7 “Easiest” Types of Doctor to Become + How to Get There
Becoming a doctor is not an easy task. It involves hard work, extensive preparation, and a certain level of intensity. That being said, there are some specialties that are more or less competitive than others.
In this post, we’ll go over the steps to becoming a doctor, including the process of specializing. We’ll also rank the “easiest” types of doctor to become and what each of those specialties entails.
How to Become a Doctor
If you can’t be pre-med in high school, how do you prepare for your future medical career? The answer is to strategically navigate the college application and admissions process. Keep your goal of becoming a doctor in mind as you decide which universities to apply to. You will want to consider the rigor of each school’s science classes, the effectiveness of pre-med advising, how research would factor into your college career, whether hospitals are accessible, and the financial viability of each university.
Your time in college is critical to your medical career because your undergraduate years are when you complete your pre-med requirements and bolster your medical school application. Medical school has extensive requirements to be completed as part of your undergraduate studies. These requirements generally include multiple semesters of biology, physics, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and math.
While you do need to complete all the pre-med prerequisites to apply to medical school, medical schools will also heavily consider your success on the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) in their decisions. Preparing for the MCAT should be high on your priority list during your undergraduate studies.
In medical school, you will have intensive coursework in a variety of subjects—including anatomy, pathology, pharmacology, and more—which will be supplemented by hands-on experience. This includes exploring different specialties through clinical rotations so that you can confidently select your specialty when applying for residency.
After finishing medical school, you will be a doctor (sort of)! You will still need to spend three to seven years working as a resident under more experienced doctors. This is where you will become an expert in your specialty. You must pass a board exam in your specialty before you can begin practicing on your own.
Learn more about the steps to becoming a doctor in our blog post.
When Do Doctors Specialize?
During the first two years of medical school, students do preclinical training and are advised to keep an open mind toward different specialties. In the same way that undergraduates have the freedom to change their major early in their college career, medical students are not locked into their specialty right away.
Usually, at the beginning of the third year of medical school, students start clinical rotations. This is when students shadow physicians and residents, interact with patients, and see the applications of their coursework. You can choose to clerk for doctors in different areas, such as general surgery, gynecology, internal medicine, or orthopedics. Some people also view clinical rotations as networking opportunities and informal interviews.
Clinical rotations exert a major influence on the specialties chosen by medical students. Sometimes they reinforce the long-standing desires of students, and other times they expose students to new and interesting paths. When doing rotations, it’s important to think about what you want to get out of your job and what you want to achieve during your future career. Some factors that influence a doctor’s specialty choice include:
- Work-life balance
- Income expectations
- Personality of other doctors in a particular specialty
- Length of residency
- Amount of contact with patients
- Time in a hospital vs. time in an office
When applying for your residency, you finally decide on your specialty. Residency applications are typically submitted in the fall of your fourth year of medical school. If you need more time to decide your specialty, there are subinternship opportunities, or you can take an extra year.
Least Competitive Medical Specialties
Competitiveness is often rated as an important factor for students who are deciding on their specialty. Using the average United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 scores—which assess the foundational medical knowledge of medical school students—and the average number of abstracts, publications, and presentations of first-year residents by specialty in 2020-21, we’ve created a list of least competitive specialties.
1. Family Medicine
Average Step 1 Score: 216.1
Average Number of Publications: 2.8
Family medicine practitioners are trained in pediatrics and adult care (including gynecology and gastroenterology) so that they can treat every member of the family. Their work involves comprehensive care and requires an understanding of most ailments. Family medicine doctors typically engage more in office-based work—such as “well” and “sick” visits—than hospital-based work.
Average Step 1 Score: 223.1
Average Number of Publications: 5.0
Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, as well as substance abuse disorders. Diagnosis typically involves conversations with patients and common treatments include psychotherapy and medication.
3. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Average Step 1 Score: 224.2
Average Number of Publications: 4.7
Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physicians work with patients who have physical impairments or disabilities (from disease, condition, or injury) to improve their ability to function and their quality of life. PM&R uses physical therapy and pain management, and it attempts to avoid surgical operations whenever possible.
Average Step 1 Score: 226.4
Average Number of Publications: 4.7
Pediatricians focus on children exclusively. They are concerned with the variety of physical, mental, social, and behavioral health factors that affect children until the age of 18. Pediatricians must understand the typical development of children to ensure that their patients are developing healthily.
5. Emergency Medicine
Average Step 1 Score: 231.1
Average Number of Publications: 3.9
Emergency medicine doctors treat patients in the emergency room. EM doctors are truly the jack of all trades, as they see a wide range of patients, ranging from people with everyday illnesses to trauma victims.
