How to Become a Medical Doctor in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a medical doctor. Learn about job duties, education and licensure requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Health Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Medical Doctor Do?

A medical doctor, also called a physician, is a professional who examines patients, diagnoses injuries and illnesses, administers treatment and advises patients on health maintenance. Their responsibilities include reviewing patients' medical history and ordering laboratory tests to diagnose any conditions. Medical doctors analyze test results, update medical records and develop an individualized treatment plan which they then communicate to patients, nurses and other health professionals involved in the treatment. They also address any concerns that patients or their families may have. Many medical doctors choose to specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as pediatrics or obstetrics.

The following chart provides some career details of medical doctors.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Training Required 3 or more years of residency are required, depending on the medical specialty chosen
Licensure or Certification All states require medical doctors to be licensed; voluntary board certification in a medical specialty is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Salary (2017) $191,852**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **

What Is a Medical Doctor?

A medical doctor's duties include interviewing patients to obtain their medical histories; conducting examinations; interpreting diagnostic tests; explaining medical procedures to patients; providing referrals; and coordinating patient care with nurses, assistants and other staff. Typically you work in a specialty, such as family practice, obstetrics or gynecology.

Step 1: Complete an Undergraduate Education

As long as courses in biology, organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, math and English are part of your study program, you can earn a bachelor's degree in any subject you prefer. Many 4-year schools offer bachelor's degree programs in biology and chemistry with a pre-med emphasis. Bioengineering and physics programs with a pre-med emphasis are also available. Alternatively, you could earn a bachelor's degree and then a post-baccalaureate pre-med certificate that includes the courses necessary for admission into medical school.

Step 2: Volunteer at a Medical Facility

Volunteering isn't necessary for admission to medical school, but it provides you with an opportunity to observe and take part in the daily operations at a hospital or clinic. Many schools with pre-med programs will help arrange for you to gain a volunteer position through their career offices. Volunteer positions might sometimes be referred to as internships, but don't confuse that with a medical internship - only medical school and nursing students may participate in a medical internship.

Step 3: Attend Medical School

During a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) program, you'll accumulate medical knowledge and clinical experience, develop your communication skills and learn how to manage patient care. The first two years of your program will be devoted to in-depth classroom and clinical study of human anatomy and the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, endocrine, nervous and other systems. In the third and fourth years, you'll begin preparing for your residency by completing supervised rotations through several medical specialties and assuming a larger role in the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Step 4: Complete a Residency

After earning your M.D. degree, you must choose a specialty and enter a residency at a hospital or other clinical facility. Common specialties include internal medicine, pediatrics, anesthesiology and emergency medicine. Residency programs typically last three years or more, depending on your chosen specialty. For example, residencies in family practice, emergency medicine and internal medicine can last three years. A residency in anesthesiology usually lasts four years.

Step 5: Become Licensed

You must have a license to practice medicine in all U.S. states and territories. Obtaining one entails passing a standardized test, the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Medical licenses are generally transferable from state to state, although reciprocity is limited by some states.

The USMLE consists of three sections or steps. Step one assesses your understanding of scientific concepts that account for illness, health and methods of treatment. Step two tests your ability to apply medical knowledge to the treatment of patients when you're under supervision. Step three tests your ability to apply medical knowledge independent of supervision.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those interested in alternative careers in the medical field have several to choose from, including jobs as podiatrists, dentists and veterinarians. These positions all require a doctoral or professional degree. Podiatrists specialize in the care and treatment of the foot, ankle and lower leg. They are qualified to perform surgery in these areas and prescribe orthotics. Dentists work to prevent and correct conditions of the teeth and gums in their patients. They educate patients how to maintain proper oral health, and treat any oral issues, such as cavities. Veterinarians perform many of the same duties as medical doctors, but on animals. They treat injuries and illnesses in pets, livestock or wild animals.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
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Popular Schools

  • Regent University

    Regent University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Regent University:

    • Doctoral

    Online Programs Available

  • Capella University

    Capella University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Capella University:

    • Doctoral

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  • Yale University

    Campus Locations:

    • Connecticut: New Haven
  • West Virginia University

    Campus Locations:

    • West Virginia: Morgantown
  • Weill Cornell Medical College

    Campus Locations:

    • New York: New York
  • Washington University in St Louis

    Campus Locations:

    • Missouri: Saint Louis
  • Upstate Medical University

    Campus Locations:

    • New York: Syracuse
  • University of Toledo

    Campus Locations:

    • Ohio: Toledo
  • Yeshiva University

    Campus Locations:

    • New York: New York
  • University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

    Campus Locations:

    • Texas: Dallas