Is becoming a doctor right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do doctors do?
Career Satisfaction
Are doctors happy with their careers?
What are doctors like?

Still unsure if becoming a doctor is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a doctor or another similar career!

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How to become a Doctor

Becoming a doctor is a challenging and lengthy process that requires a strong commitment to learning, hard work, and dedication to patient care. The following are the general steps to becoming a doctor:

  • Earn a Bachelor's Degree: Complete a bachelor's degree program, preferably in a science-related field. Pre-medicine coursework includes completing prerequisite science courses, gaining clinical experience through volunteering or internships, and preparing for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
  • Pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT): Take the MCAT exam, which assesses your knowledge of science, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, and submit your scores as part of your medical school application.
  • Attend Medical School: Enroll in and complete a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree program at an accredited medical school. Medical school typically lasts four years and includes classroom instruction, laboratory work, and clinical rotations.
  • Complete Residency Training: After graduating from medical school, complete a residency program in your chosen medical specialty, which provides hands-on training and supervised clinical experience in a hospital or healthcare facility. Residency training typically lasts three to seven years, depending on the specialty.
  • Obtain Medical Licensure: Obtain a medical license to practice medicine legally in the state(s) where you intend to work. Licensure requirements vary by state but typically include passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) and meeting other state-specific requirements.
  • Optional: Pursue Fellowship Training (Optional): Depending on your career goals and specialty interests, you may choose to pursue additional fellowship training after completing residency, which provides advanced training in a subspecialty area of medicine.
  • Maintain Continuing Education: Stay current with advancements in medicine, maintain licensure and board certification, and participate in continuing medical education (CME) activities to enhance your knowledge and skills throughout your career.

Medical Licensure
Medical licensure is the process by which doctors are granted legal permission to practice medicine in a specific state or jurisdiction. The process of obtaining medical licensure in the U.S. typically involves the following steps:

  • Medical Education: Doctors must complete their medical education at an accredited medical school, which involves obtaining a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. Medical school education provides the foundational knowledge and clinical skills necessary for the practice of medicine.
  • United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE): Doctors must pass the USMLE, which is a three-step examination series administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB). The USMLE assesses a doctor's knowledge, skills, and ability to apply medical principles in the diagnosis and treatment of patients.
  • Postgraduate Training: Following medical school, doctors typically complete a residency program in their chosen specialty. Residency training provides hands-on clinical experience under the supervision of experienced physicians and further hones their clinical skills and knowledge.
  • State Medical Licensing Board Application: Doctors must apply for medical licensure with the medical licensing board of the state where they intend to practice. The application process includes providing documentation of their medical education, passing scores on licensing exams, verification of postgraduate training, and submission of personal and professional references. Doctors may also need to undergo a criminal background check.
  • State Medical Licensing Board Examination: Some states may require doctors to pass a state-specific examination in addition to the USMLE. This examination assesses a doctor's knowledge of state-specific medical laws and regulations.
  • Review and Approval: The state medical licensing board reviews the application, supporting documents, and examination results to ensure that all requirements have been met. The board evaluates the doctor's character, competence, and ethical standing before granting medical licensure.

Once granted a medical license in a specific state, doctors are legally permitted to practice medicine within the jurisdiction of that state. They must adhere to the medical laws, regulations, and ethical standards set forth by the state licensing board. Medical licenses are typically subject to renewal periodically, requiring doctors to fulfill continuing medical education requirements and pay renewal fees to maintain their license.

Board Certification
Board certification signifies that a doctor has completed additional training and has passed rigorous examinations in their chosen medical specialty or subspecialty. The process begins after completing medical school and residency training, during which doctors acquire the foundational knowledge and clinical experience necessary to practice medicine independently.

To become board certified, doctors must first complete an accredited residency program in their chosen specialty, which typically lasts three to seven years, depending on the specialty. During residency, they receive intensive training and hands-on experience under the supervision of experienced physicians, honing their clinical skills and expertise in their field.

Once residency is completed, doctors are eligible to take the board certification examination administered by a specialty board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). These examinations assess the doctor's knowledge, clinical judgment, and ability to provide high-quality care in their specialty.

Board certification is not mandatory for practicing medicine, but it is highly valued by patients, employers, and colleagues as a mark of competence and professionalism. Many hospitals, healthcare organizations, and insurance companies require board certification for credentialing and privileging purposes, and board-certified doctors may command higher salaries and enjoy greater opportunities for career advancement.

To maintain board certification, doctors must participate in ongoing continuing medical education (CME) activities to stay current with advances in their field and meet the recertification requirements set by their specialty board. Recertification typically involves periodic reexaminations or participation in practice improvement activities to ensure that board-certified doctors continue to uphold the highest standards of medical practice and patient care throughout their careers.