How Long Does it Take to Be a Doctor?

November 22

Table of Contents

One of the biggest worries for students thinking about a future in medicine is how much more education is required, coupled with the ensuing time, effort, and debt from medical school. The type of specialty you select may affect how long you can become a doctor.

Once you get your undergraduate degree and graduate from medical school, your chosen specialty determines how long you will spend in a resident program. 

Consider your willingness to enhance your medical profession by completing education beyond a four-year bachelor's degree before deciding whether or not to pursue becoming a doctor.

This article discusses the prerequisites for becoming a doctor and the time it takes to become one.

Your Path to Becoming a Doctor: How Long Does It Take? 

To practice medicine, you must complete lengthy educational programs. With a focus on science and math, preparation for medical school usually starts in high school.

Your journey to medical school consists of four stages after high school: undergraduate studies, med school, residency, and fellowship for specialists. 

A physician's education could last 15 years or more from the time you initially enroll in college if your chosen specialty necessitates a prolonged fellowship.

For your reference, here is a detailed discussion of how long it takes to be a doctor.

1. Undergraduate Studies – Four Years 

You must first finish high school before going to college if you want to become a doctor. 

Even if an aspiring doctor can hold an undergraduate degree in any subject, taking classes in biology, chemistry, arithmetic, anatomy, and physiology and other courses needed for a degree, like foreign languages and English, is advisable. Related science and physics classes are additional popular electives.

Students who want to attend medical school must pass the Medical College Admission Test (or MCAT) and submit an application, MCAT results, college transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Because medical school admissions are so tough, it is critical to get good grades.

2. Medical School – Four Years

Most of the first two years are spent in agonizing study sessions with previously unimaginable information. You learn at first about a healthy physique. With classes on abnormalities, you are pushed even harder as you start your second year.

You encounter the exhilarating excitement that transforms the burden into a worthwhile adventure every year and every semester that makes you feel like it isn't worth it. Amazing discoveries along the way remind you of your original motivation for choosing a career in medicine.

What keeps you going through the impossible parts is the amazement. The beauty of a single life, the wonder of modern medicine, and the mystery of the human body are all studied with perseverance and excitement.

You can finally participate and perform up close during the third and fourth-year rotations. You can witness your future — what you might be performing professionally in a few years — while positioned in a prime location close to the surgical table or a newborn neonate.

3. Residency – Three Years (Or More)

Your specialty-specific residency training is being provided in the hospital. 

Even if you have passed the exams and received your doctoral license, you must complete extra practical training before formally assuming patient care and autonomy. You can now do what you have been wanting to accomplish right now.

First Year of Residency

The second part of the medical licensing exam is typically taken by students who did not pass it during their last year of medical school during their first year of residency. 

First-year residents begin their practical training and application of their medical education in internship positions where they work.

Interns assist attending physicians throughout the first year of residency with patient diagnosis, care, and evaluation. In the first year, administrative activities like charting and inputting data into a medical database and recording patients' medical histories may also be emphasized.

Second Year of Residency

Second-year residents usually begin working more independently in and around the clinic or hospital where they are interning, checking patients' vital signs, giving them medication, assessing their symptoms, and noting diagnosis and treatment plans.

Due to the growing amount of hands-on experience, they acquire while working in various medical and healthcare settings, second-year residents may also choose to explore alternative specializations or subfields of medicine at this time.

Third Year of Residency

For many doctors, their third year of residency is their last. Still, those who desire to specialize may continue their education for another two to seven years in a fellowship program.

However, suppose you have chosen to specialize in general medicine. In that case, you may anticipate spending your third year of residency preparing to practice medicine independently and earning your state license.

This could involve finishing research projects, participating in professional development activities, and looking for clinical job openings to keep moving forward in your chosen field.

4. Fellowship – One to Two Years

Fellowships are not necessary because you are already a physician. But let us say you decide to continue your study in a discipline like teaching, research, or clinical practice. If so, consider applying for a medical fellowship.

To be considered for a fellowship, you must have completed your residency in the specialty you want to focus on and demonstrate that you have enough clinical experience.

5. Attending Physician

Doctors are called "attendings" after completing residency and maybe a fellowship. Due to their complete licensure, board certification in their profession, and certification, they are prepared to open their own practice.

At this point, you have succeeded. Finally.

Certifications and Examinations

If you want to become a doctor, your brain will be bombarded with never-ending information. The hours are grueling, and the assignments never end. However, those who make it through receive the highest accolade imaginable: the white coat.

In addition, you also need to take quite a few exams and certifications while in medical school and after you have completed medical school. Here are some of them:

1. Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

The MCAT is a multiple-choice, computer-based test that is standardized and has been used in the admissions process for medical schools for over 90 years. More than 85,000 students take the test each year. 

Many health profession institutions and graduate programs now accept MCAT scores in place of other standardized examinations, and almost all medical schools in the United States and many in Canada also need MCAT scores.

Medical educators, medical students, doctors, and residents have all identified specific knowledge and skill requirements for success in medical school and practice that are tested on the MCAT exam. 

