How to Become a Doctor

This article provides in-depth information into What is a Doctor? What Doctor do? Degrees for Doctor, Steps to become Doctor and much more.

What does a doctor do?

Doctors are licensed and specially trained professionals who provide diagnosis, treatments and counselling to individuals with diseases, illnesses and injuries. Among many responsibilities some of the most important responsibilities include examining patients, collecting patient’s information, performing diagnostic tests and discussing test results. There are two main categories for doctors- Medical Doctors (MD) and doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO). DOs might also use preventive medicine and holistic care methods. Doctors most often have a field of specialization. 

Most doctors work irregular hours, including graveyard shifts and weekends. The financial potential in the field of medicine is great especially those that practice in private are able to earn higher incomes. A doctor’s job is stressful and requires emotional stability.

Steps to become a doctor

While medicine is one of the toughest professions and requires a lot of commitment, there are ways to increase the odds of earning that elusive white coat. Following is a step-by-step guide on how to become a doctor

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Medical school admissions require students to complete a four years bachelor’s degree program from an accredited college or university. While there is no mandatory major recommended for students who want to pursue a career in medicine, students who pursue majors in pre-med, biology, math, physics and chemistry have better chances of getting accepted in medical schools. Students can gain healthcare experience while pursuing a bachelor’s degree by volunteering in hospitals, clinics or other healthcare environments. 

Take and Pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

After completion of bachelor’s degree program, students interested in pursuing a career in medicine have to register for, take and pass the Medical College Admission Test. The MCAT is a standardized multiple choice examination used by medical school admission committees to assess the candidates capabilities. The content areas that are tested on the MCAT include Biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics.The MCAT also assesses a student’s problem solving capabilities, verbal reasoning and writing skills. Students can take the MCAT up to three times a year. Higher the MCAT scores, better are the chances of getting accepted in top medical schools.

Graduate from Medical School 

There are two primary medical degrees offered by all medical schools- Allopathic Medical Degree (MD) and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). A medical school program typically takes four years to complete. In the first two years of medical school, students usually attend classroom and laboratory rotations. During the final two years, students work in hospital settings  treating real patients under the supervision of licensed and experienced doctors. Medical school coursework usually includes pharmacology, anatomy, physiology and pathology. Students also study the practice of medicine and legal issues related to healthcare. In the clinical experience students cover a variety of areas including neurology, radiology and medicine. This clinical experience also gives students a chance to find out which type of residency they would pursue after graduation.

Complete Residency program

Students will have to enroll in a residency program after graduating from medical school. A residency program takes a minimum of three years to be completed and can take upto eight years. The length of the residency training period depends on the specialty chosen by the prospective doctor. During residency training, prospective doctors will be diagnosing and treating patients in hospital settings under the supervision of experienced doctors. Students receive a stipend during their residency training period. 

Complete Fellowship

It is not compulsory for doctors to pursue a fellowship program. It depends on the sub-specialty. The time period required to complete a fellowship is anywhere between one to three years. During fellowship, much like a residency student , prospective doctors will be treating patients directly under the supervision of licensed doctors. A stipend is awarded to those that pursue fellowship program

Earn a Licensure

Before being able to practice, a doctor must obtain a state licensure in addition to the medical license. The US medical licensing exam (USMLE) is a three step exam that is a must for MDs. The Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMPLEX_USA) must be taken by DOs. The state licensure usually takes three to nine months to obtain a license after submission of the application. Sate licenses need to be renewed periodically and each state has a different law for obtaining licensure. Doctors applying for renewal of license is required to complete a minimum number of hours in continuing education in order to be eligible for the renewal exam

Earn a Board Certification

Doctors are certified in their specialties by the American Board of MedicalSpecialties. Previously board certification was only an option and not a compulsion, but, most hospitals now require doctors to be board certified. In order to be board certified students have to take a written and an oral examination. Most doctors take the board certification exam in the late summer or fall every year after completion of a residency program or a fellowship training program in June or July.

Get Employed

After completion of licensing and board certification, a doctor has to work towards securing a job. It is a common practice for residents to transition into full time positions after their residency training ends. However, some doctors choose to apply for jobs with other hospitals and clinics.

Salary of a doctor

As much hard work, dedication and perseverance goes into studying to be a doctor, the career of a doctor is financially rewarding. The average annual salary of a doctor ranges anywhere between $100,000 to $400,000. The profession of a doctor is a novel profession and is one of the highest paying jobs in the country

Job Growth of a doctor

The job growth for doctors is projected at 14% between 2014 to 2014. In order to grow continuously in the profession, doctors need to ensure that they enroll in advanced certification courses from time to time to enhance their knowledge and be up to date with the new innovations in medical tools and techniques. Doctors also need to ensure that they renew their state licensure after every 10 years. 

