How To Become a Doctor

Doctor talking with a patient while holding a clipboard

Doctors are among the most highly respected and well compensated professionals in society, but they didn’t get to where they are easily. The road to practicing as an M.D. is lengthy and challenging. If you’re considering a career as a doctor, it is good to know in advance exactly what steps you’ll need to take to make that career choice a reality. Taking the correct prerequisites as an undergraduate student, building an MCAT study plan, gaining admittance into medical school, passing high-stakes licensure exams, postgraduate residency programs, and more – let’s look at how to become a doctor one step at a time . . . 

Phase 1: Pre-Med 

If you want to know how to become a doctor, it starts as a pre-med undergraduate student. Before you can go to medical school, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. 

Pre-Med Prerequisites

Pre-med is not an actual college major, it is simply the classification for students who are planning on going to medical school and are taking the prerequisite classes that medical schools look for. Medical school requirements differ from school to school, but generally speaking, medical schools require that a student have one year of English, one year of biology, and two years of chemistry (through Organic Chemistry).

Many pre-med students major in the physical or biological sciences, but this is not a requirement to get into medical school. Admissions committees are looking for well-rounded students, so having a different major can actually be a benefit; however, make sure you find out what prerequisites fit the medical school requirements where you are planning to attend.

Pre-Med Extracurricular Experiences

In addition to taking the proper classes as a pre-med student, it is also important that you fulfill the extracurricular experiences medical schools will be looking to see on your transcript – experience in research, leadership, and patient care are invaluable and can set you apart from other medical school candidates. 

Time spent shadowing a practicing physician, leadership experience such as student council or leading a volunteer program, any clinical experiences, and research in a lab environment – these are excellent ways to spend free time during your undergraduate years.

High-Stakes Exams

In order to become a physician, there are four high-stakes exams in which you’ll have to demonstrate excellence. The first of these exams is the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®). The MCAT is a six-hour-and-fifteen-minute exam that you must take before medical school, and your MCAT score is one of the primary things admissions committees consider when considering applicants. Because of the importance of this exam, it is advisable to put together an MCAT study plan long before the exam and use a trusted preparation resource like UWorld.

Once admitted into medical school, as you progress towards your career as a doctor, you will be required to take three more exams – the three steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®). Step 1 of the USMLE is a one-day test and is usually taken after your second year of medical school. Step 2 and Step 3 of the USMLE are both two-day exams. Step 2 is usually taken in the fourth year of medical school, and Step 3 is usually taken after the first year of your residency program. These are high-stakes licensure exams, so be sure to begin studying early with UWorld in order to be confident and prepared on each exam day.

Phase 2: Medical School and Residency

Once you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree and distinguished yourself with a good MCAT score, it’s time for medical school and your residency program.

Medical School

Medical school is a minimum of four years and upon completion you will have earned your M.D. The first two years of medical school are a mixture of classroom and lab time where you will continue studying basic sciences and begin learning about patient care. The second half of medical school (years three and four) are filled with clinical experiences as you will begin rotations to get hands-on experience under the supervision of an attending physician. It is during your time in medical school where you will begin to learn first hand the responsibilities of a doctor.

Residency Program

The last step in answering the question How To Become a Doctor is to complete a postgraduate residency program. Students usually begin applying to residency programs in their fourth year of medical school. Your residency will generally focus on the medical specialty in which you intend to practice. Residency programs can last from three to seven years, depending on the specialty.

How To Become a Doctor: Recap

The road to becoming a doctor is lengthy but well worth the challenge. It begins as a pre-med student, meeting the academic prerequisites. Doing well on your MCAT is a must in order to get into medical school. Graduating from medical school, passing all three Steps of the USMLE, and completing a postgraduate residency program are the final obstacles in order to gain licensure and begin fulfilling your dream of becoming a doctor.

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