There are four parts to the content:

The MCAT exam is created by the AAMC. It is given many times a year, from late January through September, at hundreds of testing venues in the United States, Canada, and a few other places worldwide.

2. United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)

The National Board of Med Examiners (NBME) and the Federation of State Med Boards (FSMB) are the two organizations that own the USMLE, or United States Medical Licensing Examination program.

Anyone who aspires to practice medicine in the United States must pass the USMLE, a three-part exam. 

After completing their M.D. courses and medical school, physicians must pass this test to be licensed and permitted to practice medicine in the United States.

A step cannot be evaluated independently in determining preparedness for medical licensing since the three USMLE steps work in tandem to evaluate the physician's skills and competencies.

Typically, the first two steps are carried out while the student is still in medical school, and the third step is carried out after graduation.

USMLE Step 1

Medical students typically take the USMLE Step 1 exam, which lasts one day after their second academic year. It assesses their knowledge of fundamental sciences such as physiology, pathology, immunology, immunology, behavioral sciences, and biochemistry. Additionally, it covers topics like nutrition, genetics, and aging.

The topical organization of the exam makes it simple for test-takers to concentrate and follow along. 

The questions are broken down into parts on several organ systems, such as cardiology, gastrointestinal, and neurology, as well as by the skills and abilities required of doctors, such as precise diagnosis and efficient case management.

USMLE Step 2

A two-part test called the USMLE Step 2 is commonly taken in the fourth year of medical school. 

Its goal is to gauge how well a medical student can use their clinical science knowledge, abilities, and understanding to deliver patient care while under observation, with a focus on health promotion and illness prevention.

USMLE Step 3

Physicians usually take the two-day USMLE Step 3 exam following their first year of residency. It is the last step in determining if someone with a medical degree can practice general medicine independently. 

Step 3's emphasis on patient management, including diagnosis, treatment, and care, is similar to that of Step 2.

3. Computer-Based Assessment for Personal Characteristics (CASPer)

Acuity Insights (formerly Altus Assessments) distributes the CASPer Test. It is used by medical schools to assess how well each applicant fits into their curriculum and to gain a comprehensive picture of each student. 

The exam allows medical students to show their interpersonal and non-cognitive abilities.

The CASPer is typically given before a live or recorded interview at a medical school. It is regarded as a part of the secondary application procedure. You might be able to take the test later at some medical schools. A situational judgment exam (SJT), CASPer, measures professionalism and non-cognitive abilities like teamwork, problem-solving, ethics, and empathy.

Can You Become a Doctor Before 30? 

As previously said, becoming a doctor requires a lengthy education—between 10 and 14 years. 

If you begin medical school at 23 or 24, you will not start independent practice until you are about 30 years old.

Let us look at some ways to become a doctor before you are 30.

1. Avoid Taking Gap Years

Before 30, you can begin your medical career, but it is not easy. 

Taking a gap year before college, medical school, or your residency program will shift your timeline. If feasible, avoid taking any gap years to graduate sooner.

2. Plan Early

Understanding your medical aspirations will enable you to start preparing for them in high school, allowing you to get a head start on your coursework and extracurricular commitments.

You must take the required high school courses for a successful college application. Choosing an undergraduate degree, medical school, and residency helps if you are confident in the path you want to take. 

Any changes could prohibit you from finishing medical school before you turn 30.

3. Think About Enrolling in a BS/MD or Shorter Medical School Program

Most undergraduate programs can be finished in three years, while a few BS/MD programs can be completed in two. 

Some schools, such as Penn State's Accelerated Premedical-Medical Program, let you finish your undergraduate degree in three years and begin your four-year medical education immediately. 

It is crucial to pick the best medical school and program after earning your bachelor's degree. 

The standard length of medical school is four years

However, several MD programs, such as the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary and the McMaster University Medical School, provide three-year degrees.

4. Decide on a Shorter Residency

The amount of time between specialty and residency selection affects how long it takes to become a doctor. 

Although some residency programs are shorter than others, your choice should be based on your interest in the specialty, not the duration of the program. 

Think about a medical specialization where the residency period is shorter. 

Nevertheless, if you want to reduce the time it takes to become a doctor. For instance, an orthopedic surgery residency can take five years, but a pediatrics residency might only take three. 

In the end, pursuing the field you wish to specialize in is preferable without giving the duration of the program much thought.

Final Thoughts

A medical career demands a significant time and effort investment. When calculating the answer to the question "How long does it take to become a doctor?" it would be beneficial to consider the school and residency terms. 

Being a doctor can take more than ten years. But along the road, you will feel a sense of accomplishment. 

The time it takes to become a doctor will be worthwhile. With planning and research, you can determine your goals and due dates. 

The duration of your training to become a doctor is ultimately up to you. You will realize the value of even the most minor sacrifices when wearing a white coat, stethoscope, and a medical license under your name. 

You're no longer alone on your journey to becoming a physician

Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!