How Long Does it Take to Become a Doctor?

Wondering how long will it take to start your own practice as a doctor? Well, in this article we answer your query about how long does it take to become a doctor.

Updated by TCM Staff on 16th October 2020

If you have decided to pursue your career in the medical field, you must be already researching it. One of the major concerns of students wanting to pursue medical studies is how much additional education is needed along with the associated time, effort, and medical school debt.

The answer to the recurring million-dollar question “how long does it take to become a doctor” is, it depends on the type of specialty a student wishes to major in within the medical field of study. The medical major (specialty) typically demonstrates the duration of study right from an undergraduate degree to the residency program.

Typically, it takes 10-14 years long to become a doctor with can be simplified as 4 years of an undergraduate degree, 4 years in a medical degree, and a minimum of years in a residency program. At the step of obtaining a license for practicing as a doctor, you would've invested approximately 10-14 years. 

The most integral thought of consideration for a student is if he/she wants to pursue a career that extends beyond the conventional 4-year undergraduate degree because a career in medicine requires you to do so. 

In this article, we will share the estimated time it takes to become a doctor.

What does a doctor do?

Doctors are the ‘harbingers’ of good health. They acquire this by providing diagnoses and treatment to patients. 

Doctors perform an array of functions that includes but not limited to-

  • Diagnosis

  • Examination of patients

  • Prescribe medication

  • Surgeries/ operations

  • Referrals to specialists ( if and when needed)  

The key to becoming a ‘good doctor’ requires the individual to develop strong technical, interpersonal, and time management skills as well as religiously and selflessly commit to serving people.

How long does it take to become a doctor?

The educational journey of a doctor constitutes :

  • Undergraduate degree- 4 years of education.

  • Medical degree- 4 years of education
  • Residency program- 3 to 7 years of training (depending on the type of specialty) 

To summarize, a medical school student needs to invest 10 to 14 years to attain a license for practicing as a doctor. Post the Residency program, the student is required to further appear for the exam of the state he/she is planning to practice medicine in. 

The timeline is broken down among a number of steps to becoming a doctor, they are,

1. Undergraduate Program

While you can pursue any subject in your undergrad program, it is a bonus if you preferably study anatomy, biology, chemistry, math, physiology along with other regular subjects like English and Foreign Languages. Most undergrad programs have a course duration of 4 years. 

2. Medical College Admission Test

In order to be eligible to study medicine, you will need to take and pass the Medical College Admission Test, also known as MCAT.

Once you pass the test, you will have to submit applications to medical schools along with college transcripts, test scores, and letters of recommendation. MCAT is very competitive and it is important to have high grades in order to get through your choice of medical school.

3. Medical School

Most of the medical schools have 4-year programs.

The first two years, also known as M1 and M2 are different than the last 2 years, also known as M3 and M4. M1 and M2 are also known as pre-clinical years and M3 & M4 as clinical

In the first two years, students will mostly spend time inside the classrooms and laboratories studying subjects like biochemistry, psychology, advanced anatomy, medical ethics, and medico-legal topics. You will have to attend a lot of didactic lectures and problem-based learning.

In your M3 and M4 years, you will be on clinical rotations and spend most of the time in hospital or clinical settings learning from physicians, examining patients and diagnosing illnesses all under the supervision of experienced physicians. While M3 consists of core rotation at your school and nearby hospital settings imparting solid training in the most common fields, M4 gives you the flexibility to choose your choice of field. You will also have the option of going to other hospitals for their residency auditions.

At the end of your M2, you will be eligible to take USMLE step 1 which is commonly used by residency committees to evaluate candidates on what type of medical specialty a student can later take up.

Before moving onto the next step you will have to take the USMLE Step 2 which involves multiple-choice questions and simulated patient interactions.

4. Residency Program

If you thought the four years rigorous medical program is the final step to becoming a doctor then you are here for a surprise. Well, you have achieved and learned a lot in the past four years but that was just the beginning. You have a compulsory Residency program to take up. Depending on the specialty, most residency programs take anywhere around 3-8 years to complete.

If you are into pediatrics and family practice it will take up to 3 years and it can take up to 5 years for someone taking up general surgery. Most residency programs are located in hospitals where you gain expertise in diagnosis, treatment, and overall management of patients.

After completion of your 1st year of a residency program, you will have to take USMLE step 3 which is the last and final USMLE to assess whether as a medical school graduate you are able to apply your knowledge and understanding of biomedical and clinical science essential for unsupervised medical practice.

5. Fellowship

After you successfully complete your residency program, you are eligible to become a doctor and begin your practice. If you do not wish to practice and add a subspecialty, you may do so through fellowship programs. A fellowship program may take anywhere between 1 to 3 years to complete.


So, technically, it takes a minimum of 10 years to become a doctor: 4 years of undergrad + 4 years in medical school + 3-7 years in residency. 

Medicine is a practice and practicing doctors need to renew their certifications and registrations every few years. It is advised that you do your due research before making any decisions. Studying in a medical school to become a doctor will definitely give you the good life you have in mind but know that the journey isn’t an easy one and a lot of sacrifices have to be made on the way. 

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