing to put in the hard work necessary to becoming a successful doctor.
More importantly, you need to think about whether this is something you can see yourself doing every day until retirement. A doctors’ lifestyle is different from that of most other professionals out there, and so it requires a particular way of thinking. But if you can cope with the pressure and stress of it all, you can build a respected career you’ll truly enjoy.