How Hard is It to Become a Doctor?

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  • Written By: Jessica Gore
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2019
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In most countries, becoming a doctor is a lengthy, rigorous process that requires a high degree of dedication and skill. While international education models vary, most systems require a period of study lasting between five and eight years before a medical degree is conferred. Following graduation, medical students are typically not permitted to practice medicine independently before completing specific residency requirements that lead to licensure by a governing body. Further specialization can entail two to three additional years of residency, adding up to a total training period lasting anywhere from seven to 14 years.

Preparation for medical school usually begins in high school. Most medical schools require students to have strong backgrounds in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. In the European medical education model, students are typically admitted to a five- or six-year undergraduate medical degree program after high school. The American model, by contrast, treats medical school as a graduate program. Under this standard, students are expected to complete a three- or four-year undergraduate program before admittance to medical school.

Some medical education authorities, such as those in India and Japan, exclusively use a qualifying exam to determine eligibility, regardless of academic history. Others, such as those in Europe and North America, generally use a combination of prior academic achievement, qualifying exam results, essays, interviews, and letters of recommendation to determine if a student is a good candidate for medical school. In either case, the application process is lengthy, detailed, and challenging.


Once admitted to medical school, students usually undergo four to six years of theoretical and clinical training. Normally, the first two years of school are devoted to theoretical studies of gross anatomy, physiology, and pathology. Later years are spent in clinical settings that allow students to observe experienced doctors at work, and have some hands-on training in a controlled environment.

Upon graduation, students are awarded a medical degree and are given the title of doctor, but they must be licensed before legally practicing medicine. For general practitioners and family physicians, this typically involves an internship followed by a two- or three-year residency period. A more specialized doctor may require a longer residency, on average four years for pediatricians and general surgeons or as many as six years for neurosurgeons or cardiac surgeons.

In addition to the time commitment and academic effort, many students must finance their education by accumulating personal debt. While some countries offer free post-secondary education to any citizen, a large number of industrialized nations do not. For this reason, it is not uncommon for a new doctor to begin practice while still paying for a medical education. All things considered, it is a long and difficult process to become a doctor, but for many people, the personal and financial sacrifice is well justified by a rewarding career.


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Post 3

I am a clinical professor at our Indiana School of Medicine. I served 16 years on the admissions committee.

A very common problem for many applicants derived from the advice they obtained from doctors in the community. The essential key for admission is a high cumulative grade point average, and the ability to attain mastery of the courses so that the comprehensive exam (MCAT)can be passed successfully. High school is for learning how to learn.

Post 2

@ChiTownGal: I am a doctor now and I can tell you that when I was in high school I was already very concerned with becoming a doctor, although I think I was very rare in that regard. I think many people think that they don't have to worry about their career until they start college.

What do you think could be done to help high school students realize that even high school is an important aspect of planning for and building a foundation for a successful career? I think it would be interesting to have a local doctor come in and speak with a freshman level biology class and explain the importance of the classes they are taking now. What do you think? Anyone have any other strategies that could help?

Post 1

I really like the emphasis that this article put on high school as an important part of how to become a doctor. As a high school teacher, I see a lot of students who think that they don't really have to worry about preparing for their career until after they begin college.

Although I think it is great that so many of my students see themselves heading off to a college or university after high school, I wish that they would place more emphasis on the education they are receiving right now and how that education can impact their career goals.

For all the doctors out there or those who are in college studying to become a doctor, how many of you really focused on learning in high school to prepare yourself for what you would study in college? Thanks!

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