How to Become a Doctor
Doctor Careers & Degrees

The role of a doctor is complex, challenging, and ultimately rewarding.

When you become a doctor, you will be working to make people healthier.

This may consist of diagnosing and treating diseases, providing health advice, or prescribing medicines.
If you are interested in health and science, have a strong aptitude for study, and enjoy working with people, then you might find a career in medicine fulfilling and rewarding.

Education Requirements to Become a Doctor

Becoming a doctor can be competitive, you’ll need excellent grades in high school as well as college to be accepted into further study, and later into an internship program.

The educational path to become a doctor is a long one, and requires at least 11 years of education.

You’ll need to start by completing a three or four year Bachelor Degree with a focus on premed.

You’ll then need to attend a medical school for four years, and then spend a minimum of three years as an intern and resident in a hospital.

Some specialties take further study also.

Premedical students will study subjects such as biology, anatomy, physics, mathematics and chemistry.

It’s a good idea to take a volunteer job at a local hospital or clinic so as to gain some experience, at this point.

This may help you gain selection into medical school and internship later on.

After college, you will need to take the Medical College Admission Test.

You entry into medical school will be based on these score, your college transcript, along with consideration to your personality, leadership qualities, and any other
relevant information.

The first two years of medical school are spent in the classroom, where you will gain a wide range of knowledge.

The second two years are mostly spent under supervised practice in a teaching hospital.

After medical school, you will spend a year as an intern in a hospital, then a further 2-6 years as a resident, depending on your specialization.

All doctors in the US must be licensed within the state they practice in.

In most places you will be required to complete an exam before registration.

You can find useful information at the American Medical Association website.

Doctor Job Description

A doctor works with a patient to diagnose illness, provide treatment, prescribe medicines, and give health advice.

Most doctors work in hospitals or private clinics.

Some of the tasks of a doctor could

  • Communicating with a patient
  • Taking a patient history
  • Checking a patient’s vital signs
  • Ordering, performing, and analyzing tests
  • Diagnosing illness
  • Prescribing medicines
  • Preparing a treatment plan
  • Giving advice on health
  • Following up on patient progress

Doctors who work in hospitals may be required to work long hours, as well as shifts at night, on weekends, as well as on holidays.

Those who work in clinics may find themselves working less hours.

Doctor Salary and Career Path

There are many different areas and roles a doctor may specialize in.

Here are some of the common areas of specialization that a doctor may work in:

Family and General Practitioner – The local doctor that people will see when they are feeling ill or would like some health advice.

You might see your doctor if you had the flu, or were thinking about losing weight, or quitting smoking.

Pediatricians – Pediatricians work exclusively with children, either in hospitals, or in small private clinics.

General Practitioners also treat children.

Surgeons – Surgeons perform operations, for instance, removing an appendix or setting a broken bone.

Other Specialists – With further study, a doctor can move on into other specializations.

The employment prospects for a doctor are strong, it is predicted that there will be shortages in many areas of medicine in the coming years.

The median salary of a general practitioner is around $185,000 a year.

A specialist could earn as much as $330,000 a year.

The pathway to become a doctor is a long and demanding one.

To be successful, you’ll need to be a hard worker with a strong ethic.

If you have a true passion for health and medicine, it is likely that you will
enjoy your career.

While it may be a long road, doctors have a rewarding job and high level satisfaction.

They also earn a large salary in line with their study, responsibility, and very broad knowledge and skills base.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$165,080
New Hampshire$241,240
New Jersey$220,790
New Mexico$280,620
New York$188,370
North Carolina$256,000
North Dakota$266,540
Rhode Island$171,280
South Carolina$248,760
South Dakota$281,590
West Virginia$146,840
Puerto Rico$73,990

The top earning state in the field is South Dakota, where the average salary is $281,590.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

South Dakota - $281,590
New Mexico - $280,620
Wyoming - $273,570
North Dakota - $266,540
Indiana - $257,270
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for General Internal Medicine Physicians, OCC Code 29-1216, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat is a doctor?

A doctor, also known as a physician or medical doctor, is a person who is licensed to practice medicine.

A doctor’s role is to diagnose, prevent and heal diseases, injuries and other medical conditions.

Some doctors, known as specialists, focus on treating one type of patient, using one method of treatment or treating one part of the body while others, known as general practitioners, provide continuous and preventive care for their patients.

Depending on the type of education they receive, physicians can hold either a Doctor of Medicine degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree.

Regardless of the path and the specialization they choose, doctors need many years of medical training before being eligible to get their license but they also need a variety of personals qualities, including compassion, patience, and communication skills.

QuestionHow much does a doctor make?

How much a doctor makes depends on many different factors, including his or her specialty, employer of the level of experience.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for pediatricians was $183,240 while anesthesiologists earned a median annual wage of $267,020, as of May 2018.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a doctor?

Doctors typically need at least 11-12 years of training before being able to practice.

Their education starts with four years of college and most students who want to become doctors complete undergraduate work in biology, chemistry, math, physics, and English.

Pre-med programs can cost anywhere between $15,000 and more than $60,000 a year, depending on the school you choose and the program itself.

After finishing your undergraduate studies, the next step is to complete four years of medical school which focuses on providing students with laboratory and classroom training but also with clinical experience in a variety of specialties.

Medical schools typically cost around $30,000-$60,000 a year at a public college and even more at a private school.

Medical school graduates continue their training with a residency period followed by a licensing exam.

QuestionWhat is the demand for doctors?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of physicians and surgeons is expected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Job opportunities vary depending on the specialty but doctors will continue to be needed to care for patients.

Those who specialize in working with the elderly and those who are willing to practice in rural and underserved areas should have better job prospects.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a doctor?

Doctors need at least 11-12 years of training before being eligible to sit for their licensing exam.

Prospective doctors usually start with 4 years of undergraduate pre-med studies.

After taking the Medical College Admission Test and earning their bachelor’s future doctors continue their education with 4 years of medical school.

Medical school graduates need to complete a residency in their specialty.

The duration of the residency program depends on the field in which the prospective doctor wishes to specialize.

Some residency programs can be completed in 3 years while others are 7 years long.

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