JAANUU » The Least Number of Years to Become a Doctor

The Least Number of Years to Become a Doctor

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Did you always dream of wearing that white coat with a stethoscope hanging around your neck? It does look prestigious, isn’t it? But does the enduring journey of becoming a doctor make you feel overwhelmed? We’ll give it to you straight: There’s no easy or quick way to become a doctor, and there’s a good reason for that.  

Physicians perform specialized, high-responsibility work. They have to make serious decisions that affect patient outcomes. Simply put, doctors have to know their stuff, and pursuing complete scientific and medical education takes time. 

However, the field of medicine is vast and has specialties that take a few years less than others. It all depends on the medical specialty you decide to pursue. Here’s why. 

How to become a doctor of medicine

Let’s start with the basics. There are certain steps to becoming a doctor that no one can shorten. If you were a precocious teen who skipped a grade in high school and started college a year early, you might be younger when you finish your medical studies, but you won’t be able to shave off any more time from your education. Here are the minimum requirements for becoming a doctor:

  • Undergraduate degree: All aspiring doctors must earn a bachelor’s degree, and many choose to do so on a pre-med track. Bachelor’s degree programs take four years to complete, and this is the first step you should factor in your total amount of time. 
  • Medical school: Med school accounts for another four years of studies. During this time, you’ll complete coursework that’ll prepare you for work within the field. You’ll also do clinical rotations and gain first-hand experience providing patient care while exposing yourself to various specialty areas.
  • Residency: During your residency, you’ll delve deep into your specialization, providing direct care in a medical setting. While this is a necessary step to becoming a doctor, it’s the most flexible in terms of time. You can complete some residencies in as few as three years, while others take up to seven. 

So how long does it take to become a doctor in total? On average, it takes 11-16 years. The big differentiator is the length of your residency. As we look at the quickest way to becoming a physician in the next section, we’ll point out the shortest residencies.

The fastest way to become a doctor in the U.S.

In the U.S., the fastest way to becoming a doctor is to choose a short residency after completing your eight combined years of medical school and an undergraduate degree. Read on to find out the shortest residency programs that take only three to four years. 

You should also consider, however, the competitiveness of residency programs, and we’ll show some data on that. While most medical students match with the residency program of their choice, not all find that right fit on the first try. If a student who chooses a particularly competitive path doesn’t match, they may have a year of downtime while waiting for the next match season to roll around. So, if time is a concern, try to choose a short program you feel confident about matching into. 

The shortest residency programs  

  • Family medicine: Three years
  • Internal medicine: Three years
  • Pediatrics: Three years
  • Anesthesiology: Four years
  • Dermatology: Four years
  • Neurology: Four years
  • Ophthalmology: Four years
  • Physical medicine: Four years
  • Emergency medicine: Three to four years
  • Obstetrics-gynecology: Four years
  • Pathology: Four years
  • Psychiatry: Four years

The least competitive residency programs

  • Family medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Physical medicine
  • Psychiatry
  • Anesthesiology
  • Emergency medicine

You likely saw the overlap as you looked at the two lists above. All the least competitive residency programs are also among the shortest. So you still have options, even if choosing a short, less competitive program is your priority. 


Among your priorities, we also recommend considering your interests. Sure, being able to start your career as a doctor sooner than later sounds great, but no one wants to feel stuck in a job they don’t enjoy. A career is far longer than a residency, so taking on a longer residency and landing a job that’s better suited for you is a sound choice.  

The longest routes to becoming a doctor

If time is of the essence, you’re probably at least curious about the longest routes to becoming a doctor. We wouldn’t go so far as to say the following is a list of residencies to avoid if you want to become a physician quickly. We advocate for finding the right career fit, no matter how long it takes. 

That said, here are some of the longest and most competitive residency programs. Again, you’ll see some overlap between the length of the residency and the competitiveness factor. 

The longest residency programs  

  • Diagnostic radiology: Five years
  • Radiation oncology: Five years
  • General surgery: Five years
  • Orthopedic surgery:  Five years 
  • Otolaryngology: Five years 
  • Urology: Five years
  • Plastic surgery: Six years
  • Neurosurgery: Seven years 

The most competitive residency programs

  • Plastic surgery
  • Otolaryngology
  • Thoracic surgery
  • Vascular surgery
  • Neurological Surgery
  • Interventional radiology 
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Dermatology

Will a short residency affect my salary expectations?

Neurosurgeons have one of the most competitive and longest residencies. They also earn exceptionally well for their highly specialized work. Does this imply a corollary? Do shorter, less competitive residencies lead to lower salaries? Not necessarily. 


For example, anesthesiologists have high-paying jobs, bringing in around $400,000 annually. Psychiatrists are also high earners, with an average salary of roughly $300,000 per year. Our advice, again, is to stick to what you love. A high salary is a perk, but not if you don’t enjoy going to work every day.  

To sum up

There’s no easiest way to become a doctor. When you enroll in med school to pursue your dream of entering the healthcare field, you only put in a lot of hard work to excel. Your goal is to secure a role in the medical field and provide patient care. Whichever school of medicine or residency program you choose, we hope you thrive and shine.  

You can count on us the entire way. We’ll be there with excellent, premium-quality scrubs and a side of moral support. You even get a discount if you’re a student embarking upon this journey. We’re rooting for you!

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