A medical doctor's career is one of the most respected and highest paid of all occupations. Primary care physicians earned more than $200,000 a year in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's the good news. The bad: it's also a career with a notoriously lengthy education path. Shortening this path can shave off time but earning your doctorate's and license to practice will still take years of intense dedication. "Fast-track" options that get you to your degree a little sooner require you to step up your studying even more.
A typical path of entry into a physician career usually takes 11 to 16 years, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It starts by earning a bachelor's degree at a four-year college. The degree doesn't have to be specifically medical, says the American Medical Association, but should have incorporated classes such as physics, chemistry and biology. This is followed by entry into a four-year medical school. After graduation, three to eight years of residency -- a sort of high-profile on the job training -- follows. Then the student becomes eligible to take her licensing test, and if she chooses to enter a sub-specialty field, she can enter into a one- to three-year fellowship program.
Fast-Tracking Medical School
"Fast-tracking" refers to condensing four years of medical school into just three. Many medical schools offer this option, says U.S. News. One way schools make this possible is by offering a course that focuses on the family physician field and leaving out specialty options. Fast-track students can also study the year through instead of taking the summer off. This option may shorten the time-line by a year but don't expect that to mean the classes are any easier. On the contrary, they can be more difficult.
Once you pass medical school, it's time for residency. As mentioned earlier, the length of residency depends on the specialty you're interested in entering. For example, if you're interested in a pediatric sub-specialty your residency time will be five years, says the Association of American Medical Colleges; if you're interested in surgery it can be six to seven years. Choosing one of the shortest residency programs will get you to your license faster. Family medicine, emergency medicine, pediatric medicine and general internal medicine all require three-year residencies. Bear in mind that a pediatric specialty and a pediatric sub-specialty are not the same, as the second one delves deeply into a specific child-related disease or body part.
Fellowship is still an option for students who want to become doctors as quickly as possible. Since you take your licensing examination after your residency period is over, you'll be a practicing physician when you enter fellowship. Which specialized areas you can fellowship in depends on what you chose for residency. It should be noted that specialized doctors earn more money on average than do primary care physicians, averaging $356,885 in 2010, says the BLS.
One Last Note
If you're a high school student interested in becoming a doctor as quickly as possible, you have a unique opportunity to make that path even shorter. Each state has guidelines for successful high school students graduating as early as the 10th grade, according to the California Department of Education. You will need to prove yourself academically and meet your state's guidelines in order to qualify. Also remember that performing well in high school means getting into the four-year college of your dreams, and the medical career is a serious one. Start earning a reputation as a hard-working leader in your school now.
- Association of American Medical Colleges: The Road to Becoming a Doctor
- American Medical Association: Requirements for Becoming a Physician
- U.S. News: How to Fast Track Medical School
- California Department of Education: Frequently Asked Questions
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Physician or Surgeon
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
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