The common path to practicing as a physician requires 8 years of education
beyond high school and 3 to 8 additional years of internship and residency. All
States, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories license physicians.
Education and training. Formal education
and training requirements for physicians are among the most demanding of any
occupation—4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of medical school, and 3 to
8 years of internship and residency, depending on the specialty selected. A few
medical schools offer combined undergraduate and medical school programs that
last 6 or 7 years rather than the customary 8 years.
Premedical students must complete undergraduate work in physics, biology,
mathematics, English, and inorganic and organic chemistry. Students also take
courses in the humanities and the social sciences. Some students volunteer at
local hospitals or clinics to gain practical experience in the health
The minimum educational requirement for entry into medical school is 3 years
of college; most applicants, however, have at least a bachelor's degree, and
many have advanced degrees. In 2008, there were 129 medical schools accredited
by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). The LCME is the national
accrediting body for M.D. medical education programs. The American Osteopathic
Association accredits schools that award a D.O. degree; there were 25 schools
accredited in 31 locations in 2008.
Acceptance to medical school is highly competitive. Most applicants must
submit transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test, and letters
of recommendation. Schools also consider an applicant's character, personality,
leadership qualities, and participation in extracurricular activities. Most
schools require an interview with members of the admissions committee.
Students spend most of the first 2 years of medical school in laboratories
and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology,
pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, pathology, medical ethics, and laws
governing medicine. They also learn to take medical histories, examine patients,
and diagnose illnesses. During their last 2 years, students work with patients
under the supervision of experienced physicians in hospitals and clinics,
learning acute, chronic, preventive, and rehabilitative care. Through rotations
in internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics,
psychiatry, and surgery, they gain experience in the diagnosis and treatment of
Following medical school, almost all M.D.s enter a residency—graduate medical
education in a specialty that takes the form of paid on-the-job training,
usually in a hospital. Most D.O.s serve a 12-month rotating internship after
graduation and before entering a residency, which may last 2 to 6 years.
A physician's training is costly. According to the Association of American
Medical Colleges, in 2007 85 percent of public medical school graduates and 86
percent of private medical school graduates were in debt for educational
Licensure and certification. To practice
medicine as a physician, all States, the District of Columbia, and U.S.
territories require licensing. All physicians and surgeons practicing in the
United States must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
To be eligible to take the USMLE in its entirety, physicians must graduate from
an accredited medical school. Although physicians licensed in one State usually
can get a license to practice in another without further examination, some
States limit reciprocity. Graduates of foreign medical schools generally can
qualify for licensure after passing an examination and completing a U.S.
residency. For specific information on licensing in a given State, contact that
State's medical board.
M.D.s and D.O.s seeking board certification in a specialty may spend up to 7
years in residency training, depending on the specialty. A final examination
immediately after residency or after 1 or 2 years of practice is also necessary
for certification by a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialists
(ABMS) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). The ABMS represents 24
boards related to medical specialties ranging from allergy and immunology to
urology. The AOA has approved 18 specialty boards, ranging from anesthesiology
to surgery. For certification in a subspecialty, physicians usually need another
1 to 2 years of residency.
Other qualifications. People who wish to
become physicians must have a desire to serve patients, be self-motivated, and
be able to survive the pressures and long hours of medical education and
practice. Physicians also must have a good bedside manner, emotional stability,
and the ability to make decisions in emergencies. Prospective physicians must be
willing to study throughout their career to keep up with medical advances.
Advancement. Some physicians and surgeons
advance by gaining expertise in specialties and subspecialties and by developing
a reputation for excellence among their peers and patients. Physicians and
surgeons may also start their own practice or join a group practice. Others
teach residents and other new doctors, and some advance to supervisory and
managerial roles in hospitals, clinics, and other settings.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2010-11 Edition
Find related resources below:
Physician Job Outlook