As of September 2021, there are about 1.06 million active physicians in the United States. On average, there is a shortage of 20,000 doctors each year, which is expected to rise to 139,000 by 2033. The profession is not only in high demand but also is highly financially rewarding.
On average, the earnings of a primary care physician is currently around $243,000 per anum, and as a specialist, $346,000. Augmenting the financial rewards, nevertheless, are the nonmonetary rewards of high prestige and the respect that doctors hold in society.
The benefits are, however, earned through a tough and long journey.
So, let’s take an in-depth look at these exciting challenges and find out How Long Does It Take to Become a Doctor?
What Does it Take to be a Doctor?
Becoming a doctor demands strenuous effort, commitment, time, and, of course, the expense of training. A lot of discipline and sacrifices are involved. The candidate must, therefore, carefully answer the question, “Should I become a doctor?” One should carefully assess the answer to realistically evaluate the ability to survive the journey.
How Long Does it take to Become a Doctor?
After you are clear of the skills required to be a doctor, the next pair of important questions will be how long does it take to be a doctor? and what is the process of becoming a doctor?
It takes about eleven to seventeen years to become a practicing doctor. While the process seems long but each step is equally fulfilling with a unique sense of achievement.
Step 1. Undergraduate Program
All medical schools require an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite for entry. There is no specific degree recommendation, but a four year degree program is a must.
Medical schools prefer a science background in approving admissions. Therefore, subjects like physics, chemistry, biology are preferred subjects. A strong GPA and a year of Biology or Chemistry with Lab experience will certainly build an excellent medical school resume.
It will be important to mention that the undergraduate degree prerequisite remains valid for five years. In other words, the student can apply to a Medical School within five years after they have under graduated. But in fact, the sooner, the better, bearing in mind the long journey ahead. However, some medical schools might have certain restrictions in this respect.
Step 2. MCAT Examination
MCAT are standardized, multiple-choice examinations used by Medical Schools to evaluate the candidate’s capability and chances to complete the vigorous training. Students can immediately take this test after they undergraduate, or they can take some time off to prepare for it.
It’s a normal practice to take a year off after an undergraduate program to prepare for an impressive MCAT score. The time can also be used to volunteer at a hospital or to spend time with a doctor to get a first-hand feel of the medical field. Any experience is always a plus point and helps to further the requirements, plus it serves as a star on medical school resume.
Step 3. Apply to a Medical School
When you have completed your four years undergraduate program, achieved a good MCAT score, and had some hospital experience, you will be all set to enter Medical School. The Association of American Medical Colleges offers a centralized system whereby the student simply files a single application, selects their preferred Medical schools, and the Association files the application on student’s behalf to each one they selected.
While applying to a Medical School, a thorough search is highly recommended. Hopkins and Harvard are not “the only Schools.” Some Medical Schools are well-known for their research environment, and some are strong on the clinical aspects. Candidates must evaluate their own inclination and plans. Furthermore, considering the schools in your own State can serve as a plus point because Medical Schools do favor local candidates.
To find out more about choosing the perfect medical school for you, check out The Right and Wrong Ways To Choose which Medical Schools to Apply To.
State 4. Medical School Training
This is typically a four year training period. And, no doubt, this part of the journey is the toughest. There is intense studying and a highly disciplined schedule. In fact, a large number of students drop out without completing Medical School Training. The likelihood of success here will truly depend on the realistic evaluation of the question “what it takes to become a doctor.”
The first two years of Medical School will focus on theoretical clinical skills. A lot of information is bombarded at you, and every aspect of the human body is studied with lab practical.
The next two years will focus on practical clinical skills…
Students are required to undergo clinical rotations. Each rotation is four weeks long. Students observe and learn from practicing physicians to sharpen their diagnosis skills.
In the third year, the students go on rotations in common fields, but in the fourth year, they are allowed to select fields. At this point, it’s better to match these with your residency target. In other words, the student should identify the specialty they would like to pursue their residency in. This eases the entry in future residencies, which will be discussed later.
