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How to Become a Doctor

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If you’re looking for a career that’s both challenging and rewarding, then you might want to consider becoming a doctor. Doctors provide important services to patients, such as diagnosing and treating diseases and advising patients on strategies for staying healthy.

The path to becoming a doctor is a long one, and those who are interested in a career in medicine should know some important facts before looking for a job. Keep reading to learn where the majority of doctors work, how much money they earn annually, and what qualifications they need to land a job.

What doctors do

There are two kinds of doctors in the United States, medical doctors (M.D.s) and doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.s). Both types of physicians use the same methods of treatment, but D.O.s place stronger emphasis on the musculoskeletal system of the body, as well as preventive medicine and holistic care.

Doctors diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries. They are responsible for examining patients in the context of their medical histories and making informed decisions about treatments. They prescribe medicines and order, administer, and interpret diagnostic tests. Physicians also counsel their patients about healthy lifestyle choices in order to prevent medical intervention in the future.

There are many different kinds of doctors, each specializing in one or more fields of medicine. For example, pediatricians specialize in providing medical care for children, whereas psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in mental healthcare. Surgeons are doctors who perform operations to correct injuries and deformities and treat diseases.

Where doctors work

As of 2010, the majority of doctors in the United States worked for private offices or clinics, according to the Census Bureau’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. However, physicians are increasingly leaving smaller practices to work in larger group practices, health care organizations or hospitals. In such practices, a number of physicians share patients. Sharing allows individual doctors more flexibility in their schedules and can be beneficial in obtaining multiple opinions on proper diagnoses and treatments.

Doctors notoriously have irregular schedules, often working long hours and overnight shifts. Many remain on call around the clock in case of emergencies.

According to the Medical Group Management Association, wages of physicians are among the highest of all occupations, though salaries vary depending on what type of medicine is practiced. As of 2010, the median annual wage of physicians was $202,392, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Doctors who practiced specialized medicine earned closer to $365,885 annually.

Anesthesiologists earned the most out of all doctoring professions in 2010, with a median wage of $407,292, followed by surgeons, obstetricians, psychiatrists and pediatricians.

Because of the continued expansion of the healthcare industry, the annual rate of employment for physicians is expected to grow by 24 percent between 2010 and 2020. This is faster than the average rate of growth for all occupations.

Becoming a doctor

A career as a physician requires a great deal of education and on-the-job training. Aspiring doctors must possess a bachelor’s degree and attend four years of medical school. Upon graduating from medical school, student doctors must complete an internship and residency program, which can last anywhere from three to eight years, depending on the field of medicine practiced.

All applicants to medical school must possess at least a bachelor’s degree and have completed a number of prerequisite classes in mathematics and sciences.

An undergraduate major in pre-medicine or another health-related field is not mandatory for acceptance into medical school. But candidates must submit scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in order to qualify for a medical program. Some medical schools offer combined undergraduate and medical school programs that typically last six to seven years.

Upon completion of medical school, graduates enter a residency program in the field they wish to practice. Internships and residencies typically take place in hospitals and outpatient clinics and last between three and eight years.

Once residency training is completed, candidates for doctoring jobs must pass nationally standardized written and practical examinations. Additional requirements for those wishing to practice medicine vary by state. For more information, contact your state’s board of health and visit the Federation of State Medical Boards’ website.