The Ins and Outs of Medical Profession

Career Options for MDs:

Medical schools recognize that many people have other interests in addition to medicine. To that end, medical schools offer a number of combined degree programs, upon completion of which you can get MD degree plus a Ph.D (Doctor in Philosophy) or JD (Juris Doctor/Doctor of Law) or MPH (Master in Public Health) among others.

Links: Other career options for doctors: MD/PhD, MD/JD, MD/MPH Programs

How do you become a medical doctor (MD)?

To become a doctor in the United States, you generally must graduate from a 4-year college or university. Alternatively, there are a few programs that combine college and medical school–more about them later. After you graduate from a 4-year college or university with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree, you go to Medical School, where you’re trained to be a doctor.

Medical school is also 4-years long. When you graduate from medical school, you get your MD (Doctor of Medicine) degree. If you want to be a generalist physician/family physician/primary-care physician you need to spend 2-3 years after medical school in an “apprenticeship”which is known as residency. If you want to specialize in some area of medicine, for example if you want to be a surgeon, urologist, cardiologist or oncologist, your residency will be longer, anywhere from 3-8 years depending on the medical specialty you choose to pursue.

Admission to medical school is highly competitive. To be eligible for admission to medical school, you must in general have taken a number of specific courses while in college (if you have already graduated–you can join a post-baccalaureate program at an accredited college/university). You must also take a Medical School Admissions Test (MCAT). Your grade point average (GPA), MCAT scores, recommendations, extracurricular activities, your state of residence, and other achievements each play a significant role in medical school admissions.

Once you are accepted into a medical school in the US, the medical school is four years long. The first two years are basically spend attending classes–studying basic biomedical sciences that underpin the science of medicine. After the second year in medical school, medical students take an exam called USMLE Step 1, which covers all basic sciences material that is taught in the first two years of medical school. Passing USMLE Step 1 is a requirement for progression to years 3 and 4.. The last two years of medical school are spend both taking classes and on rotations in hospitals, where you learn medicine by doing it and from observation of other doctors. Somewhere at this point one must pass USMLE Step 2, which covers clinical knowledge. Successful performance on USMLE Step 2 is required in order for one to be board certified and to be able to practice the art and science of medicine..

After four years at medical school, you graduate with MD in medicine but you still cannot practice medicine. You must spend anywhere from 2 to 8 years more in residency, depending on medical specialty or subspecialty you want to pursue. In general, family physicians spend about 2 years in residency. Specialists such as cardiologists, surgeons, radiologists, urologists spend more. Then if you want to sub-specialize as in cardio-thoracic surgery or something as complex, you must spend more years in training. During your residency you must pass USMLE Step 3 in order to be state-certified for practice of medicine. USMLE Step 3 covers clinical thinking and clinical management.

After all this adventures in medical education, you’re free to experiment on your unsuspecting patients (they even come to you!).


The required “pre-med” classes are as follows:

  • A year of freshman Chemistry along with the appropriate laboratory courses
  • A year of Organic Chemistry along with laboratory courses
  • A year of Biology along with laboratory courses
  • A year of Physics along with laboratory courses
  • A year of English
  • A year of Calculus or other advanced Math, including Statistics

In addition, many schools require a certain number of credits in non-science classes. Less common are the schools that have more specific requirements such as coursework in Behavioral Sciences (Psychology), Philosophy, etc. Consult particular medical schools (or look at their web sites) to find out the specifics.


Medical schools also require that you take Medical School Admissions Test (MCAT) before you apply. This is a half-day examination that tests your knowledge in three areas: Verbal Reasoning (Reading Comprehension), Physical Sciences (Chemistry and Physics), Biological Sciences (Organic Chemistry and Biology). In addition there is a Writing Sample section consisting of two essay questions that tests your expository writing . Neither the English section nor the essays require any prior knowledge.

The pre-med requirements listed above in general cover most of the material on MCAT and serve to prepare you for MCAT. So if you do well in these, you’ll have easier time on MCAT.

The Verbal, Physical and Biological Sciences sections of the MCAT are all-multiple choice and each section is graded on a scale of 1-15. The maximum score you can get on all three sections therefore is 45. In general few people get above 34 combined, so theoretically 11.5 should get you into top schools. Anything 10 and above in each section (for a total of 30) is a very competitive score. Average scores less than 9 per section (for a combined score of less than 27) makes your life much harder and even though people do get in–the odds are against you. There are of course exceptions to this rule of the thumb and other factors such as GPA, extracurriculars, Nobel prizes, etc play role in admissions.

Before taking MCAT, do take timed practice MCAT exams to test how well you do. Do not take the real MCAT for practice!!! If you do less well than you want on a practice exam by all means spend all the time you need studying and improving your knowledge and score on mock MCAT before going for the real thing. Reapplying for medical school ten times does not look all that good–besides medical schools know that you’re reapplying..