Becoming a Physician or Surgeon: A Complete Guide

by Patricia O. Urquiaga | Oct 21, 2020 | educationalrequirements, MDLicensure, physician, physicianjobs, residencytraining, statelicensing, surgeon, usmle
Becoming a Physician or Surgeon: A Complete Guide

Interested in becoming a physician or surgeon?

Thanks to our previous blog “physicians and surgeons: what are their similarities and differences?“, we know that physicians and surgeons receive similar education. Typically, this includes a:

  • Bachelor’s Degree.
  • Doctoral or Professional Degree (from an accredited medical school).
  • Internship and/or Residency Program.

Compared to other professions, becoming a physician or surgeon consists of very demanding requirements and trainings. Nowadays a few medical schools offer a combined undergraduate and medical program which lasts about 6 to 8 years.

Educational Requirement Overview

Let’s take a step back to go more in-depth into the educational requirements to become a physician or surgeon.

After completing an undergraduate degree, the next step is for students to apply for medical school. Medical school is known to be very competitive – in fact, there are many factors the admissions committee takes into consideration when evaluating applicants. Outside of the traditional transcripts, MCAT scores, letters of recommendation and interviews, they gauge an applicant’s personality and try to understand their leadership qualities as well as extracurricular participation.

The first 2 years of medical school are mostly spent on labs and in the classrooms. Labs include practicing how to take medical histories, examining patients and diagnosing illnesses. While courses in the classroom cover topics such as anatomy, biochemistry, psychology, medical ethics and more.

On the other hand, the last 2 years of medical school involve gaining experience from working with patients (supervised) at hospitals and/or clinics. These “clinical rotations” help students gain an understanding of the various medical specialties (i.e. internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery etc.) available.

Residency Training

Once medical school is over, all graduates must apply for a residency program focused on their medical specialty. This training can take anywhere from 3-7 years depending on the medical specialty chosen.

State Licensing & The U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)

After all the educational requirements and trainings are completed, physicians and surgeons must get state licensed. State licensing requirements vary per state so it’s important for physicians and surgeons to obtain this information from their states medical board.

In addition, all physicians and surgeons must pass the standardized national licensure exam, the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

The goal of the USMLE is to assess a physician’s ability to apply knowledge, concepts, and principles, to demonstrate fundamental patient-centered skills that are important in health and disease, and to constitute the basis of safe and effective patient care.

To learn more about the USMLE and tips on how to best prepare, check out our “5 tips to prepare for the United States Medical Licensing Examination” blog.

And, don’t forget to check out our FREE physician jobs resource.


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