April Maguire 5 min read Career Advice, Career Path Breakdowns

Path to Becoming a Doctor: Steps to Take from High School

Maybe you’ve dreamed of being a physician since the day you got your toy doctor’s kit. Or perhaps you started thinking about a medical career in high school. Regardless of when the idea occurred to you, you’re likely wondering just what it takes to become a doctor. 

 

While medicine is one of the toughest professions out there, there are ways to increase your odds of earning that elusive white coat. Keep reading to find out more about a career in the medical field, along with the steps you can take to boost your chances of success.

 

What Does a Doctor Do?

 

America’s No. 1 most prestigious profession, doctors play a key role in our society. Along with diagnosing physical and mental conditions, doctors treat ailments, injuries, and diseases in order to improve health and well being. Depending on the doctor’s specialty, they might order tests, prescribe medication, perform surgery, or just listen while a patient details their suffering.

 

Because of the importance of the task they perform, it’s no surprise that doctors are generally well paid. According to a study by ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for a medical physician is $224,190, with most doctors making between $150,000 and $312,000.

 

How to Become a Doctor: High School Through Residency

 

Whether you see yourself working in a doctor’s office or an emergency room, in a laboratory or a clinic, you should start planning for your career as soon as possible–ideally while you’re still in high school. Below are some of the crucial steps to take at various points in your educational career:

 

High School

 

While you probably know that you should take plenty of science classes during your high school career, you might not realize how crucial your college choice can be. There are 6 main considerations as you decide which colleges to apply to:

 

  1. Depth of science classes 
  2. Strength of pre-med advising
  3. Availability of research opportunities
  4. Access to hospitals 
  5. Financial aid generosity
  6. Liberal arts college vs. research university 

 

Check out this Youtube video a more in-depth view of these factors, and other tips on choosing a college as a pre-med.

 

Additionally, students who are definitely committed to earning a medical degree may want to consider applying to one or more BSMD programs. Allowing students to earn a Bachelor’s of Science degree and a Doctor of Medicine in one program, this option can result in an accelerated time frame, in which students complete their studies in as little as six years. Learn more about the various BSMD programs out there. 

 

If you’re not totally sure if you want to be a doctor, one of the best ways to learn about the field  is to shadow a doctor in your community. Shadowing allows prospective med students to follow a doctor throughout the day to better understand what the role entails. As a high schooler, you can feel free to ask your own doctors if they’d be open to you shadowing them, or talk to your teachers to see if they know someone who might be amenable. 

 

Additionally, high school students can gain valuable information about a career in medicine by scheduling informational interviews. Unlike job interviews, the purpose of an informational interview is simply to garner information about a position. Ask questions, learn about daily responsibilities, and find out if you’d be happy working in this profession. Even if you decide a career in medicine isn’t right for you at the end of the day, you’ll be one step closer to finding your dream job.

 

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College

 

So, you’ve chosen a college and are ready to embark on your medical education. While many people mistakenly believe that you can major in pre-med, the truth is that pre-med is a general track rather than a specific major. Basically, a pre-med student is just one who intends to go to medical school down the line. 

 

In fact, a pre-med student could technically major in anything, as long as they complete the required courses for med school admissions. A pre-med student could be a music major, for instance! The limiting factor is just that the prerequisite course list is lengthy, and most of them are science classes. It’s typically simpler for pre-meds to major in a science field, rather than have to worry about completing major requirements in a totally different domain along with the pre-med requirements.

 

Typically, medical schools mandate that applicants take the following courses as undergraduates:

 

  • Biology – 2 semesters with lab
  • Physics – 2 semesters with lab
  • General chemistry – 2 semesters with lab
  • Organic chemistry – 2 semesters with lab
  • Biochemistry – 1 semester
  • English – 2 semesters
  • Math – 2 semesters
  • Some schools also might require Psychology and Statistics

 

These requirements vary slightly by medical school, but these are the courses that are generally expected.

 

It’s worth noting that aspiring med school attendees should avoid taking too many classes at community colleges. According to U.S. News & World Report, med school admissions officers prefer students to take the majority of their science classes at four-year institutions.

 

Taking the right college classes isn’t just about fulfilling the requirements, however. Future doctors also need to expand their knowledge in order to prepare for the MCAT. A computer-based exam lasting seven hours, the The Medical College Admission Test plays a key role in med school admission decisions. This exam covers psychology, sociology, physics, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and biology. The MCAT also covers critical reading, so it’s also important to develop strong textual analysis skills in your humanities classes, such as philosophy or literature. 

 

Since the MCAT is such a weighty exam, and such a crucial part of medical school admissions, you want to be building up the necessary skills and knowledge over the course of your college career. The MCAT is definitely not something you can ace by simply self-studying for a few months; you need a strong foundation to achieve a high score, and taking all those science courses will help you build that foundation.

 

If this sounds overwhelming, remember that most colleges boast pre-med advising committees comprised of science and health professionals. These experts can help ensure you take the necessary steps to become a competitive medical school applicant. Some committees are more involved than others, but you should take full advantage of yours. Most will help you map out your college years as a pre-med, but some may even write a committee-wide recommendation for you and help you prepare for medical school interviews.

 

Medical School

 

Being accepted to medical school is a significant step on your journey to becoming a doctor. During the four years students spend studying medicine, they’ll have the chance to spend time both inside and outside the classroom. Coursework during the first two years includes anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, and pharmacology, as well as more basic science classes. Additionally, students will learn the proper methods of examining and interacting with patients. 

 

During the next two years of med school, students will start to embark on their hospital and clinic rotations, where they work side by side with residents. Most students select a specialty in Year Three, with options including internal medicine, general surgery, gynecology, pediatrics, orthopedics, and many others. 

 

Before moving on to your residency, you must pass an exam known as USMLE Step 2, which includes both multiple-choice and patient-interaction components.

 

Residency

 

After four years of medical school, students are now considered doctors. However, that doesn’t mean their period of hard work and learning is complete. As a resident, you will likely spend 3-7 years working in a teaching hospital under more experienced doctors. 

 

Additionally, you’ll need to pass a board exam in your chosen specialty before going on to practice medicine on your own.

 

It’s no secret that the latter years of high school can be stressful. After all, you have to keep your grades up and participate in sports and extracurriculars, all while making plans for the future. At CollegeVine, we created a free online guidance platform to help high schoolers raise their odds of getting into their dream colleges. Along with step-by-step recommendations and tools, users gain access to financial aid information, essay writing resources, and more. Create a free account today and start making your collegiate goals come true.

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.