How to Become a Physician
Physician Careers & Degrees

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A physician applies the scientific study of medicine to diagnose and treat illnesses, injuries, and other threats to people’s health.

They also provide health and medical advice to patients, and seek to educate their patients and community on topics involving health and the body.

If you enjoy health and the sciences, and are interested in medicine, then this may be a good career choice for you.

When you become a physician you will have the opportunity to work with a wide range of people from many different walks of life.

Every day will bring new challenges.

There is much study involved in this occupation, therefore you will need to have aptitude for study and research.

You will also need to have good interpersonal skills as you will be dealing with a wide range of people.

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Education Requirements to Become a Physician

You will need to complete a lot of study in order to become a physician, however if you are interested in the human body and health, and you have enjoyed your study so far, then this is a challenge you will enjoy.

It’s important to get good grades in both high school and college, as this will determine whether you can get a place in medical school.

To begin with, you will need to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree at college.

Look for a school that offers a pre-medicine course line, with subjects like biology, chemistry, and physics.

After college, you’ll need to spend an additional four years at medical school.

You’ll first need to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Your entry into medical school will be determined by your grade point average at college, your test scores, plus any admission interviews or essays you complete.

Your first two years of medical school are spent mainly on classroom work.

In the second two years you will focus on more practical skills, and have the opportunity to work in a hospital before you become a physician.

After medical school you will spend a year as an intern working in a hospital, and a further three to eight years completing your residency, depending on the specialization that you choose.

You must also be licensed to practice in your state before you become a physician.

This usually involves a state exam.

The American Medical Associationt lists state specific information about exams and licensure.

Physician Job Description

A physician usually works with a patient either in a clinic, hospital, or consulting room.

They will obtain a medical history, speak with the clients about their current ailments, and perform a range of tests to make a diagnosis, and develop a treatment plan.

Some of the tasks that a physician performs include:

  • Obtaining a patients history
  • Speaking with a patient about medical problems
  • Checking vital signs
  • Ordering further tests
  • Making a diagnosis
  • Preparing a treatment plan
  • Providing advice on health and nutrition

When you become a physician, you will need to be prepared to work long hours, as well as weekends and holidays.

Those employed in hospitals will be required to respond to emergencies.

Those working out of clinics may work more regular hours.

Physician Salary and Career Path

Once you have become a physician, you will likely start working in a hospital for the first few years of your career.

Once you have gained some experience, you may like to work out of another doctor’s consulting rooms, private practice, or open your own clinic.

Working as a physician, you will enjoy strong employment prospects.

There are predicted shortages within the health sector, due to the aging population.

The median annual salary for a physician is $185,000 a year.

The top 10% of earners make over $330,000 a year.

Many of these top earners work as specialists, and own their own practices.

Many physicians move on to similar roles within the health field during their career.

These include:

If you decide to become a physician, you will be faced with a challenging road of much study and demanding and stressful situations.

However, if you have a real passion for this field, enjoy study, and are willing to work hard, you can make an excellent income and enjoy strong job prospects.

Many physicians find their career very rewarding.

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

National Average Salary

$203,450
$60K
$112K
$203K
$K
$K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$196,650
Alaska$258,550
Arizona$216,200
Arkansas$174,440
California$210,140
Colorado$220,710
Connecticut$208,310
Delaware$224,130
District of Columbia$182,120
Florida$212,780
Georgia$236,530
Hawaii$229,310
Idaho$234,390
Illinois$190,750
Indiana$244,980
Iowa$218,830
Kansas$182,180
Kentucky$225,240
Louisiana$193,670
Maine$251,930
Maryland$191,690
Massachusetts$186,040
Michigan$168,190
Minnesota$236,270
Mississippi$171,050
Missouri$205,580
Montana$247,720
Nebraska$177,080
Nevada$219,430
New Hampshire$257,220
New Jersey$207,440
New Mexico$229,770
New York$179,110
North Carolina$185,290
North Dakota$229,550
Ohio$213,930
Oklahoma$177,420
Oregon$195,930
Pennsylvania$198,750
Rhode Island$205,090
South Carolina$201,290
South Dakota$218,290
Tennessee$192,190
Texas$200,590
Utah$209,420
Vermont- NA -
Virginia$187,740
Washington$238,350
West Virginia$207,040
Wisconsin$246,060
Wyoming$225,190
Guam$217,300
Puerto Rico$96,980
Virgin Islands$137,810

The top earning state in the field is Alaska, where the average salary is $258,550.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Alaska - $258,550
New Hampshire - $257,220
Maine - $251,930
Montana - $247,720
Wisconsin - $246,060
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Physicians, OCC Code 29-1228, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat does a physician do?

Physicians diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries.

There are two main groups of physicians: General Practice Physicians and Specialist Physicians.

The first group contains family physicians; they have a general knowledge of all the fields of medicine because they have to be able to diagnose and treat general illnesses and send patients who need further medical attention to a specialist physician.

As a specialist physician, you will become an expert in one field of medicine, like cardiology, radiology, oncology, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, ophthalmology, psychiatry, or pediatry, to name just a few.

Physicians review patients’ medical history, diagnose diseases, conduct physical examinations, order and interpret medical tests, prescribe medication, and monitor patients’ progress.

They also discuss with their patients about the potential side effects of medication, provide advice about lifestyle and diet, and maintain patient confidentiality.

Many physicians work in physicians’ offices, hospitals and other healthcare organizations.

QuestionHow much does a physician make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS), physicians and surgeons are among the highest-paid of all occupations, with a median wage equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.

Salaries in this field vary widely, depending on many factors including the physician’s experience and specialty.

For example, pediatricians were paid, on average, around $183,240 a year, while anesthesiologists earned around $267,020 per year, as of May 2018.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a physician?

The first step on your path to becoming a physician is to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Many medical schools require applicants to have completed undergraduate courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and math.

Pre-med programs can cost anywhere between $15,000-$60,000, depending on the school you choose.

Medical schools are among the most expensive schools and the cost has consistently increased over the last decade.

At a public school the cost is about $36,700 a year if you are an in-state student, and around $60,000 if you are an out-of-state student.

For a private medical school, the costs can be higher than $60,000 per year.

QuestionWhat is the demand for physicians?

According to BLS, the employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.

Job opportunities vary depending on the doctor’s specialty and the region.

Physicians who are willing to relocate to underserved areas will have better job prospects.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a physician?

Physicians need between 11-15 years of education beyond high school.

First, you need a bachelor’s degree, which usually takes around 4 years to complete.

The next step is to enroll at a medical school.

Competition for medical school is fierce and, in order to have better chances of being accepted, you should earn a high score at the Medical College Admission Test.

After graduating from medical school you will receive your Doctor of Medicine degree and you are ready to start your residency.

Depending on your specialty, you can spend between 3 and 7 years in internship and residency programs.

All states require a license for their physicians and, after finishing your residency you will have to take the licensing exam.

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