The Road to Becoming a Doctor

Doctors heal patients, educate their communities and save lives every day.
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If you've made the decision to pursue a career as a doctor, you've got a long road ahead of you filled with years of education and training. Few careers require the sheer number of years of preparation that becoming a doctor does. Whether you're passionate about working with infants or the elderly, the path toward your dream job will involve at least 11 years of school, obtaining a license and earning certification to showcase your expertise.

Undergraduate School

Before you can put on a lab coat and call yourself a doctor, you'll start your education in a bachelor's degree program. There is no required major, but you'll need plenty of classes in biology, physics, chemistry and English to help you get into medical school. Common majors include biology and pre-medical studies, as these programs provide all of the prerequisite coursework. Elective courses in liberal arts, humanities and communications might also give you a competitive edge. Make an effort to volunteer at local medical clinics or hospitals to gain experience working with patients and to showcase your leadership skills and drive. Extracurricular activities are also helpful, so this is a perfect time to join up with a sorority or contribute your free time to the school paper. During your junior year, you'll take the Medical College Admissions Test, MCAT, a required exam that tests your readiness for medical school. Medical schools weigh MCAT scores heavily when deciding who to admit to their programs, so spend plenty of time brushing up on your science knowledge and verbal reasoning skills before you schedule your test.

Medical School

Your schooling to become a doctor will become much more focused once you enter medical school. Here, all of your courses will be directly related to medicine, and you will build the necessary skills you need to succeed as a physician. Your first two years of medical school will be spent taking advanced courses in anatomy and physiology in a classroom before you head out to the hospital to complete clinical rotations in the final two years. Clinical rotations will provide you with experience in various medical specialties, such as radiology, neurology and oncology. Rotations will help you discover your passions and choose the medical specialty you want to pursue as a doctor. Once you finish medical school, you will officially be a doctor -- though your training will be far from over.

Residency and Fellowship

Residencies and fellowships are paid, specialized training programs that put you in the field to learn more about your specialty. All specialties require at least a residency to be completed, though some require a fellowship once a residency is over -- particularly surgical specialties. Depending on your specialty, you'll spend anywhere from three to eight years in residency and fellowship training. You'll put the skills and knowledge you gained in medical school to use as you work one-on-one with patients, developing new skills as you work alongside licensed professionals in the field. Your duties and responsibilities will increase over time as you gain more experience. Once your training is over, you will be ready to work alone with no supervision.


Regardless of the specialty you choose, you are required to obtain licensure in order to practice medicine in the United States. Licensure requirements vary by state, but most require you to pass some form of licensing examination. The United States Medical Licensing Examination, USMLE, is the most common exam administered. This three-part exam will put your knowledge of medicine and the law to the test in order to make sure you are prepared to ethically and responsibly carry out your duties as a doctor. Licensure is not a one-time deal; you need to renew your license periodically throughout your career. Renewal requirements vary by state, with most requiring medical licenses to be renewed every two years.


Some medical specialties require that you earn board certification, which is offered by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Board certification helps ensure that you not only have vast knowledge of general medicine, but also that you are competent to perform within your medical specialty. Board certification entails passing additional examinations relevant to your specialty and satisfying experience requirements, which vary. Like licensure, board certification must be renewed every six to 10 years depending on your specialty.

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