Aging, insurance reform and chronic illness drive steady demand for healthcare services. The Administration on Aging projects that the number of Americans aged 65 and older will account for more than 21 percent of the population by 2040, and the Affordable Care Act expanded Medicare and provided insurance to nearly 17 million people who previously did not have insurance. Finally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, early half of the country’s population—approximately 117 million people—are living with a chronic disease.

Concentrations to consider for a Doctor

Following are some of the concentrations studied while in med school:

  • Foundations of cells and molecules: students learn about the fundamental cellular processes, genetic factors for health and hereditary diseases and the clinical techniques of molecular biology research. Students are taught the fundamentals of life sciences and the relationship between pharmacology, biochemistry, cell and molecular biology and genetics

  • Diagnostic Tools and Testing Procedure: students are introduced to diagnostic tools used in pathology, radiology, laboratory meds, clinical epidemiology among others. Students learn about diagnostic information and learn how to develop a systematic approach to patient care

  • Clinical Epidemiology: This coursework is research based and teaches students to use research literature to answer clinical questions. Students are taught to evaluate research articles and medical information with the context of using evidence based medicine. Students learn statistical analysis, research study design and how to use the knowledge gained from research

  • Human Structure and Development: Students are introduced to the foundation of human anatomy. This is a basic concentration that helps students understand the central concepts of bodily functions. Students study various topics including the nervous system, digestive system, endocrine system and articular system. Students are taught to interpret CT scans, MRIs and radiographs. 

  • Critical Care: Students are practically taught to treat and care for critically ill patients under the supervision of experienced and licensed doctors. Students also have an educational review of the clinical principles of care. 

Career Concentrations

Following are some of  the career concentrations for a doctor:

  • Internist: The primary job of an internist is to provide complex medical care to patients dealing with both common and chronic illnesses. Internists are responsible for diagnosing and treating diseases that impact the digestive, circulatory, cardiovascular, respiratory and endocrine system.  They work from both their private clinics and in hospital settings. 

  • Family Physician: the primary role of a family physician is to provide general medical care to patients in clinics, hospitals and other medical settings. They diagnose and treat illnesses including acute and chronic health problems and also provide preventive care services. Some of these services are immunizations, health screening tests and annual check ups. In case of serious illnesses, family physicians collaborate with other specialists to provide appropriate treatment.

  • Surgeon: Surgeons are doctors whose primary responsibility is to perform surgeries of different body parts and organs. While some doctors work as general surgeons others specialize in different fields. General Surgeons use minimally invasive procedures and techniques to treat conditions like appendix, gallbladder stones, tumors etc. Specialist surgeon specializes and operates cases of cancer, organ transplant, pediatrics, orthopedics and trauma

  • Anesthesiologist: the primary job of an anesthesiologist is to administer and monitor anesthesia for patients during diagnostic and surgical procedures. During any procedure, an anesthesiologist monitors the condition of the patient including body temperature, vital signs and the patient’s consciousness level. After the completion of a surgical procedure, anesthesiologists coordinate with post anesthesia nurses to help revive the patient to their senses.

  • Pediatrician: pediatricians are responsible for treating children from birth to young adulthood. Pediatricians not only treat the physical problems of children but also take care of their emotional and social development. Pediatrician provides a wide range of services including preventive health to the diagnosis, assessment and treatment of serious illnesses among children.

Preparing Yourself a career as a Doctor

Students that want to pursue a career in medicine must be dedicated since high school as the entrance exam for medical schools are competitive. Following are the ways to prepare yourself for a career as a doctor:

Complete High school or GED

It is important that a student complete High school or an equivalent like GED in order to be able to get into an undergraduate degree program which is one of the main prerequisites of a medical school program. 

Enroll in an undergraduate program with pre-med

It is a must for students to complete a four years undergraduate program before being eligible to apply for any medical school programs. While there are no compulsory majors to be undertaken for med schools, students who undertake pre med have better chances. The other majors that students may take up are biology and chemistry

Maintain an above average GPA throughout

While it is compulsory for students to take the MCAT, it is important that students maintain a standard above average GPA throughout their high school as well as their undergraduate studies in order to have a better chance at getting through their choice of med school

Stand out skills for a Doctor

  • Professionalism: Doctors should be able to handle cases in a professional way which includes ethical and fair means of treating a patient. The doctor cannot be biased towards any patient.

  • Medical Knowledge: Doctors should have enough knowledge so as to be able to provide correct treatment to a patient including prescribing medicine , referring to the right doctor and surgery after correct diagnosis

  • Communication skills: Doctors work all day long with patients of different age groups and from all walks of life. Doctors should possess the ability to communicate effectively including listening to patients’ woes, their families and other other medical professionals.

  • Patient care: in today’s world it is important for a doctor to be well mannered. Empathy, confidence, being respectful and thoroughness helps doctors connect with patients better which in turn helps in the smooth functioning of the treatment. 

  • Dedication: The profession of a doctor is a novel profession and it totally revolves around saving lives. This requires a lot of dedication and the doctor should have the attitude of always wanting to learn more. 

Doctor Salaries