I Want to Be a Doctor! What Now?
Undergraduate Medical Education
Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Questions to ask yourself
- Do I enjoy serving others?
- Do I enjoy being a student and learning?
- Do I enjoy studying science?
- Do I enjoy solving problems?
- Do I enjoy working in leadership roles?
- Do I enjoy working in a team?
- Am I prepared to make short-term sacrifices to achieve long-term goals?
What are the major steps to becoming a doctor?
- Graduate from high school with strong academics
- Attend and finish college – 4 years
- Earn a bachelor’s degree
- Complete prerequisite courses for medical school
- Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- Apply to medical school
- Attend and finish medical school – 4 years
- Complete a residency training program +/- fellowship training programs in your desired field – 3-7 years
- Complete a fellowship in a subspecialty area 1-3 years
What are the residency/fellowship training programs?
Medical school prepares you to be a physician and gives you comprehensive, general medicine experience. After medical school you will need to apply and match to a residency program in which you learn your chosen medical specialty such as Family Medicine, Pediatrics, OB/GYN, General Surgery, Pediatrics, and more. There are 154 specialties and subspecialties! During this time, you are still learning of course, but you are a paid employee of the institution training you. Residency comes first, and the length of the program varies with specialty; the shortest are 3 years and the longest are 7 years. After your residency training, you may choose to further sub-specialize by completing fellowships usually lasting 1-3 additional years. At a minimum, you must complete a residency training program to become “board-certified” in any field of medicine.
What courses should I take in High School?
Medical schools do not require any specific high school courses. However, high school is a very important time to start developing analytical, problem solving, and communication skills. You should challenge yourself by taking:
- As many science and math classes as possible
- Any Advanced Placement classes available at your school
- A speech course
- A foreign language class (especially Spanish if you plan to stay in Texas)
What major should I have in college?
You can choose any major! There is no specific major for which medical schools are looking. You should pick something that you are really interested in studying for four years, whether it is science-related or not. Keep in mind, however, that whatever major you choose, you will be responsible for completing the required prerequisite courses for medical school. It is not recommended that you major in a specific health profession training program such as Physical Therapy or Nursing; these are professional programs that prepare you for a specific profession other than being a doctor.
What if I have advanced placement, international baccalaureate, or dual enrollment credit for medical school prerequisite courses?
First, be mindful that many students who have taken such courses do not have enough credit in any one subject to meet all requirements for medical school. You should be diligent in reviewing both your college degree plan and the required prerequisite courses for specific medical schools. If you do have credit for all required prerequisite courses in a particular subject prior to starting college, you should consider taking at least one additional course in that subject during college. Medical schools want to see how you can perform in these courses at the college level. Moreover, some students may feel they do not know the material very well, and may decide to retake some of the courses for which they have already received credit. This is up to you!
When do I need to decide that I want to go to medical school?
There is no official upper age limit to applying to medical school. Most people apply during or shortly after college, but people in their 30s and even 40s do as well. The most important aspect of when to apply to medical school is making sure you are ready to do so. With that being said, if you want to start medical school in the fall after you graduate from college, you would need to submit your application during the summer after your junior year of college. To do so comfortably, you would probably need to decide that you definitely want to apply to medical school sometime during your sophomore year of college. By this point, you still have plenty of time to take the necessary prerequisite courses and prepare for the MCAT. It is very important that you get in touch whatever pre-med advising faculty exists at your college as soon as you think you might want to go to medical school so they can help get you on the right track.
What can I do now to prepare for myself for medical school?
- Develop good time management, study skills, work ethic, and attitude towards your education. You need to get very good grades in college if you want to go to medical school, and you need very good study skills to get good grades.
- Learn to set aside a certain amount of time each day to study, even if you do not have to do so now. Take notes in class and review your notes when you get home.
- Practice studying early, rather than waiting until the night before the test.
- “Shadow” a physician that you know i.e. ask to follow them around during their workday to see what the life of a doctor is actually like. Aside from a good academic record, demonstrating that you have some experience in a healthcare setting is one of the most important parts of a medical school application.
- Volunteer in a hospital, clinic, or other healthcare facilities.
- Set clear short- and long-term goals for yourself, and start figuring out how you can achieve them.