What Are the Education Requirements to Be a Physician?

If you have a mind for science and enjoy helping people, perhaps becoming a physician is the path for you. Read on to learn more about the education needed to work in this profession. Schools offering Health Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

An Overview of Physicians

Physicians hold either Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degrees. Both M.D.s and D.O.s use traditional medicine to treat patients. The primary difference between the two is that osteopathic doctors include preventative and holistic approaches, as well as focusing on the musculoskeletal system as a treatment method. Physicians undergo extensive training and must be state licensed in order to practice. Hospitals, clinics and private practices are where physicians commonly work.

Important Facts About Physicians

SpecializationsDermatology, oncology, pathology, radiology
Online AvailabilitySome coursework online, some in person; clinical rotations onsite
Continuing EducationRequired to maintain license; number of hours varies by state
Common CoursesClinical skills, cell biology, neuroscience, genetics

Education Requirements

Physicians must complete a graduate medical education program. Prior to a medical education program, you need to complete an undergraduate degree program. A common course of action is to take pre-med courses in addition to your chosen major. During an undergraduate program, a pre-med student might choose a science-based major, such as biology. Some colleges and universities offer an accelerated track program which combines undergraduate work in your major coupled with pre-med classes, followed by an early start to medical school during your senior year.

Graduate Education

Admission into an M.D. or a D.O. program requires passing the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Both medical education programs take approximately four years to complete. The first two years consist of pre-clinical studies in which you learn about body systems, biology and disease. The final two years are spent completing clinical rotations in such areas as emergency medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics and surgery. The curricula do vary between the two types of programs, due to the nature of the medical philosophies. Osteopathic medicine curricula emphasize communication, patient care and manipulative medicine.

Training Overview

Both M.D.s and D.O.s complete at least a residency program in a medical specialty, such as family medicine or internal medicine, though many more options are available. Additionally, you can choose to go on to complete a fellowship program in a subspecialty, such as critical care medicine or hospice and palliative care medicine. Depending on the specialty and subspecialty, postgraduate training can take three to seven additional years to complete.

Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment of physicians and surgeons would grow 13% between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The increasing number of people with access to health insurance and a growing aging population may contribute to job growth. Job prospects should be especially good for physicians willing to work in rural and low-income areas, as well as those who specialize in areas that affect the aging baby boomers, such as cardiology or oncology. A May 2018 report from the BLS showed that family and general practitioners earned a mean annual wage of $211,780, and other physicians and surgeons earned a mean wage of $203,880.

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