CK Logo

How to Become a Doctor

A career as a doctor is frequently deemed one of the noblest jobs in the world. Though the education and training requirements can be challenging, 90 percent of doctors report high job satisfaction. If you’re wondering how to become a doctor and how long it takes to become a doctor, then you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll provide you with the necessary information to begin your path toward the prestigious white coat. What are the best medical schools? What are the best jobs in the medical field today? How many years does it take to become a doctor? At CareerKarma, we have the best professional and educational advice across the Internet, so read on.

What is a Medical Doctor?

A medical doctor (MD) is simply a professional who is qualified and licensed to practice medicine. Also known as physicians, doctors can have expertise in one or several fields of medicine. From diagnosing illnesses to giving patients medical advice, doctors are essential workers that are in high demand across the globe.

In order to begin medical practice, doctors must spend around 10 years pursuing a medical degree and finishing their residency programs. Coupled with the costly price tag of medical education, becoming a doctor is not an easy task.

However, the benefits far outweigh the cons, as doctors experience high job satisfaction, are extremely well paid, and have excellent job security. If you’re a motivated and industrious individual who wants to help others, then a job as a doctor may be perfect for you.

What Does a Medical Doctor Do?

Medical doctors have a plethora of essential roles that are specific to their specialization. As an MD, you can work as a dermatologist, ophthalmologist, cardiologist, and in over 130 other capacities. Though each specification consists of unique roles, they still feature common duties that are based on helping patients reach their optimal health.

Some primary duties that medical doctors perform include:


  • Reviewing patients’ medical history and medications, as well as identifying and listing their symptoms.
  • Complying with safety standards at all times, taking precautionary measures to avoid infection and contamination.
  • Diagnosing diseases, injuries, and other health disorders. This may involve conducting routine checkups and examinations; ordering tests (e.g. laboratory tests, ultrasounds, electrocardiograms, and x-rays); and operating medical equipment.


  • Prescribing and administering appropriate treatments (e.g. medication, surgery, diet, and/or exercise), in accordance with diagnoses, and referring the patient to a Specialist Physician for further examination and/or treatment as needed.
  • Ensuring patients follow treatments and that there’s an improvement in their health condition.
  • Providing medical assistance to patients in cases of emergency and referring them to other medical workers (i.e. surgeons).

Some secondary duties that medical doctors may perform include:

  • Managing an interdisciplinary health team and instructing them on how to implement, coordinate, and evaluate patient care.
  • Participating in health promotion and disease prevention programs, and sometimes being involved in lectures and conferences.
  • In some cases, taking part in budget preparation and other financing activities.

Medical Doctor Skills

To have a successful career in any field, it is essential to possess a certain set of skills. This is especially true for a career in medicine, as medical colleges equip students with various skills and attributes in order for them to thrive.

Interpersonal Skills

  • Communicating clearly, especially verbally, to create a comforting and transparent environment with patients and their relatives.
  • Setting high standards of patient care and safety and treating every patient with respect.
  • Being able to manage efficiently and work cohesively as part of an interdisciplinary team.

Problem-Solving Skills

  • Identifying issues and resolving problems using critical thinking and good judgment, particularly during diagnoses.
  • High levels of manual dexterity and motor coordination; excellent operation of medical/technical equipment.
  • Demonstrated proficiency in the use of basic computer applications.


  • Strong sense of empathy, compassion, and altruism for the individual needs of patients.
  • Displaying an inherent ability to make others feel cared about, both patients and fellow staff.
  • A great sense of dedication, commitment, and responsibility for the well-being of others.

Excellent Work Ethic

  • Having strong multitasking skills; being able to prioritize tasks and responsibilities to manage a high volume of work/patient flow.
  • Being exceptionally adaptable in order to deal with a broad variety of changing demands in a dynamic environment.
  • Remaining calm and professional during times of critical need and emotionally demanding situations.

Medical Doctor Salaries and Job Outlook

As mentioned, the educational and training requirements for medical doctors can seem daunting. However, the payoff is more than worth it. The job outlook and salary associated with a career as a doctor are extremely positive.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physicians and surgeons earn salaries upwards of $208,000. This is much higher than the median wage for all other occupations at $56,000. Depending on your field of specialization and industry, you can expect to earn twice as much.

For example, in the fields of orthopedics, cardiology, and urology, you can earn approximately $420,000 per year. Several other factors may influence your salary, such as location, experience, and individual performance. The highest paying states for physicians are generally found in southern states such as Tennessee, Florida, and Alabama.

