People wouldn't get their medical conditions diagnosed or receive medications without doctors. They check and treat patients for illnesses and injuries, and order diagnostic tests when necessary. They also educate patients on proper diet and nutrition. If you are patient, have good communication skills and are academically inclined, medicine might be the perfect career choice. But you will need to fulfill rigorous educational and training criteria.
The first step in becoming a doctor is to earn a bachelor's degree at a college or university. No particular degree is required as long as you take mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics and English, which are some of the prerequisites for medical school. In medical school, you spend two years studying in classrooms and laboratories, taking courses such as biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, genetics and immunology. The last two years are spent working with patients in a clinic or hospital under the supervision of licensed physicians. You will do rotations and be exposed to several specialities, including family medicine, pediatrics and surgery. When you complete medical school, you earn a doctor of medicine degree, or M.D.
Medical doctors continue their training by completing residency programs in hospitals, which takes between three and eight years to complete, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The time you spend in a residency program is contingent upon your specialty. If you want to become a family practitioner, internist or pediatrician, your residency would be three years, according to the American Medical Association. General surgery residences take five years. Whichever specialty you choose, you can spend an additional one to three years gaining more training in pediatrics or family medicine, or add an additional specialty: gastroenterology, adolescent psychology, dermatology or allergy and immunology.
Licensing and Certification
All U.S. states require doctors to be licensed. To earn a medical license, you must pass both a written and practical exam called the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, or USMLE, according to the BLS. Doctors usually take this exam after completing their residency programs. However, they must be graduates of accredited medical schools. Check with the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, in your area for a list of accredited medical colleges. Certification is optional but can increase your employment opportunities. It can take up to seven years per specialty to be qualified for certification -- and then you must pass an exam through the American Board of Medical Specialties or American Osteopathic Association.
Doctors are problem solvers and must make quick diagnoses, as patients' lives are at stake. Communication skills are necessary to discuss medical conditions with patients, nurses and other doctors. Doctors need to be detail oriented to keep track of patients' diagnoses, medications and treatments, and determine when additional treatments are necessary. As a doctor, you must also have manual dexterity to examine patients with various instruments, including tongue depressors and stethoscopes. If you run your own practice, you need leadership skills to train and manage receptionists, nurses and other staff members.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Physicians and Surgeons
- American Medical Association: Requirements for Becoming a Physician
- MyPlan.com: Family & General Practitioners
- Family Medicine Interest Group: Training Requirements
- Boston University School of Medicine: Curriculum
- American Board of Medical Specialties: Specialties & Subspecialties
- Association of American Medical Colleges: Medical Schools
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