How many years does it take to become a doctor?

The road to becoming a doctor is not easy. This long, arduous journey is studded with challenges and obstacles every step of the way, and one must be willing to put in the necessary work and effort if they wish to overcome them. However, one of the biggest trials of becoming a doctor is the notoriously long timeline. This field requires patience, passion, and dedication like no other.

If you are striving for a career in medicine, be prepared to see your classmates from high school join the workforce and get high-paying jobs while you are still laboring away in the classrooms and hospital wards. Exasperation out of their never ending studies and exams is common among medical students, but all of that is part and parcel of the journey to becoming a doctor. You will see your friends from other fields graduate college and begin their adult lives while you are still stuck in med school. 

How long is medical school in the US?

So, how long does it take you to become a doctor anyway?

For those who want a number, the medical education pathway will take you at least 12 years past highschool on average. But of these 12 long years, only 4 will actually be spent in med school. All the other time will either be spent working your way towards ensuring your acceptance in the medical school of your choice, or in post graduate training that is required before you are allowed to practice independently.

During the first two of these four years of med school, the focus is on basic sciences. You are taught all about the normal functioning of the human body, and learn to tell when something has gone wrong. These initial years are spent in classrooms rather than in the hospital.

Then in the latter two years you get direct exposure and more hands-on experience in a hospital setting. During this time, you not only get to interact with real patients, but might also get a chance to play a role in their medical and surgical treatment. Of course, all of this is in addition to the theoretical knowledge that continues in the classrooms. 

Steps to becoming a doctor

As we mentioned before, a major chunk of your medical education includes studying or training before and after med school. So, what exactly are these out-of-school requirements? What does becoming a doctor involve apart from the courses you study in medical school?

Here is a brief guide to how to become a doctor in the US.

As a fresh highschool graduate, you cannot apply for med school straight away. Professional schools in the US require an undergraduate degree to accept candidates into their programs. In the context of medical education, this undergraduate program is your pre-med courses.

Pre Med college

Pre-med college is 4 years of required basic science courses, though you do not necessarily need to major in science. However, choosing a science major of your interest does give you an edge in the initial years of medical school later on. While going through the checklist of required pre-med courses, you should also use these years to collect research experience and engage in extracurriculars. This will strengthen your med school application and increase your chances of getting accepted into one.

Medical school training

Once you are through pre-med, you need to appear for the MCAT and apply to medical schools. After getting into med school, it is another 4 grueling years of intensive studying and learning from senior doctors until you eventually graduate. However, at the end of it all, you are still merely a junior doctor and do not get to work independently.

Postgraduate residency programs

It is only after your residency training that you will be allowed to work unsupervised. As you shadow senior residents and consultants during your residency years, you gain plenty of clinical knowledge and experience along with confidence to practice on your own. This postgraduate residency training can last anywhere from 3 to 7 years depending on the speciality you have chosen to pursue.

Fellowship training

With the completion of your residency program, you are officially a doctor!

At this point, you can either choose to pursue a certain subspeciality or decide to work as a more general practitioner. Choosing the former requires further extensive clinical training – known as fellowship training – before you get to call yourself an expert in that area. The optional fellowship training typically lasts one to two years and ends with you becoming a consultant or an attending.

Being a consultant doctor

The consultant doctor is the top-tier level of medical education and training. But in reality, studying never really ceases for someone in the medical field. As the world around us continues to advance, so do diseases and the ways to treat and diagnose them. Thus, there is a need for Continued Medical Education or CMEs to keep medical professionals up to date with the latest medical knowledge.

Wrapping it up

So there you have it. Though the journey to becoming a doctor is long and intimidating, it is also extremely rewarding. In addition to being one of the most highly paid traditional jobs even today, being a medical health professional has numerous intangible rewards. In our opinion, the feeling that one gets from helping people and saving lives can not be matched by adopting any other profession!

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