Employment of doctors is projected to grow 14 percent by 2028, much faster than the average for all other occupations; demand for clinical and counseling psychologists will increase as people continue to turn to psychologists for help with their mental health problems.

To summarize, a career as a medical doctor promises excellent job security, outstanding pay, and a rewarding career in which you have the chance to help millions of people, directly or indirectly.

How to Become a Doctor: A Step by Step Guide

Step 1: High School and College

The road to becoming a doctor starts early, meaning you should make the most of your time in high school. Taking AP classes, doing community service, and most importantly, maintaining a high GPA are surefire ways to boost your chances of getting into a great college. Your senior year should be spent researching admission requirements for colleges that have excellent pre-medical programs.

In short, a high ACT/SAT score, strong letters of recommendation and personal statements, and unique extracurricular activities will bolster your chances of admission. Once you’ve been accepted into the college of your choice, you’ll be much closer to medical school. You’ll be required to take a minimum of 12 core classes involving science, math, and English. The skills needed for a successful medical career are inculcated early on in college, as you’ll learn time management and interpersonal skills in spades.

Step 2: The MCAT and Medical School

Along with ample community service and a high GPA, medical school admissions boards are impressed by high MCAT scores. The MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) is arguably the most important test regarding your admission into medical school. Most college students tend to take it during their junior year since they are done with most of their pre-med classes by then. The test is divided into four parts spanning biology, chemistry, psychology, and critical thinking. A favorable score for most med school admissions officers is typically above 500.

Once you pass your MCAT, the next step will be finding the right medical school. The MSAR can tell you what the acceptance rates, application requirements, and deadlines are for most medical schools. You should also decide whether you want to practice allopathic or osteopathic medicine before starting your application process. Finally, you’ll have to put together your med school application, which consists of the primary and secondary applications, and the interviews.

Step 3: Medical School and Boards

After graduating from college and getting into medical school, the next four years will be the most critical for your career as an MD. Medical school is a very different environment from college or high school since there are more complex courses, responsibilities, and decisions that you’ll experience during your journey.

The first two years of medical school will deal with the foundational coursework for your career as a physician. At the end of the second year, you’ll have to take the USMLE-1 exam, which assesses your medical competency. This will determine whether you can progress to your third year of rotations.

During this year, you’ll obtain practical experience in a medical setting, under supervision. This year is critical for deciding what kind of medicine you want to pursue. The fourth year of medical school entails the pursuit of your chosen specialty, in which you’ll take relevant electives and practicums. At the end of this year, you’ll take the USMLE-2.

Step 4: Specialization and Residency

After graduating from med school, you’ll have to complete your residency programs. Residency, or internships, are supervised positions at teaching hospitals. Through the National Resident Matching Program, you’ll be able to find any available residency programs, in which you will spend at least three years or more, depending on your specialty. Though residencies are paid, you only earn around $48,000 per year, a fraction of a qualified physician’s salary.

During your residency, you'll also need to pass your final licensing exam (USMLE-3). The third and final licensing exam is taken during the first year of your residency. Once you've finished your residency and passed all your boards, you can officially practice independently as a licensed physician.

You’ll then have to keep up with Continuing Medical Education to align yourself with updated medical practices.

Should You Become a Doctor?

Throughout the world, there are few careers as fulfilling as a doctor. According to the US News, a job as a physician is the 7th best career overall, due to low unemployment rates, high satisfaction, and outstanding pay. However, the education and training requirements are definitely a costly investment in terms of time and money.

If you’re intelligent, industrious, and want to spend your days helping the old and sick, then a career as a doctor may be perfect for you. Whatever you choose to do, we here at CareerKarma wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.


How many years does it take to become a doctor?
In general, it can take around 10 to 14 years after graduating from high school to become a doctor. This includes four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, and three to seven years of residency.
Do I have to have straight A’s in order to get into medical school?
Though a high GPA during college helps your chances of admission, it is only part of the equation. Medical school admissions officers judge your competency by considering other factors as well. These include your grades in science classes, your extracurricular activities, your volunteer work, and your medical experience.
What are the most rewarding specialties for doctors?
According to Medscape’s 2019 report, the five happiest medical specialties included immunology, dermatology, emergency medicine, ophthalmology, and plastic surgery. The bottom five were internal medicine, infectious diseases, oncology, public health and preventive medicine, and cardiology.
Get matched to top bootcamps