Anyone interested in becoming a doctor should know what the basic requirements are. Many of the steps on the road to obtaining an MD pertain to younger people. However, quite a few adults who already have college degrees begin medical school well past their thirties. In any case, there is a rather structured pathway on the way to becoming a doctor.
Get an undergraduate degree, preferably in a science-related major
Technically speaking, you can major in anything you want on your way to med school. However, you’ll be left, after your college graduation ceremony, still having to take multiple prerequisites in the sciences to satisfy med school entry requirements.
Take the MCAT
What is the MCAT? It’s the Medical College Admissions Test, and every accredited med school requires that candidates take it. The scores you get on the MCAT help schools judge whether you have what it takes to handle the extremely rigorous coursework in medical school. Different schools have different cutoff scores for candidates, so if you so well on the MCAT you can probably find at least a few med schools that will accept you. Anyone who asks, “What is the MCAT?” should do some online research and look at a few sample questions to see how detailed the exam can be.
Attend Medical School and Graduate
This is the most challenging step of all because it is four years long and demands a high level of academic commitment and emotional stamina. In the U.S., medical school curriculum is relatively standardized. The first two years of med school involve mostly classroom and lab work. Years one and two are similar to a very difficult college science major, in terms of homework and the classroom atmosphere.
The final two years of med school are more experience-based. Depending on the student’s chosen area of specialty, there will be clinical sessions under the supervision of practicing doctors. Few students drop out of med school after the first two years, which are considered the most challenging part of the entire 4-year program of study.
Serve as a Resident for Two to Seven Years
Every medical school graduate needs to complete a residency requirement. Each area of specialty has its own sub-requirements in terms of length, work that must be done and the amount of supervision required. For example, prospective surgeons often have to work as residents for seven years or more. For general practitioners, the average residency requirement is between two and three years.
Resident are M.D. but have not yet obtained a license in their area of specialty. Only after a person finishes residency can they obtain the required licenses from their state in order to practice medicine without supervision. Even though some residents work with little or no supervision at times, each U.S. state requires them to take exams and apply for a license before they can go into practice for themselves.
Becoming a doctor is a long, arduous journey even for the most academically astute candidates. That’s why so many college advisors tell prospective medical school candidates to think long and hard about the career choice. Most counselors recommend that future doctors get experience working in hospitals as volunteers. A volunteer position in a medical setting can help younger students get a good feel for what is involved in a healthcare career.