The Medical Education Pathway Explained

So, you have decided that you want to become a doctor.

You know the training is intense, and you have heard it takes years for people to start practicing independently. The journey is tough and long, but how long is it exactly? What are the milestones in the pathway to medical education? Today, we will explore all of this.

Study the roadmap before starting the journey

Way too many students get into pre-med without fully realizing how many years will go by before they can set up their own practice. As fresh highschool graduates, they have had nobody explain the medical education pathway to them. A vast majority of them do not know what lies beyond med school while applying for their undergraduate.

This results in one of two things. Either they are so unsure about getting into med school that they end up missing lots of application deadlines, or they actually make it into med school before realizing what they have gotten themselves into. The latter is perhaps one of the biggest reasons for the alarming dropout rate among medical students today.

This is why it is so important to understand the roadmap of becoming a doctor before you start on the journey. The plan below outlines the usual pathway taken by US students who are fresh out of high school.

How long does it take to become a doctor?

There is no one answer to how many years it takes to become a doctor. The time required until you reach a level where you can practice without supervision varies with the specialty you pursue, and the gap years you take in between. However, in any case, it can take you upwards of 11 years to become a consultant doctor.

Here is a basic outline of your journey to becoming a doctor.

Getting warmed up – The undergrad program

Once you have graduated from high school, you must go through four years of undergrad before you can apply for medical school. These pre-med years will prepare you for the grueling endeavors ahead.

Although it is not required of you to major in science subjects during your undergraduate programs, this is what many premed students end up doing. This might give you an edge over those who picked other subjects after you are in medical school, but does not guarantee your acceptance into it. To increase your chances of getting into med school, we recommend choosing a major that truly interests you and you can ace.

After getting an undergraduate degree, you must appear for and ace your MCAT to apply at medical schools. At this point, you should not only apply at schools within the US, but also US-based institutes abroad as well, such as Ausoma in Aruba. This will significantly increase your chances of getting accepted into a quality medical school.

Becoming a doctor – The four years of medical school

With a good MCAT score, a fantastic GPA, and an outstanding application, you can finally get into medical school. This is another four year long journey during which you are taught everything there is to know about the human body and the diseases that affect it.

The first two years of med school are dedicated to basic health sciences. In these years, the focus is on learning the anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and pathology of the human body.

In the next two years, you are exposed to the clinical health sciences. After being taught how to distinguish the normal from the abnormal, these years will focus on diagnosis and treatment. You will begin to spend more and more time at the hospital, studying cases, observing surgeries, and even assisting some here and there.

During your years at med school, you will also be expected to clear the USMLE Step 1 and 2 to be eligible for matching into a residency of your choice.

Into the thick of it – Surviving the residency training

While you’re technically a doctor by the time you have finished high school, you are still a long way from being the doctor who calls the shots. Before you can do that, you must train further and get more hands-on experience.

This part of the journey is where the timeline varies with different specialties. For example, someone pursuing pediatrics will be done with their residency training in 3 years, but for an aspiring general surgeon, it takes 5 years to complete your residency.

Further medical training – Fellowship years

If your interest lies in a specific subspeciality, you will want to pursue a fellowship training of 1 or 2 years after being done with your residency. This will give you the extra knowledge and hands-on experience you need to become an expert in the subspecialty of your choice.

Alternatively, you can choose to skip the fellowship and start your practice as a more general doctor.

The top tier doctor – Being a consultant

After fellowship comes consultancy. By the time you are done with your fellowship training, you can finally act as an attending or consultant in the subspeciality that you have chosen. In this role, you get complete autonomy and are fully responsible for all the patients that come to you.

Wrapping it up

Becoming a doctor has never been easy. It is a long, arduous process where you will be shedding blood, sweat, and tears. It takes more than a decade to become a fully autonomous consultant. However, you don’t have to wait that long to start helping patients.

Even during your medical school years, you will be frequently attending patients and noting their complaints. Though you will be highly supervised at this point, you will already be doing what you set out to do. From that point on, it is just a matter of increasing independence and authority as you gain more experience and knowledge.

For a good doctor, the education never really ends. The dynamics in medicine are constantly changing, with new techniques being discovered and new drugs being invented every day. 

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