As an aspiring doctor, your goal is to provide the best medical care to your patients. While it may seem a far-fetched dream now, we promise it’ll all be worth it when you finally receive your license as a medical practitioner.
Now the question is, how many years does it take to become a doctor? On average, it takes medical students 10 to 14 years to become a doctor. but for those studying a specialty or a certain type of surgery, it can take even longer. It boils down to which career path you decide for yourself.
There are many different routes to becoming a doctor. While some students take time off, some change courses. Although every unique journey is valid, there are a few milestones that are “musts,” which we’ll discuss in detail below. They may or may not fit in your personal timeline for now, but they have to be accomplished if you’re an aspirant. It’s time to get familiar with the long road to becoming a doctor.
Step by step
All licensed physicians, regardless of their medical specialty area, must complete certain steps in their education and certification to practice medicine legally and safely. Here is what you can expect from the “becoming a doctor” timeline:
How to become a doctor
- Complete an undergraduate program (4 years)
After you complete high school, you can enroll in a college or university to earn your bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject area. In this phase of medical education, many to-be physicians choose a pre-med track, which focuses on scientific coursework. These learnings later help students prepare for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) exam, which helps medical schools assess their eligibility.
The next probable question is what subjects do you need to become a doctor? Typically, med students study biology, organic and general chemistry, English, physics, sociology, psychology and calculus during their undergraduate course. Based on their specialty, they study some of these subjects in depth in med school later.
- Attend Medical School (4 years)
After taking the MCAT, you can apply to the medical school of your choice. Once accepted, you’ll start another 4 four years of studies in science and medicine. You’ll also perform clinical rotations, in which you’ll get hands-on experience in different specialty areas, which will further help you choose the specialty you’re interested in. So, what degree is needed to become a doctor? You can either work toward a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).
- Residency (3-7 years, depending on the specialty)
Once you decide whether you want to specialize in neurology, internal medicine or anything in between, you can apply to match with a residency program. The shortest residencies last around three years, while the longest takes seven. In this phase, you’ll get on-the-job training providing patient care in your specialty area, all under the supervision of a practiced physician. After completing residency, you can apply for licensure and board certification to be able to start practicing on your own. Different US states have different licensure requirements, which you’ll have to check when you apply for one.
In this additional step, some doctors in specialized fields pursue a few more years of hands-on studies and medical training in a subspecialty after completing their initial residency period.
Now that you have an idea of what these 10-14 years will look like, let’s take a look at if you should specialize in a particular field of medicine or become a general physician.
Should I specialize?
Choosing a medical career is a personal choice, but we can try to help you arrive at a decision by posing another question: is there an area of medicine that absolutely fascinates you? If you answered “yes,” you should consider specializing in this subject matter so that you can delve deeper into the field you’re passionate about and provide excellent care.
There are over 160 specialties and subspecialties, which means that there are over 160 ways doctors can provide highly focused patient care. Your deep knowledge of one of these medical fields can be a literal lifesaver for a future patient. Another important point to consider before you make a decision is an income. Specializing in a field makes you an expert, which directly translates to an increased salary. Often, highly specialized roles are better paid, with surgeons earning over $500,000 per year and some earning closer to $1,000,000.
Here are a few specialties:
- Allergy and immunology – As an allergy and/or immunology specialist, you’ll treat lung diseases, asthma, food- and drug-related allergies, conditions of the respiratory tract and immune system deficiencies in adult and pediatric patients.
- Anesthesiology – In this specialty area, you’ll provide pain-relief treatments to patients before, during, and after surgery.
- Dermatology – As a dermatologist, you’ll treat patients with skin-related disorders or diseases such as skin cancer, cysts and tumors, and inflammation, along with conditions of the nails and hair. You’ll also perform surgeries and skin biopsies on adult and pediatric patients.
- Nuclear Medicine – As a nuclear medicine practitioner, you’ll be referred to as a nuclear medicine radiologist or nuclear radiologist. You’ll use techniques such as scintigraphy to scan organs and diagnose tumors or diseases like thyroid cancer or bone cancer.
- Preventive Medicine – As the name suggests, a preventive medicine practitioner helps society as a whole by examining healthcare trends and providing solutions on how to prevent diseases.
- Oncology – As an oncologist, you’ll provide treatment for cancer such as chemotherapy, radiology services, and surgery.
Some other specialty areas are pediatrics, urology, pathology, radiation oncology, obstetrics and gynecology, and ophthalmology.
What about general practitioners?
In a way, general practitioners are specialists. Their specialty is being able to assess the body in a more generalized way. General practitioners help patients maintain their overall health and look out for symptoms and signs of issues that may require more specialized care.
There are some perks to becoming a general practitioner. If you have a private practice, you can set your own hours, and since you’ll see repeat patients, you get a chance to bond. This field takes the shortest time to become a doctor, i.e., four years of undergrad, four years of medical school, and another two years of residency.
Hard work pays off
Although the journey to becoming a doctor is long and challenging, the result is rewarding—and not just for the physician. Your future patients will be grateful for the work you put in to ensure the highest possible level of care for them.
Whether you choose to be a specialized doctor or a general physician, we’ll be here for you along the way. Count on us for more career-related content, tips on how to better your life as a medical professional, and comfortable scrubs that will get you through even the toughest day on this journey of becoming a doctor!