How to Become a Doctor

Many people have dreams of becoming doctors and saving lives, but between you and the career as a medical doctor is a whole lot of rigorous training, there to make sure that you can handle the great responsibility that comes with the job. Requirements vary from country to country, but intense dedication is a mandatory across the board.


1. Volunteer or work in a medical setting. Many people strive to become doctors because it seems like a great way to help people, and because it’s a secure life-sustainable career. But becoming a doctor is not the only way to achieve those goals, and you need to make sure it’s something you really want to do. You’ll work long hours, deal with difficult people, and your life will practically revolve around your career. People’s lives will depend on your commitment to the job and your ability to stay calm and make decisions under pressure. Not only will volunteering give you a chance to review your choice, but it will also look good on your record if you do decide to pursue medicine. Consider volunteering at a hospital, doctor’s office, or as an EMT.

2. Excel. In order to get into medical school, you’ll not only need excellent grades, but you’ll also need to demonstrate that you are a responsible, well-rounded person. Through your community service record, show that you enjoy helping people. Get to know your teachers and supervisors and earn their respect–one day, their recommendation letters may be your golden ticket into medical school.

3. Commit. While there is a well-defined path to getting an MD, success depends more on a commitment to your goals and interests than on doing exactly what every other applicant does. When you interview for a spot in a med school class the admissions committee wants to see that you can accomplish your goals – no matter what they are. They prefer a successful shot-putter to a mediocre test taker. [1]

4. Graduate from a 4-year college or university. Choose an institution with a strong pre-med program, or even one that is affiliated with a particular medical school. (Some institutions offer a program which allows you to complete your undergraduate degree and medical degree at the same time.) In order to qualify for admission to medical school, you will have needed to have taken the following coursework, along with other subjects, which will be outlined in a particular medical school’s admissions requirements:

  • 1 year of general chemistry with laboratory courses.
  • 1 year of organic chemistry with laboratory courses.
  • 1 year of biology with laboratory courses.
  • 1 year of physics with laboratory courses.
  • 1 year of English.
  • 1 year of calculus.
5. Take the Medical School Admissions Test (MCAT) or if you live in the UK the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) AND BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT). Take several practice tests and see how you do. Then take several more before the real thing. You will be tested in the following areas, the first three of which are graded on a scale of 1-15:

  • Verbal Reasoning (Reading Comprehension)
  • Physical Sciences (Chemistry and Physics)
  • Biological Sciences (Organic Chemistry and Biology)
  • Writing Sample (two essay questions)
Strive to get above a 10 in each of the first three sections in order to get a competitive MCAT score.[2]

6. Complete medical school. Once you’ve applied and been accepted to medical school, here’s what you can expect:

  • First two years – emphasis on education; broad introduction to all medical specialties; you’ll also learn to take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses
  • USMLE Step 1 – in most schools, you must pass this in order to progress into the third year.
  • Third year – 1-2 months of each of the major medical specialties (internal medicine, general surgery, pediatrics, OB/GYN, etc.); work with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians in hospitals and clinics, learning acute, chronic, preventive, and rehabilitative care, as well as the social skills that give a doctor good bedside manner.
  • Fourth year – Take electives based on preferred specialty; apply to residency programs; pass the USMLE Step 2

7. Enter your residency training period. This takes place in a hospital setting in which you earn a salary (on average, $44,000/year[3]) while you are trained. It begins in the first week of July after you graduate from medical school (in May). You are responsible for patients and are supervised by senior residents as well as attending physicians. Residency typically lasts about three years. Some specialties may require as many as eight years of residency training before you are licensed to practice.

  • In some specialties, you’ll be required to spend your first year (the “intern” or “transitional” year) elsewhere before you begin your residency.[4]
  • At some point during your residency you must pass the USMLE Step 3 in order to be state-certified for practice of medicine. USMLE Step 3 covers clinical thinking and clinical management.


  • Not everyone who wants to be a doctor will make it. There are still lots of careers in the health field, such as registered nurses, vocational nurses, etc.
  • Note that many applicants have to apply more than once to get accepted. If you are one of those applicants, consider a post-bac or masters program (offered at many medical schools) to prove your abilities and gain an acceptance.
  • Research experience in medicine or the basic sciences is another important component of a strong application that will set you apart from others – especially if you get published in a medical journal or present at a medical conference.
  • Start the application process early. The competition is very stiff. Most applicants apply to around 10 medical schools.
  • Your residency program will last anywhere from 3 to 7 years depending on what specialty you choose.


  • Be prepared to work long and irregular hours in your career. Over one third of doctors in 2007 worked over 60 hours a week.
  • Be prepared to repay an enormous loan since becoming a doctor is very expensive. (Sometimes once you begin practicing, the hospital or employer you work for will pay off your loans.)
  • Be prepared for competition between students (yes, you and fellow students will try to exceed and stand out the most)
  • Be prepared to take frequent refresher courses throughout your career.
  • Gain significant experience in the medical field BEFORE applying to medical school. If you don’t love the medical field don’t bother applying and sticking it out just for the money or the status because in the end the long hours and the stress will not be worth it.
  • Do not miss any deadlines. The deadlines vary by school but most fall in October through December.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, October 29th, 2011 at 8:38 pm and is filed under Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.