10 Steps to Become a Doctor

Should I Become a Doctor?

Doctors provide diagnoses, treatments, and counseling to individuals with illnesses, diseases, or injuries. Some of their many responsibilities include examining patients, collecting patient information, performing diagnostic tests, and discussing test results. Physicians fall into two main categories: medical doctors (M.D.) and doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.). Both types of doctors treat patients, but D.O.s also use preventive medicine and holistic care methods. Within the medical field, doctors most often have a field of specialization.

There is great reward in being able to help people feel better and perhaps even save their lives. The education required to become a medical doctor is long and may be expensive. Few doctors are able to limit their work hours to normal business days; most work irregular hours including during the night and on the weekends. The financial potential in the field of medicine is great; all doctors, but especially those working in private practice, are able to earn high incomes. The job is stressful and requires emotional stability.

Career Requirements

Degree LevelDoctorate
Degree FieldMedicine
Licensure/CertificationM.D.s must pass all three parts of the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination and D.O.s must pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination-USA; board certification by the ABMS is optional
ExperienceMost doctors complete a residency (between three and eight years)
Key SkillsSkills in problem-solving, leadership, empathy, and communication, proficiency with specialized tools and technology
Salary$189,760 (2014 Average for physicians and surgeons)
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET Online.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET Online.

Step 1:  Preparing for High School


In order to get into the best colleges and the best medical schools, you need excellent grades first and foremost.  A bachelor's degree is required to get into medical school. Medical schools seek applicants who have a broad educational background, a solid foundation in the natural sciences, and experience in healthcare settings. While a specific major is not required, all medical school applicants need to complete undergraduate coursework in biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics.
Success Tip:
Gain healthcare experience while in school. Students can do this by volunteering in hospitals, clinics, or other healthcare environments. This is a good way for students to make sure they want to become doctors before committing to medical school.

Step 2: Volunteer


Many people desire to become a doctor because it seems like a great way to help people. Not only will volunteering give you a chance to help people, but it will also look good on your CV if you do decide to pursue medicine. Consider volunteering at a hospital, free clinic, doctor's office, or as an EMT. Medical work experience can be tough to find; write to your family doctor, and use family connections to find shadowing opportunities.
  • If you're 16 or older you can look at shadowing doctors abroad with schemes like Gap Medics. 
  • Also, be open to volunteer work that is not directly medical related, such as working in a soup kitchen or Habitat for Humanity.
  • This can show you what departments appeal to you, in addition to looking good on a college application.

Step 3: Start thinking about what kind of doctor you want to be. 


You'll be applying to colleges soon, so it's good to know what kind of doctor you think you want to be. Different colleges have different programs, and while your interests may change, you'll still wind up at a good school, if you know what you're looking for.

Step 4: Choose the college or University 

Choose the college or university that most speaks to you. To find the right college for you, consider academic reputation, size, distance from home, location, cost, and, of course, their academic program. Don’t worry about medical school yet. While some schools do have a medical school that's affiliated with their undergrad program, it is not necessary to go to one of these schools.

Step 5: Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

MCAT performance scores are required by almost all medical schools in the nation. Content areas that are tested on the MCAT include biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. The MCAT is a standardized examination that is also designed to assess problem-solving, verbal reasoning, and writing skills. Students planning on going to medical school can take the MCAT up to three times a year.

Step 6: Earn a Medical Degree

Medical school programs generally last four years. The first two years usually entail classroom and laboratory work, while the last two years allow students to work directly with patients under the supervision of experienced doctors. Medical school coursework generally covers topics in pharmacology, pathology, anatomy, and biochemistry. Students also study the practice of medicine and legal issues related to healthcare. The clinical experiences that students participate in (usually in their third year) cover a variety of specialty areas, including neurology, radiology, and medicine. The clinical experiences also give the student a chance to find out what type of residency he or she would prefer to pursue after graduation.

Step 7: Complete a Residency Program

Residency programs offer aspiring doctors the opportunity to work directly with patients in a specialty area of medicine. Some specialty areas include internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and anesthesiology. Residents may be responsible for a number of patient care activities, including developing problem lists, performing physical exams, and compiling medical histories. Depending on the specialty area, a residency can last anywhere between three and eight years. Most residents usually complete their programs in hospitals

Step 8: Obtain Licensure

All states require physicians to become licensed before allowing them to practice medicine. Graduation from an accredited medical school is required before qualifying for licensure. Candidates must also complete a residency training program and pass exams. The U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is a three-step examination that is required for M.D.s. The Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) must be taken by D.O.s. For specific state information about licensing, individuals should contact their state's medical board.
Success Tip:
Seek continuing education opportunities. Doctors applying for license renewal must typically complete at least 50 hours of continuing education before taking the renewal exam. Each state has different licensing requirements, so it may be beneficial to learn what those are as soon as possible.

Step 9: Get Certified to Advance Career


Certification is not required, but it may increase employment opportunities. A professional designation can demonstrate that a doctor is an expert in a specific area of medicine. Certification by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) involves a thorough process of evaluations and assessments. Continuing education is often required for recertification.

Step 10: Being Right for the Job 

Believe it or not, about ¼ of "being a doctor" is paperwork. [3] In many surveys of doctors, a lot of them would make different career decisions, if they could do it again.[4] You likely won't get as much patient contact as you want and you'll be dealing with the admin side of things much more than you planned.  
  • Be aware of the time and money commitment.
  • Have a natural flair for the sciences.
  • Be good with people, too.
  • Be energetic on little to no sleep.
  • Don’t do it for the money.
  • Know that it’s not glamorous. 

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