Step 1: Complete Your Undergraduate Education
Physician education requirements are indeed quite extensive. Aspiring physicians are expected to be well-trained to be able to provide competent and compassionate medical care to patients. Aspiring physicians begin by completing a bachelor’s degree, typically in a science-related field such as biology or chemistry. During this time, they are encouraged to take courses that meet the pre-medical requirements, including biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Maintaining a strong academic record during undergraduate studies is essential for admission to medical school.
Step 2: Pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) Exam
The next step in becoming a physician is to pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) exam administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges. The MCAT is a standardized test designed to assess the knowledge, critical thinking abilities, and problem-solving skills necessary for success in medical school.
It is important to note that you don’t have to wait till you finish your bachelor’s degree before taking the test. Medical schools generally accept scores dating back two or three years.
The Medical College Admission Test consists of four main sections:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)
Each section assesses specific skills and knowledge relevant to medical practice.
The MCAT is a computer-based exam with multiple-choice questions and passages that require analysis and interpretation. The exam is lengthy, lasting approximately 7 hours and 30 minutes, including optional breaks. After taking the MCAT, test-takers receive their scores approximately 30-35 days later. MCAT scores range from 472 to 528, with each section scored individually and then combined to provide a total score.
Once a candidate receives their MCAT score, they can include it in their medical school applications. Different medical schools have different score requirements and expectations, so it’s essential to research individual school admissions criteria.
Step 3: Apply to Medical School
Before applying to medical school, it is important to note that there are two types of medical schools: allopathic (M.D.) and osteopathic (D.O.) medical schools. Both types lead to becoming a physician, but they differ in their approach to medical education and training.
Allopathic medical schools award the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree, while osteopathic medical schools award the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. M.D. and D.O. graduates can pursue similar medical specialties and practice medicine in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices. It is essential for aspiring physicians to carefully research and choose the type of medical school that aligns with their goals and values in their journey to becoming a doctor. Below are the steps required to apply to medical schools:
Apply Through an Application Service
Medical schools either use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) or the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS) for application processing. The former is for students pursuing a Doctor of Medicine degree, and the latter is for students pursuing a Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine degree. These centralized services allow applicants to submit one application to multiple medical schools.
As part of the application, you’ll need to write a compelling personal statement. This is an opportunity to share your motivations for pursuing a career in medicine, your relevant experiences, and what makes you a unique and qualified candidate. Medical school applications typically require letters of recommendation from professors, healthcare professionals, or supervisors who can attest to your academic abilities, character, and potential as a future physician.
Complete the Secondary Application
Secondary application refers to the additional application that some medical schools send to select candidates after they have submitted the primary application through centralized application services like AMCAS or AACOMAS. The secondary application is a school-specific set of questions and essays that aim to gather more information about the applicant and assess their fit with the specific medical school’s values and mission.
Interview and Selection
Medical schools may invite you for an interview if your application is competitive. The interview allows the admissions committee to get to know you better, assess your communication skills, and gauge your fit for their program. After interviews, medical schools will make admission decisions. They may offer acceptance, waitlist you, or provide rejection notices. It’s essential to be patient during this process, as decisions may come at different times for different schools.
Depending on the number of medical schools you apply to and the quality of your application, you may receive multiple acceptance offers. You will need to choose a medical school to attend. Consider factors like program reputation, location, curriculum, and financial considerations when making your decision.
Step 4: Complete Medical School
Medical school typically lasts four years and is divided into two main phases. The preclinical phase (usually the first two years) focuses on classroom-based learning, covering essential medical sciences such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, and pathology. The clinical phase (last two years) involves rotations in various medical specialties, allowing students to gain practical experience and exposure to different areas of medicine.
During the clinical phase, students participate in clinical clerkships and rotations in areas like internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics-gynecology, psychiatry, and more. These rotations provide hands-on experience in patient care and medical decision-making under the guidance of experienced physicians.
USMLE Steps 1 and 2 and COMLEX-USA Levels 1 and 2
During medical school, aspiring physicians complete the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Steps 1 and 2, or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) Levels 1 and 2, depending on whether they pursue an allopathic (M.D.) or osteopathic (D.O.) medical degree. Successfully completing these licensure exams is crucial for medical licensure and advancement in medical training.
How Much Does Medical School Cost?
Completing medical school comes at a significant financial cost, with tuition fees, living expenses, and additional educational expenditures being major factors to consider. Tuition for in-state students at public medical schools tends to be lower compared to out-of-state students and private medical schools.
According to College Tuition Compare, the average medical school tuition and fees for state residents is $46,917 per year. The average cost per year for out-of-state students is $61,378. In addition to tuition, medical students need to consider other costs such as books and supplies, housing, food, transportation, and personal expenses. These additional costs can vary based on the location and lifestyle of the student.
Can I Become a Physician Through Online Education?
No, you can’t. Becoming a physician through online education alone is not possible. Physicians require a combination of theoretical and practical education under highly skilled supervision. This is not possible in an online setting.
