There are few professions out there that are as noble and respectable as that of a doctor. For as long as civilization has existed, doctors have been invaluable to society, so choosing this occupation can be the most rewarding decision of your life. Regardless of what motivates you to step on this path—a purely altruistic motive or the promise of a stable future and never having to worry about being out of work—the result is the same: you have the potential to change people’s lives and make a difference in the world. That said, the path to becoming a licensed doctor is everything but easy.
Good grades are not enough on this long and tiring journey. Becoming a doctor takes at least 11 years in total (often even more) so you will need determination and perseverance above all if you are to make it. It’s nowhere near impossible, though, if you take it one step at a time. Here are the general steps to becoming a doctor if you are interested.
Start your academic career out right
If you are in the lucky position of still being at the start of your academic career, you have all the means of giving yourself a head start in your journey to becoming a physician. Doing well in high school is important for several reasons. First of all, you’ll need spotless grades. They will work in your best interest, testifying to the fact that you’re a focused, outstanding student. Secondly, knowing what you want as early as high school will also mean that you can focus your attention on subjects that matter for your field later. Don’t let those biology classes pass over your head and you’ll have an easier time later in college.
Pick a relevant major
In the US, you will need to have completed a bachelor’s degree in order to apply to medical school. Picking a major that is relevant to medical school is paramount. Going for a pre-med track, if you have the option, is the best course of action. If you’ve done your best in high school, getting into a competitive program should be possible. However, it’s not an absolute must. You can also choose other majors relevant to the field that will prepare you amply and fulfill the pre-med requirements along the way. Be sure to consult with an advisor to learn what those requirements are and come up with a schedule that won’t overburden you.
Considering that the competition is tough when trying to get into med school, you should work on boosting your profile. Taking on relevant extracurricular activities can score you a few good points when the time for applications comes. Unless you have something like this to show, your application may not catch the eye of the committees. Both medicine-related and unrelated activities count. Think research work, volunteering, part-time jobs, etc.
Prepare for the MCAT well
In order to apply to medical school, you will first need to have passed the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). In fact, just passing may not be enough: you need to acquire a good score in order to get into the medical school of your choice. Start preparing for this test well in advance. Take additional tutoring or even a prep course if necessary. The test is usually taken during your junior year. Only take the test once you feel like you’re ready and your practice tests say the same.
Pick your medical school
As said, competition is fierce, so be sure to do your best in every aspect of your application. Scrutinize the application requirements and deadlines. Besides a notable GPA and a good MCAT score, present your extracurricular experiences and letters of recommendation. In addition, it is highly recommended that you apply for several schools—more than you think necessary. While you may have a particular preference, remember that getting admitted to any medical school is a notable achievement on its own.
Prepare for the first two parts of the Medical Licensing Examination
As you’re moving forward with your studies at the medical school you enrolled in, the time to prepare for the first two parts of the Medical Licensing Examination will soon come. The first part of USMLE is taken during the second or third year, prior to beginning your clinical rotations. As for the second part, it is taken near the end of your 4-year studies.
Start your residency
In the meantime, you should already be thinking about what you will be specializing in as your residency is coming up. Needless to say, residency, which is essentially paid training, is a prerequisite for becoming a doctor. Programs most often take 3 years but depending on the field, can take up to 8 years. Of course, some fields are more competitive than others here, as well, so your achievements will play an important role if you’re aiming for one of the more popular programs. During your residency, additional training may be necessary. All in all, you will work directly with patients and gain valuable hands-on experience.
Pass the third part of the USMLE and get your license
As your residency comes to an end, you will also need to pass the last part of the USMLE. The good news is that this will equip you with a license that allows you to start practicing. Congratulations! You can now start looking for a job—if you haven’t been offered one already, which is not very likely. However, if you need a change of air after such a long and tedious journey, you can also consider a more flexible working arrangement. For instance, you can look at a locum recruitment agency for jobs that can help you gather experience and make numerous valuable connections right off the bat.
The next step
Finishing med school does not have to be the end of your learning journey. In fact, if you have a special interest in a field, you can consider specialized training. This is not purely something to pursue out of interest, though. If you’re having trouble finding work in your area and aren’t up for relocating, specializing can improve your prospects of finding employment, too.
Getting a medical degree is by no means easy. Years of hard work go into it and even more follow it. Everyone who completes such a feat is deserving of praise and respect, so keep on going!