6. Internal Medicine (Categorical)
Average Step 1 Score: 231.4
Average Number of Publications: 5.2
Internal medicine exclusively focuses on adults and adult health conditions. These physicians—called internists—prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases and conditions that affect any part of the adult body. They are involved in health maintenance and disease screening, and they often make referrals to other specialists.
Average Step 1 Score: 232.7
Average Number of Publications: 5.3
Anesthesiologists specialize in the administration of anesthetics during surgeries and other procedures. They help to ensure that you feel a minimal amount of pain or remain asleep during operations. Anesthesiologists can also provide pain relief and care outside of the operating room to patients with chronic conditions such as cancer.
If you are interested in any of these specialties, or any others, check out CollegeVine’s comprehensive review of medical specialties, which includes details about each specialty’s duties and salaries.
Best Pre-Med Schools
It’s a common misconception that pre-med is a major—at most schools, it is actually a “track” that students follow to fulfill the prerequisites for applying to medical school. Find out more about pre-med requirements here.
Some colleges that are known for their pre-med advising, access to medical opportunities, rigorous STEM courses, and high medical school acceptance rates include:
Location: Cambridge, MA
Undergrad Enrollment: 13,100
Acceptance Rate: 4%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1480-1580 SAT/33-36 ACT
Graduating from a prestigious and historic institution like Harvard is sure to give a boost to any student’s odds of getting into medical school. A 2013 article from The Harvard Crimson estimates that 17% of a given Harvard class will apply to medical school, and in 2012, Harvard pre-med applicants with a 3.5 GPA or higher had a 93% acceptance rate to medical school.
There are a variety of resources available to Harvard pre-med students. The school’s Office of Career Services provides advisors for students pursuing health-related fields, and publishes a newsletter containing information about items like upcoming workshops and medical school visits. There are also a number of groups that are beneficial to students interested in medical careers, including the Harvard Pre-Medical Society and Harvard Alumni in Healthcare.
Location: Durhan, NC
Undergrad Enrollment: 7,000
Acceptance Rate: 5.8%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1490-1560 SAT/33-35 ACT
While Duke doesn’t offer a specific pre-med path, it does provide all the classes required for students who are planning on applying to medical school—and it even suggests courses for students interested in health-related careers. Duke also offers advisors especially focused on assisting pre-health students. According to Duke, between 70% and 80% of its students are accepted into medical school—a considerably higher percentage than the national average.
Outside of the classroom, students will find numerous opportunities to prepare themselves for a career in medicine, from conducting research to volunteering at local hospitals and health centers to shadowing healthcare professionals. On campus, students will also find groups that support pre-med students, such as the American Medical Women’s Association and Duke Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students.
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Undergrad Enrollment: 13,000
Acceptance Rate: 5.8%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1480-1570 SAT/33-35 ACT
There are a lot of qualities that attract pre-med students to UPenn, such as its Ivy League bona fides and access to the Perelman School of Medicine—founded in 1765, it’s the oldest medical school in the country. Another attractive factor of UPenn is the acceptance of its students into medical school; 82% of UPenn students and alumni who applied to begin medical school in 2022 were accepted—that’s nearly twice the national average (43%)!
UPenn accommodates a broad swath of pre-med students. Its Pre-Health Core Studies program is aimed at helping students with little scientific background get up to speed, while its Pre-Health Specialized Studies program can help students with scientific backgrounds bolster their academic credentials and become more competitive medical school candidates.
UPenn offers pre-health advising from professionals with significant healthcare, life-science research, and higher education experience who can assist students with everything from course selection to application preparation to interviewing.
Location: St. Louis, MO
Undergrad Enrollment: 13,000
Acceptance Rate: 5.8%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1480-1570 SAT/33-35 ACT
More students apply to medical school from WashU than from any other college on this list—a staggering 372 WashU students applied to medical school in 2022-2023. It’s not just that WashU generates a lot of applicants; it also has successful applicants—between 2017 and 2021, their first-time acceptance rate to medical school was 76%.
The MedPrep Program is unique to WashU. This two-part program begins with a lecture series detailing the educational pathway to becoming a doctor and concludes with students getting real-world experience in medicine by shadowing for four hours every other week at the Charles F. Knight Emergency and Trauma Center of Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
WashU provides an abundance of research opportunities to pre-med students as well as programs like the Washington University Biology Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program (BioSURF), which offers an excellent way to improve your med school application while earning funding.
Location: Houston, TX
Undergrad Enrollment: 4,300
Acceptance Rate: 9.48%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1490-1570 SAT/34-35 ACT
Rice University is an extremely popular destination for students with an interest in pursuing health-related careers—between 30% and 40% of incoming students indicate an interest in pre-health studies. Helping push Rice to the top of many pre-med students’ lists is its proximity to the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical complex, which is home to the world’s largest children’s hospital and world’s largest cancer hospital.
