Ever thought, “I want to be a doctor”? If so, you’ve probably heard, “It takes a long time.”
A doctor’s education is no easy task, and while it’s a career that pays well, it involves a lot of training. Degrees for doctors also have massive tuition fees that you may be paying off for years to come if you don’t play your cards right.
Also, once you receive your license, it takes time for those sizable paychecks to begin to arrive. So if you’re considering a career in medicine, it should be because you truly want to help others first and foremost. If that’s you, we’ve got the statistics on how long it’ll take to complete your medical education.
So without further ado, here’s how to become a doctor and the prerequisites you should consider prior to making a decision.
How long is medical school?
The road to becoming a doctor is long, and it’s anything but a walk in the park. After being accepted into med school, you’ll be working toward that degree for four years, followed by completing your residency training and a final exam before getting your licensure and board certification.
To break it down further:
- Medical school (4 years)
- The first two years consist of classwork and basic training.
- During your junior year, you’ll focus on medical specialty training.
- In the fourth year, you’ll do extracurriculars in the area in which you want to specialize.
- Residency programs (3 years minimum)
- Residencies are essentially internships that match you with a healthcare facility through the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP). You may request a specific place to complete your residency, but the final decision rests with your program.
- The minimum time spent in residency is three years, although it can be, and oftentimes is, longer. For example, general surgery requires five.
In short, the minimum time you’ll spend at medical school, including your residency, is seven years. However, this doesn’t account for all that comes before, such as your undergraduate studies.
10 steps to become a doctor
In addition to medical school and your residency, just how long does it take to become a doctor? Here’s the complete breakdown, step by step.
Work to earn your bachelor’s degree
Passing high school with good grades, especially math and science, is a must. However, you must also earn a relevant undergraduate degree.
You’ll need to complete a bachelor’s program as part of your pre-med requirements to ensure that you have a solid medical foundation. That way, you’re not learning from scratch, and the learning curve, once you’re in the medical field proper, is not quite as steep.
You’ll take core classes, including multiple semesters in biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and physics, with laboratory experience. You’ll also need numerous semesters of Math and English.
Here’s a helpful tip: Keep your grades favorable for further medical licensing examinations, gain research experience where you can and volunteer for community service when time permits.
Prepare for and pass the MCAT exam
After completing your bachelor’s, you’ll need to take the Medical College Admission Test or MCAT, which will indicate just how good of a fit for medical school you are. The higher your score, the more favorable you’ll appear on medical school applications.
Apply to the right medical school for you
After you pass the MCAT, you’ll complete your med school applications. The application process is lengthy, so many students start early, especially if they want to start medical school right after graduating from their bachelor’s program.
Attend med school
Once you get into medical school, you’ll need to complete your program and successfully pass your exams. Remember, med school is four years of study followed by residency, with each school year focused on a different aspect.
Pass the first part of the USMLE
At the end of your first four years, you’ll need to pass the first part of a licensing exam, the USMLE exam, to be eligible for a residency program.
Apply for and match with a residency program
The residency program adds at least another three years onto your medical path. Your residency’s length depends on your specialization, like psychiatry or internal medicine, for example. Don’t forget! While you study, you’ll be required to buy scrubs and other supplies for your role.
Graduate from medical school
Once your residency is complete, you’re almost ready to graduate. Yay!
Pass the second part of the USMLE
To obtain that graduation certificate, you’ll need to pass another exam: the second and final part of the USMLE.
Receive your board certifications
After you’ve passed the exam and graduated, you’ll need to acquire your board certification. Earning this certification will allow you to obtain a state license to practice medicine.
Obtain a state license
With that state license obtained, you’re officially ready to begin your career as a doctor. All that’s left is to apply for relevant medical jobs.
Average doctor salary and job outlook
Of course, at the end of this long, arduous journey, doctors’ salaries and job potential are incredibly attractive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you will be compensated well, irrespective of your specialty, with the median pay currently sitting at $208,000 per year. Doctors are always in demand, too, with the overall job growth rate currently sitting at 3%.
For a snapshot of some of the most popular career options:
- Family medicine: You’ll be taking care of family units, usually in clinics or private practices.
- Pediatricians: These esteemed doctors work primarily with children and youths.
- Surgeons: Practicing surgeons spend some of the longest time in med school, with a five-year residency on average. However, they’re generally very well compensated at the end of their studies.
- Internists: Internists focus on diagnosing and treating internal conditions like lung disease, diabetes and heart disease.
Whichever specialty you choose, you can rest assured that so long as you follow the proper steps on your path to becoming a doctor, you’ll have a pretty good chance of landing a job.
Skills required to become a doctor
Lastly, learning all these skills is excellent, but it won’t make much difference if you don’t have the right temperament to become a doctor. Without those soft skills, people often get frustrated and eventually burn out.
Some of the skills you’ll need include:
- Problem-solving. Doctors need to analyze and diagnose what is wrong with their patients with patience.
- Communication skills, both written, verbal and interpersonal.
- Dedication to the job and to helping others.
- Collaboration. You’ll often be working in tandem with a team of healthcare professionals.
- Customer service skills. Because you’re assisting the public in sometimes stressful situations, you’ll benefit from a gentle bedside manner; be prepared to walk your patients and their loved ones through treatment plans and patient care calmly and effectively.
We wish you all the success in your journey to becoming a doctor!