A career as a doctor is a prestigious, challenging, and altruistic path! To become a doctor, you need to study hard, stay focused, and progress effectively through about 11 to 15 years of higher education and training. This includes a Bachelor’s degree, 4 years of medical school, and a residency program lasting from 3 to 7 years. After you have completed all of these requirements and become board certified, you will be allowed to practice medicine independently.
Take Advanced Placement tests if they will satisfy a prerequisite.
AP credits are offered to high school students who have demonstrated advanced competency in a subject area. However, keep in mind that Advanced Placement credits may satisfy some of the prerequisite requirements, but they may not work for others.
For example, Harvard Medical School will accept AP credits in Chemistry in place of 1 semester of college-level chemistry, but they will not accept AP credits in place of the biology or writing requirements.
Earn a bachelor’s degree
from a 4-year college. You need to earn a Bachelor’s degree before you can enter medical school. Many medical school bound students choose to complete a degree in one of the sciences, such as biology, chemistry, or physics, to ensure that they obtain all of the required prerequisites for entry to medical school. However, you may complete a different degree as long as you complete the required prerequisite courses.
The required prerequisites may vary from school to school, but they usually include 1 year of biology with labs, 2 years of chemistry with labs, 1 year of physics with labs, 1 year of math including calculus and statistics, and 1 year of writing courses.
Make sure that you check with the universities to which you are applying to determine their prerequisites.
from a 4-year college.
In addition to the intellectual capacity for rigorous work, students will require strong emotional health to deal with the human aspect of medicine. This is why medical schools look at students’ applications holistically, which means that they consider what you do in your free time in addition to your performance in the classroom. To show that you have developed the broad skill-set necessary to succeed in medical school – and the kind of work-life balance that fosters a healthy temperament in the workplace – engage in a range of extracurricular activities. Some good choices include:
Sports, such as soccer, hockey, track and field, or volleyball
Language clubs, such as a Latin, Russian, or Spanish club
Political clubs, such as College Republicans or College Democrats
Special interest groups, such as women’s student union, black student union, or LGBTQ student union
Participate in extracurricular activities to build diverse skills and develop a work-life balance.
at a local hospital or clinic. Doing volunteer work is another excellent way to diversify yourself and also gain experience in a medical setting. Volunteer at your local hospital or health clinic for a few hours on 1 day per week.
Volunteering in a medical setting may also give you an opportunity to meet and talk to doctors. You can ask them about their path to medicine, how they chose a specialty, and what advice they have for someone who aspires to be a doctor.
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is required for entry into medical school. The latest you can take this exam is in September of the year you plan to submit your applications. Plan accordingly and start studying at least 6 months before the test.
You may submit MCAT scores that are up to 3 years old, so you may consider taking the test a couple of years early. This way you can retake it if you don’t do as well as you hoped.
at a local hospital or clinic.
for you. Medical schools are not all alike in terms of their program and their admission requirements. Most medical school applicants apply to around 16 schools to maximize their chances of being accepted by at least 1 school. Make a list of the schools that interest you and compare their programs and requirements to help you decide where to apply.
Use the American Association of Medical Colleges’ website to help you compile your list: https://apps.aamc.org/msar-ui/#/landing. It provides a complete list of medical schools along with details about their program offerings, admission requirements, and tuition costs.
Take the MCAT by the September before you submit your application.
1 to 2 months before applying. Medical schools require applicants to write an essay that describes why they want to pursue a career in medicine. Give yourself plenty of time to craft this essay. The personal statement essay is your chance to show the admissions committee how you will add to their program in ways that are not evident elsewhere on your application, such as any obstacles you have overcome that may enhance your ability to be a good physician.
Make sure that your essay responds to the essay prompt or question and that it is well-organized and polished.
Try asking your college advisor or a trusted professor to read over your essay for you before you submit it. Use their feedback to revise and improve your essay.
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Research medical schools to choose the best one
Complete all required fields for the applications you submit. Make sure to double check your responses to ensure that everything is correct before you submit them. Applications for medical school are usually accepted in the fall about 1 year before you plan to start your program.
Be aware that each school may have a different deadline for their application, so you may want to keep a log of the dates.
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Write your medical school application essay
and complete all of the required coursework. Once you have been accepted to a medical school, register for and complete all of the required courses in the recommended sequence. You will be assigned an advisor who can help you to navigate this process. Make sure to ask them questions if you are unsure about how to progress through the program.
Many classes will be required as part of the core program, but you may have the opportunity to take special seminars on subjects that interest to you.
Submit your application to the medical schools of your choice.
in the final year of medical school. Near the beginning of the last year of medical school, you will choose a specialty based on your interests, performance in the program, and professional goals. This will determine where you complete your residency and what you specialize in as a physician.
For example, if you are interested in cardiology, then you might pursue a specialty as a cardiologist.
If you were most interested in neurology in your studies, then becoming a neurologist might be the best option for you.
Attend medical school
Near the end of your last year of medical school, usually in March, you will be assigned to a residency program in your chosen specialty. Most of these programs are through teaching hospitals, which will provide you with a combination of an actual medical setting and doctors who also teach.
For example, if you chose to specialize in cardiology, then you would be assigned to train and work in a cardiology wing of a hospital for the majority of the time. You would also participate in medical rotations that help build your skills within other departments, such as primary care or radiology.
and complete all of the required coursework.
Once you have completed your residency, you will need to obtain your board certification. Board certification requires taking a test that demonstrates your competency in your specialty. This will allow you to practice medicine in a specific state or region, set you apart as an expert in your field, and instill confidence in your patients.
For example, if you wish to be board certified in dermatology, then you would need to take the corresponding exam.
Some specialties require that you work for a year and accumulate a case log before you sit for the full board exam. Be sure to confirm whether your specialty requires this. If so, you will need to work at a hospital or a private practice for a year before you are fully board certified. For this period of time between your residency and your certification, you will be “board-eligible” as opposed to board certified.
You may be board certified in more than 1 area if you are qualified to do so.
Identify your specialty
Once you have completed your medical degree, finished your residency, and become board-eligible, you can begin working as a physician in the specialty you have chosen. There are many opportunities for doctors to work. You can go with a more traditional setting, such as a hospital or doctor’s office, or opt for work in the military, a prison, or doing medical research.
Search for jobs online and apply directly to organizations you want to work for.
in the final year of medical school.
Learning never stops when you are a doctor! After you complete medical school, it is important that you stay up to date on medical advances in your field. To do this, you will need to read medical journals in your chosen specialty, attend conferences, and take continuing education seminars.
Staying up to date on medical advances is important for every field of medicine since new discoveries, treatments, and techniques are being developed all the time.
Go through a 3 to 7 year residency program.
. Starting a medical practice can be extremely rewarding, and may turn out to be a great career move for you. However, by starting a practice, you will have much more to manage than you would if you went to work for someone else. Secure financing for your practice, such as by getting a small business loan, then set up your practice.
Make sure to keep your costs down to ensure that your practice will be profitable.
Complete your board certification in your area of specialization.
Find a job to use your medical degree.
Continue building knowledge and expertise throughout your career.
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Start your own medical practice