Do you seek a career with abundant job opportunities, a six-figure salary, and the chance to help others? If so, becoming a physician can provide these benefits and allow you to specialize in an area of medicine you’re passionate about.
But before you decide to head off to med school, you should understand the related commitments and costs. After all, becoming a physician can require over a decade of study, experience, and challenging coursework. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve got the important qualities needed to excel in medicine.
So, is becoming a doctor worth it? Read on to learn all about the steps to becoming a physician.
Start With Your Bachelor’s Degree
First, you’ll need to complete your undergraduate education and maintain a high grade point average.
You might think that you need to find a pre-med program to qualify for med school. But you can actually choose any major you’d like. The key is to take important science courses along with some health care electives your university offers.
If you want even more of an advantage, consider getting your bachelor’s degree in a medical field such as nursing. You’ll already have a medical background and even field experience that can give you an advantage when applying to medical school.
Do Well on Your MCAT
You can’t just apply to medical school after finishing your bachelor’s degree. You’ll need to study thoroughly for the Medical College Admissions Test and do very well to be competitive.
This test focuses on the natural sciences. So, expect to see questions about biology, chemistry, and physical science. The test also covers human behavior, communication, and critical analysis.
You can find MCAT preparation courses through test review companies and educational institutions. You can also buy test guides with practice questions and use free study materials online.
Undertake a Medical School Program
With a good MCAT score and your bachelor’s degree, you can apply to medical schools that interest you. You’ll decide whether you want a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) or Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree. Both will work for getting licensed as a physician, but you’ll take different exams when it comes time.
Be prepared to apply to multiple schools since admission is competitive. You’ll also need solid letters of recommendation handy. Proof of health care experience is a plus!
Once you’ve gotten admitted, expect to have your four years of full-time training split into two halves.
The first half will involve regular coursework and laboratory work. You’ll learn about topics such as medical law, anatomy, pharmacology, and pathology.
Your final half gets you working in medical facilities to gain supervised experience. You might help diagnose patients at a general practice, assist in emergencies at a hospital, or treat children at a pediatrician’s office.
Choose a Specialty for Your Residency
While you completed your medical school program, you had exposure to several areas of medicine that might interest you. Then, you’ll need to choose a specific area where you’ll gain another three to seven years of hands-on experience.
You can consider broader options like internal medicine and family practice if you want a larger role. You can also choose something more specific like psychiatry, neurology, or urology. Other examples include emergency medicine, pediatrics, general surgery, and oncology.
You’ll then apply through a residency matching program where you’ll get placed at a medical facility. Usually, you’ll be working at a hospital. Feel free to show interest in multiple specialties since this can make it easier to find a placement.
You can consider your residency both as a learning opportunity and as a crucial work experience. You’ll work regular shifts and face some challenging situations. After your residency, you’ll have what it takes to get licensed and begin a physician career.
Complete National and State Medical License Requirements
So, you’ve got your medical degree and residency completed. You can now begin studying for national medical licensure exams, which will depend on your degree.
If you got a D.O. degree, you’ll do the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). If you earned an M.D. instead, you’ll take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
The exam content varies, but you can expect to answer questions about patient care, medical ethics, general science, and patient safety. You’ll also see questions about specialties like behavioral health, dermatology, and neurology.
These exams have multiple parts you’ll need to pass. Tour state usually sets deadlines on how long you have to pass all of them. There’s also often a limit on attempts within a certain time period.
You’ll also need to check your state’s medical board for additional requirements for getting your physician license. You can expect to complete an application with a fee, undergo a background screening, and demonstrate good character. You’ll also need to show proof of education and experience.
Beyond meeting these basic requirements, you may opt to get certified in the area where you specialized during your residency. This requires taking an exam offered through a relevant medical certifying board. Examples include the American Osteopathic Association and the American Board of Medical Specialities.
Once you’re allowed to practice medicine, know that you’ll need to take steps to stay licensed as a physician. This usually includes renewing the license every one or two years and completing continuing education. You can find free CME for physicians online and study medicine at your convenience.
Does Becoming a Physician Seem Right for You?
If you don’t mind the significant investment in education, then becoming a physician can lead to a meaningful and exciting career. It can also lead to other job opportunities if you decide to leave the traditional medical practice.
For example, you can later use your medical degree to work as a university professor to medical school students. You should also find work in medical research, medical writing, or even healthcare consulting. So, your options will stay open!
Be sure to check out our other posts to learn about advancements in health care.