Step 5. United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)
All doctors must pass the medical license exams to practice medicine legally. The license involves three exams (I, II, III).
At the end of year two of Medical School, USMLE Part I is taken, which covers basic medical concepts and principles. Students must pass this exam before proceeding to the third year of Medical School. During the fourth year of Medical School, USMLE Part II is taken, which covers clinical diagnosis and disease development.
Step 6. Evaluating Residency
During the fourth year, the student narrows down their career paths by deciding the specialty they want to pursue. The applications for residency in a particular specialty are then filed with hospitals.
Choosing the residency needs careful evaluation. Students must carefully balance the challenges and the possible rewards. While a surgeon might be earning a much higher figure, they work mostly under stressful conditions. Also, “A good residency can make a big difference in the quality of a physician.” Good hospitals offer better exposure and better training. A residency at a good faculty also opens up your future job options.
Step 7. Residency
After Medical School graduation, the journey now becomes more specific. It is the time to finally work practically in the exact area the student wants to specialize in.
During the first year of residency, the student will be treated as an “intern” and later as a “resident.” The length of the residency program will depend on the specialty chosen. Family Medicine requires three years of residency. While a discipline such as neurosurgery requires seven years of residency.
The working hours will be long, and every day your abilities and knowledge will be put to the test. Remembering your long-term goals and looking at the light at the end of the tunnel will certainly help here.
Step 8. United States Medical Licensing Examination USMLE III
At the end of the first year of Residency, the last of the license exams, USMLE III, will be taken. This will be entirely focused on the specialty chosen. After the USMLE III, the residency continues to its completion period.
Step 9. Board Certification
All the training done, the last step left is “to set your sails.” Doctors will then obtain their certification to practice in their specialist field. Every specialty has its own board, and all boards require a written examination, and some may require an oral examination too.
Once certified, you can now start your practice in the state of the board.
Step 10. Full-time Doctor
Time to reap your rewards! Some doctors just start their practice on their own. Some doctors may search for hospitals. If the residency program goes well and the candidate is able to build rapport with seniors having proved his/her skills, there is a high likelihood the same hospital will become their future employer. Otherwise, the recommendations can certainly help in securing a good job.
Step 11. Fellowship
This is entirely optional. If the student is more focused on doing research and gaining more skilled expertise, he/she might enter a fellowship. This usually takes another one to three years to complete.
Find out more by checking out Medical Fellowship in the United States.
Does All This Study and Exams Sound a Little Bit Daunting?
That’s completely understandable, but if you want to work in the medical field without being a fully trained doctor and the struggles it involves, check out the Best Healthcare Jobs that Require No Experience.
Or you might be interested in our in-depth Doctor Job Description, our Medical Assistant Job Description, our Orthopedic Doctor Job Description, our Occupational Therapist Job Description, our Speech Therapist Job Description, or our Physical Therapy Technician Job Description.
However, if being a doctor is your goal, but you’re not quite sure which specialties pay the most, take a look at the Top Highest Paying Medical Jobs for 2022.
Or if you need some great gifts for yourself or the doctor in your life, check out Cottage Creek Ashes of Problem Patients Jar | Funny Candy Jar for Office Desk, White Coat Wine Bag for Doctors – Felt Wine Gift Bag with Otoscope, Syringe, Capsules, or the TGBJE Doctor Gift Thank You For All That You Do Keychain Best Doctor Ever.
Becoming a doctor does not happen overnight. It does take time, hard work, consistency, and commitment. There are sacrifices to be made probably of your best youthful years, but the end reward of serving people and making their lives better is equally rewarding.
Therefore, it’s highly recommended to evaluate the “why” and “how” of becoming a doctor. Making a properly researched plan will help in keeping you on focus. However, each step upon completion will lead to a sense of accomplishment and will give you the realization of getting closer and closer to your dream of being a doctor.
All the very best with this exciting career path.