Degrees and Training Needed to Be a Doctor

Doctors and surgeons must meet a number of education, training and licensing requirements in order to practice medicine. Learn about the undergraduate and graduate degree options that prepare you to become a doctor.

What Undergraduate Degree and Training do I Need to Be a Doctor?

First, you'll need to earn a bachelor's degree. In order to meet the requirements of most medical schools, you should consider majoring in a scientific field like biology, chemistry or physics. If you want to pursue a degree in a different field, like psychology or business you'll need to complete supplemental coursework in mathematics and organic chemistry. You may also choose to attend a school that offers a joint Bachelor of Science in Medicine and Medical Doctorate (M.D.) program. These combined programs take 6-7 years to complete and are highly competitive.

Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in related field (or supplemental coursework); MCAT scores, high GPA, extracurricular activities, interview
Common Courses Behavioral science, clinical medicine, communication skills, patient care, human anatomy
Licensure RequirementsResidency, medical board exam, state-specific criteria
Median Salary (2018) $200,890 (for physicians and surgeons, all other)*
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 13% growth (for all physicians and surgeons)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Do I Get Into Medical School Once I've Earned My Degree?

In addition to a bachelor's degree, you'll probably need to take the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT. Just about every medical school in the country requires an MCAT score as part of their admissions requirements. The MCAT will test your knowledge of biological and physical sciences, as well as your writing and verbal reasoning skills.

MCAT scores and your undergraduate GPA play a major role in determining acceptance to medical school. In addition to these factors, your extracurricular activities, like working on research projects or volunteering in a hospital can help increase the quality of your medical school application and your chances of being accepted into a quality program. You may also have to interview with a school's faculty and staff before being admitted.

What Can I Expect from Medical School?

Most M.D. programs are a 4-year course of study. You'll not only take courses in behavioral science, clinical medicine and physical diagnosis but also receive training in interpersonal and communication skills, patient care, problem solving and professionalism. A major component of the first year of the program is a thorough study of human anatomy. Many programs require students to dissect a human cadaver in order to learn about the organs and structures of the human body.

Beginning in your third year, you will start working in clinical rotations. These last between 6-12 weeks each and focus on major areas of medicine including surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine and psychiatry. During your fourth and final year you will complete more clinical rotations and choose a specialty.

What Happens After Graduation?

After you successfully complete medical school and have earned your Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree, you'll need to apply to a residency program. Residencies are 3-4 year programs based on the specialty you choose in your final year of medical school. You'll work at a hospital or clinic and earn a salary as you learn. Residency programs usually consist of monthly rotations in different areas of your specialty combined with conferences and presentations given by doctors, faculty, specialists and visiting lecturers.

Once you have completed your residency, you'll sit for your medical board exam. Once you've passed and meet any additional requirements mandated by the state you plan to practice in, you'll finally be licensed to practice medicine and will be free to join a practice, open your own or join the staff at a hospital or healthcare center.