Medical education and training are intensive and involve clinical rotations, practical skills training, and direct patient interactions, which cannot be fully replicated through online-only programs. Medical schools and residency programs are designed to provide students with the necessary clinical exposure and supervised practice to become competent and compassionate physicians.
What are Some Web Resources to Help Me Become a Better Physician?
Online education and resources won’t make you a physician. However, you can still take advantage of web resources to augment your knowledge. Numerous web resources are available to help individuals learn skills and gain knowledge related to becoming a physician. These resources offer various materials, from interactive courses to informative articles and videos. Here are some of them:
- Medscape: Provides medical news, expert perspectives, and clinical references. It’s a valuable resource for staying updated with medical advancements and current practices.
- American Medical Association (AMA): The AMA offers resources, publications, and educational tools for medical students and physicians, covering various medical topics.
- MedlinePlus: A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, it offers reliable and easy-to-understand medical information for patients and medical students alike.
- WebMD: Offers a wealth of health-related information, articles, and tools for medical students and professionals.
- National Institutes of Health (NIH): The website provides access to research publications and health-related resources.
- PubMed: PubMed is a vast database of medical literature and research articles that can be valuable for deeper studies of specific medical topics.
Remember to cross-reference the information you find online with reputable sources to ensure accuracy and credibility. Additionally, while online resources can supplement your learning, pursuing formal medical education through accredited institutions remains essential for becoming a qualified physician.
Step 5: Undertake the Residency Program
Towards the end of medical school, students apply for residency programs in their chosen medical specialty. The application is typically done through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS). ERAS is a service provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) that allows medical students to apply to residency programs electronically.
ERAS provides a standard application for most residency programs and many fellowship programs that also participate in the Match. The Match is the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) which is used to match students with residency positions at various institutions.
A residency program is a postgraduate training program that allows you to gain specialized training in a particular area of medicine. Residency programs typically last three to seven years, depending on the specialty you choose.
The residency program is a critical part of a physician’s training, as it allows them to gain the skills and experience they need to practice medicine independently. Residents are responsible for providing patient care, but they are always under the supervision of attending physicians. This allows residents to learn from experienced physicians and to get feedback on their work.
The residency program is a demanding but rewarding experience. Residents work long hours and are exposed to a variety of medical cases. However, they also have the opportunity to learn from some of the best physicians in the world and to make a real difference in the lives of their patients.
What Skills Will I Learn as a Physician?
Apart from the array of physician education requirements discussed so far, there are also certain core skills required. These skills are essential for providing excellent patient care, effective communication, and collaboration with other healthcare professionals. Here are some key skills you will learn as a physician:
- Medical Knowledge: Physicians acquire an in-depth understanding of the human body, disease processes, medical conditions, and treatments. They continuously update their medical knowledge to stay abreast of the latest advancements in medicine.
- Clinical Skills: Physicians learn how to conduct thorough patient examinations, interpret medical tests and diagnostic results, and make accurate diagnoses.
- Communication: Effective communication is vital in building trust with patients, explaining medical information clearly, and collaborating with other healthcare professionals.
- Empathy and Compassion: Physicians develop empathy and compassion, recognizing the emotional needs of patients and providing empathetic care.
- Problem-Solving: Medical practice involves identifying and analyzing complex medical issues, developing treatment plans, and adapting to unexpected clinical situations.
- Decision-Making: Physicians learn to make well-informed and timely decisions regarding patient care, taking into account the patient’s medical history, preferences, and the evidence available.
- Multitasking: Medical practice often requires managing multiple patient cases, tasks, and responsibilities simultaneously.
- Leadership: As physicians, you may lead medical teams or coordinate patient care, requiring strong leadership skills to ensure effective and efficient healthcare delivery.
- Adaptability: The medical field is constantly evolving, and physicians must be adaptable to embrace new medical technologies and evidence-based practices.
- Ethical and Legal Knowledge: Physicians learn medical ethics, confidentiality requirements, and legal responsibilities to ensure patient rights and safety.
- Teamwork: Physicians collaborate with nurses, technicians, therapists, and other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive patient care.
- Crisis Management: Physicians develop skills to handle medical emergencies and critical situations with composure and quick decision-making.
These skills, along with a commitment to lifelong learning and professional development, contribute to a physician’s ability to provide high-quality healthcare and positively impact the lives of their patients and the community they serve.
Step 6: Obtain a License to Practice
To practice as a physician, you will need to obtain a license. At this point, you will need to pass the third and final stage of your USMLE and COMLEX-USA exams. Physicians apply for a medical license through the state medical board or licensing authority in the state or country where they intend to practice. The application process typically includes submitting the necessary documentation, such as medical school transcripts, residency training records, exam scores, and proof of identity.
Step 7: Get Board-certified (optional)
While a license grants you permission to practice medicine, board certification signifies your advanced expertise and proficiency in a specific medical specialty or subspecialty. It goes beyond the basic licensing requirements and demonstrates your commitment to continuous learning and staying up-to-date with advancements in your field. Board certification enhances your professional credibility, fosters patient trust, and opens doors to various career opportunities. It is a prestigious achievement that reflects your dedication to providing the highest standard of care to your patients.