How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Doctor?

Once you have made up your mind to pursue your dream of becoming a doctor, the next question you may be asking yourself is, “How long does it take to become a doctor?” Read on below to learn more about the timeline of becoming an MD.Â

You must have heard that the process of becoming a doctor is a very time-consuming one. You are likely aware that it will take years to become a doctor, but let’s find out exactly how many years it takes before you can finally practice as a doctor. The necessary steps involved in becoming a doctor are:

To be honest, there is no clear and defined answer to this question. The reason is that the number of years you’ll spend before becoming a doctor depends entirely on your area of specialization. However, you should prepare yourself to invest at least 11 to 12 years of hard work before having a secure, rewarding, and lucrative career.Â

Doctors must complete a four-year undergraduate program, along with four years in medical school and three to seven years in a residency program to learn the specialty they chose to pursue. In other words, it takes between 10 to 14 years to become a fully licensed doctor.

How many years does it actually take to become a Doctor?

How many years of education does it take to become a doctor?

The following steps provide insight into how long it takes to become a doctor:

1. Completing your four-year degree

To begin your educational path to becoming a doctor, you must complete your undergraduate degree. A bachelors program is usually four years in length if you attend as a full-time student. While prospective medical students can obtain their undergraduate degrees in any major, most undergraduates choose to focus on fields that prepare them for their studies in medical school.

Coursework focusing on the sciences, like anatomy, physiology, biology and chemistry are excellent fields to major in for your undergraduate degree because they prepare you for the scientific and medical coursework you encounter in medical school. In addition to completing your four-year degree, you also need to take and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and submit an application and letters of recommendation in order to enroll in medical school.

2. Attending medical school

While the typical length of time it takes to complete medical school is four years, there are alternative programs that combine your undergraduate degree and medical education program into a six-year program, which can reduce the total time it takes to become a fully licensed doctor. That being said, traditional medical school typically breaks your studies in half, with the first two years consisting of academic study and lab work and the last two years for beginning your clinical training.

Within the first two years of medical school, students focus on studying medical applications and laboratory procedures in preparation for diagnosing and treating patients. Additionally, most med students take the first part of their medical license exam during their second year of medical school.

During the last two years of medical school, students start clinical training, where they work through rotations at hospitals and clinics. During this time, you work under the supervision of a licensed physician, where youll gain practical medical experience. Then, in the fourth year of medical school, you take the second portion of your medical licensing exam and enter into your residency program.

3. Training in residency

After completing medical school and receiving your physicians license, you need to complete a minimum of three years in residency. Your residency prepares you for practicing medicine independently as a doctor. If you chose to specialize in a medical field beyond general or internal medicine, you may need to complete additional years of residency training, which can take up to six years, depending on your specialty. For instance, a doctor of nephrology would need to complete an additional two- to three-year fellowship in addition to their three-year residency program.

How many years does it take to become a doctor?

The length of time it takes you to become a doctor depends overall on the field of medicine you choose to study. At the very least, becoming a doctor can take up to 11 years, with four years devoted to your bachelors degree, four years in medical school and at least three years completing your residency. If you choose to specialize in a field beyond general medicine, you may be required to spend up to six years completing your residency program. This is the general timeline for becoming a doctor of general medicine, which is the foundation you need if youre interested in pursuing a specialty, such as oncology or cardiology.

How many years does it take to complete a residency program?

The following steps provide an overview of what to expect from each year of your residency:

1. First year of residency

Students who did not take the second portion of their medical licensing exam during their last year of medical school usually complete it during their first year of residency. First-year residents work in internship roles, where they begin their practical training and application of their medical studies. During the first year of residency, interns work with attending physicians assisting in the diagnosis, treatment and evaluation of patients. This first year may also focus on the application of administrative tasks, such as documenting patients medical history, charting and entering in information in a medical database.

2. Second year of residency

Second-year residents typically start working more independently around the clinic or hospital where theyre interning, taking patients vital signs, administering medications, evaluating patient symptoms and documenting diagnoses and treatment plans. Second-year residents may also enter different specialties or subfields of medicine at this time due to the increasing hands-on experience they gain working in diverse medical and healthcare settings.

3. Third year of residency

The third year of residency is typically the last year for many physicians, however, residents who choose to specialize may go on to spend another two to seven years in a fellowship program. If youre specializing in general medicine, though, you can expect to spend your third year of residency preparing for practicing medicine independently and obtaining your state licensure. This may include completing research, participating in professional development projects and seeking out clinical job opportunities to continue advancing in your chosen field.

4. Completing a post-residency fellowship

Depending on what your medical focus is, a post-residency fellowship program may be a requirement. For example, a pediatric urologist would complete their initial three-year residency program, followed by an additional two years in residency for their subfield of urology. After a total of five years of residency, they would need to complete at least a year in a fellowship program to obtain credentials to practice in pediatrics. Using this example, a pediatric urologist would therefore need about 14 years of education to enter their career.

Questions to ask when choosing a medical specialty

Since the length of time it takes to become a doctor can vary depending on the field you choose, there are several things to consider when completing your education. The following questions can help you determine if you want to pursue an additional medical specialty:

How much time are you willing to devote to your education?

Think about how much time youre willing to spend in school. Its important to remember that your undergraduate program and medical school will take you eight years to complete. If youre eager to enter your career as soon as possible as a physician, consider medical fields that only require the minimum years of residency to complete.

What is your budget, and do your educational goals fit within it?

Becoming a doctor takes a significant amount of time, which means you need to set a clear budget for your education. Think about financial aid services and applying for grants and even student loans. If you set a clear budget in the beginning, youre likely to have a better idea of what types of programs you can devote your time to.

Whats the job market like for your specialty?

When you consider the medical specialty youd like to go into, research the demand for that role within the area you plan to work. Different areas can often have a higher demand for specialized doctors, while other areas may have a lower demand for the specialty youre considering. Therefore, its important to be aware of the job outlook and stability of the field youre entering.

What are your salary requirements?

Doctors, in general, make a substantial salary. However, if your salary goals are higher than what a general physician or family doctor makes, look into medical specialties that match with your income requirements. For instance, a gastroenterologist may have a higher earning potential than a pediatrician or doctor of internal medicine. Similarly, pursuing a career in surgery after general medicine is another way to increase your earning potential, especially if your salary goals are higher.

What types of patients are you passionate about helping?

The type of people you want to work with can be an important factor in choosing the field of medicine you want to specialize in. For instance, if you are passionate about working with and caring for children who are diagnosed with cancer, you might consider specializing in pediatric oncology. If youre passionate about helping patients coming into the emergency room in life-threatening and traumatic medical situations, specializing in trauma medicine and surgery may be the field to consider.

What type of work schedule will suit you best?

Another important consideration when choosing your medical specialty is your work schedule. While doctors all have long shifts and even overnight shifts they work at some point in their careers, there are many medical specialties that allow you more freedom in your schedule. For instance, a psychiatrist (doctor of mental health) may have a greater level of flexibility in their daily schedules, as they typically work in smaller clinical environments where they may not work with as many patients as an emergency room doctor in a hospital.

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