Rice pre-med students will find no shortage of support on campus. Specialized advising is available to pre-health students and offers guidance on everything from course selection to applying to medical school. The Rice Pre-Medical Society (RPMS) is an undergraduate organization that provides resources, advice, and opportunities to students interested in health professions. The RPMS also provides the Big Owl/Little Owl Program (BOP), which connects Rice undergraduates with medical students, physicians, and residents.
Location: Stanford, CA
Undergrad Enrollment: 7,800
Acceptance Rate: 3.6%
- 94.4% scored between 1400 and 1600 on the SAT
- 96.1% scored between 30 and 36 on the ACT
Graduating from a prestigious college like Stanford is a feather in the cap of any student hoping to attend medical school. Stanford doesn’t have a pre-med major (like most colleges), but it does provide extensive resources for students interested in health-related careers.
The college provides pre-med advisors to assist students in picking out courses, planning for long-term objectives, and gaining valuable experience. In autumn, the former Assistant Director of Admissions at Stanford University School of Medicine makes herself available to meet with students to discuss the medical school application process, school selection, and preparation for interviews.
Pre-med students at Stanford will find a myriad of application-boosting opportunities on and off campus, from physician shadowing to volunteering to research.
Location: Evanston, IL
Undergrad Enrollment: 9,900
Acceptance Rate: 6.9%
SAT/ACT: 1490-1550 SAT/33-35 ACT
In recent years, Northwestern has sent students on to some of the best medical schools in the nation, including Harvard, NYU, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, and UPenn. The college provides Health Professions Advising (HPA), which assists students in understanding the various pathways to medical school, required courses, and the application process. Also helping Northwestern students on the path to a career in health-related fields is the Pre-Health Professional Student Group, which is dedicated to the successful admission of its members into programs that lead to careers in medicine, health, and veterinary practice.
The Northwestern Undergraduate Premedical Scholars Program (NUPSP) is a program unique to Northwestern. The program provides early MD acceptance to Northwestern students who have completed two full years of undergraduate study and are committed to attending Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. NUPSP doesn’t require students to take the MCAT examination and accepts between six and eight students annually.
Location: Providence, RI
Undergrad Enrollment: 7,100
Acceptance Rate: 5.5%
SAT/ACT: 1470-1550 SAT/33-35 ACT
Between 130 and 150 Brown students and recent graduates apply to medical school annually and frequently boast acceptance rates of over 80%. In 2021, 81% of Brown students and recent graduates gained acceptance into medical school. Brown offers healthcare career advising, along with health career peer advisors (HCPA) who offer first-year students the opportunity to speak with current undergraduates about their experience as health career students.
Brown is most notable for its Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME)—an eight-year program that combines an undergraduate degree with medical school—and the only program of its kind in the Ivy League. Nearly one-third (32%) of Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School class of 2026 were admitted through the PLME program. Students enter the PLME program directly from high school and can pursue undergraduate degrees in a wide variety of fields ranging from the sciences to the humanities.
Location: Amherst, MA
Undergrad Enrollment: 1,800
Acceptance Rate: 7.2%
SAT/ACT: 1450-1520 SAT/33-34 ACT
The only liberal arts school on our list, Amherst College has a proven track record of getting its students into medical school—on average, the college enjoys between a 75% and 80% acceptance rate.
The school provides pre-health advising and mentoring throughout a student’s undergraduate years and beyond. Amherst College emphasizes a holistic approach to pre-med paths, encouraging students to follow their interests and be themselves rather than merely checking boxes on the track to a medical career.
Amherst College supports pre-med students in a number of ways, like publishing pre-health guides and a bi-weekly newsletter, hosting small group advising sessions, and providing mentors. It also offers a variety of research, volunteer, and physician shadowing opportunities.
Location: Cleveland, OH
Undergrad Enrollment: 5,500
Acceptance Rate: 27%
SAT/ACT: 1420-1520 SAT/32-33 ACT
Nationally ranked hospitals within walking distance, easy access to healthcare professionals, and an abundance of available research opportunities are just a few factors that attract pre-med students to Case Western. Another impressive advantage of a Case Western education is the 64% medical school acceptance rate its undergraduates have enjoyed over the last five years—significantly higher than the 42% national average. Recent graduates have matriculated at top medical schools like Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and NYU.
The Pre-Professional Scholars Program (PPSP) is something that catches the eye of many pre-med students. Up to 20 first-year applicants annually are accepted into this extremely competitive eight-year program, in which students earn an undergraduate degree and go on to study at the School of Medicine. Just how hard is it to get into the PPSP? In 2021, Forbes reported it had an acceptance rate of just 1%!
View more top pre-med schools to get an idea of where you might want to apply. And to get an idea of your chances of admission at various universities, we recommend using our free admissions calculator. By inputting your grades, extracurriculars, and more, we’ll estimate your odds of acceptance, and help you improve your candidate profile.