Medical Doctor: Career Profile, Employment Outlook, and Educational Requirements

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

What Is a Medical Doctor?

Medical doctors diagnose and treat patients for illnesses and injuries. They begin this process by taking and reviewing medical history, examining the patient and performing any necessary diagnostic tests. Medical doctors will then begin treatment by prescribing medication, counseling patients on various health subjects and addressing any additional concerns. These professionals will also talk with patients about any preventative care and techniques to prevent any further complications or health issues. Throughout the process medical doctors will update charts and patient information, and work with nurses and other healthcare professionals to provide the best care possible. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a medical doctor.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Training Required 3- to 8-year residency depending on specialty
Licensure or Certification Licensure is required in all states; board certification is available
Key Responsibilities Examine patient and take history; order and perform diagnostic testing and analyze results; administer treatment and prescribe medication; refer patients to other healthcare professionals
Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% for physicians and surgeons*
Median Salary (2016) $241,273 for physician practicing primary care
$411,852 for physicians practicing in medical specialties*

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

What Can I Expect from a Career as a Medical Doctor?

As a medical doctor, you may administer tests and prescribe treatments or medications. You may focus on a specialty, such as pediatrics, surgery, internal medicine, primary care or anesthesiology. This career may require long and unpredictable hours. Interpersonal skills and communication skills are usually essential in this career because it is your role to help patients understand the causes, conditions and cures of their illness or injury.

What Is the Employment Outlook?

The BLS reported that as of 2014, physicians and surgeons held about 708,300 jobs and worked primarily in physician's offices, hospitals, government agencies, outpatient centers and educational facilities. The BLS projected 14% employment growth for physicians and surgeons during the 2014-2024 decade, which is much faster than average.

What Education Do I Need?

To become a medical doctor, you complete four years of school at the undergraduate level, four years of medical school and a residency. Your choice in an undergraduate program may be in any area you prefer, however, students typically earn their undergraduate degree in a science or health-related area. To be accepted into medical school, you will likely have to take and pass the Medical College Admission Test. As a medical student, you take courses such as pharmacology, medical ethics, microbiology, anatomy, physiology and biochemistry to earn a Doctor of Medicine or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree.

A residency, which may last as little as three years or up to eight years, follows medical school. The length of a residency program is usually related to your chosen specialty. During residency, you practice medicine under the supervision of licensed physicians. If you want to become highly specialized in a specific area of medicine, you may be required to complete a fellowship following residency.

All states require doctors to hold a professional license, which requires passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). The USMLE assesses your medical knowledge and abilities. Each state's medical board handles licensing requirements. You may also consider becoming board certified through the American Board of Medical Specialists. Board certification is not mandatory, but it allows you to prove your abilities in a medical specialty or subspecialty.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

For those interested in alternative careers, there are several options in the medical field that require a doctoral or professional degree. Chiropractors are doctors that work specifically with the neuromusculoskeletal system and treat pain through spinal adjustments and more. Dentists are doctors that treat the teeth, gums and mouth. These professionals work to prevent poor oral health and may specialize in areas like orthodontics or dental pathology. Podiatrists are doctors that diagnose and treat complications with the feet, ankles and lower legs. They are qualified to perform surgery in these areas as well.

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  • Capella University

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  • Regent University

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  • Yale University

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    • Connecticut: New Haven
  • West Virginia University

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    • West Virginia: Morgantown
  • Weill Cornell Medical College

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

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    • Missouri: Saint Louis
  • Upstate Medical University

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    • New York: Syracuse
  • University of Toledo

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    • Ohio: Toledo
  • Yeshiva University

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

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    • Texas: Dallas