5 Steps to Become a Physician

Introduction to How to Become a Physician?

The path to becoming a doctor is a long one, not to say a lifetime one. Medicine is a challenging and constantly evolving field, which might seem intriguing and attractive to many people.

Who are the physicians, and what do they do?

Doctors are healthcare professionals involved in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions, and they usually do so according to the different specialties or areas of medicine. For example, there are general practitioners, internal medicine doctors, surgeons, family physicians, neurologists, and dermatologists, etc.

While general practitioners and specialists such as family physicians and internal medicine specialists focus on the wide care of frequent conditions, more specialized doctors such as neurologists and dermatologists focus on specific conditions in their field in a more specialized fashion.

Watch the Video Below to Learn How to Become a Physician

Who Can Be a Doctor?

People with a strong interest in biology, how the human body works, how it gets diseases, and how to attempt to restore bodily functions may weigh the possibility of studying a medical career.

Not only a strong interest in the biology of the human body is guidable in pursuing medicine, but also a strong enthusiasm for personal relationships, especially communication skills and understanding people’s problems in an empathic manner.

Needless to say, medicine is a fulfilling and rewarding career for many people, and it usually turns out to be the central purpose to many of them; they become doctors as a way of living.

Let’s turn to the different steps the interested student needs to take to become a Doctor.

How to Become a Physician

Steps to Become a Physician

1. Earn your bachelor’s Degree

The first step of this long trip is to enter college and earn a bachelor’s degree. In this regard, many medical schools in the US do not require a specific major. However, it is recommended to pursue a major in related medical foundational sciences, such as biology, neurosciences, mathematics, physics, and social sciences.

Always Do Your Best

Trying their best is a requirement for all students pursuing medicine as a career, not only because high scores in college are extremely valuable for medical schools to gauge their prospective alumni but because resilience is a strong feature of a Doctor.

When things don’t go as planned, judge your actions by your effort and your results. If the results don’t match your effort, it is not that you are bad, but you may need to refine your methods.

Good preparation in your college will aim you at increasing your performance in the MCAT test, which is the anteroom for medical school.

What About Extracurricular Activities?

Lastly, many people recommend performing extracurricular activities, including those related to the medical sciences, such as research, volunteering in local hospitals, and taking part in student societies.

2. Take Your MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test is a multiple-question-based examination that tests the general knowledge of biology, biochemistry, physics, mathematics, and analytical reasoning, and critical thinking.

You will be challenged by this examination and prepare yourself for the first of several decisive examinations in your medical career.

The Importance of Your MCAT Score

It is highly recommended to get a very good or excellent score on the MCAT since it is one of the criteria used by medical schools to determine students’ entrance.

Do not feel overwhelmed by this examination, though. In medicine, there will be hard times and struggles, as in many aspects of life as well. Focus on the process and the goal. Sometimes it is not as painful as it might sound; after all, studying hard should be one of the features of why you selected medicine as a field of study, and furthermore, getting involved in the intriguing understanding of the human body and mind is rewarding.

Do Not Rush It, Be Prepared

Take your preparation with calm, and learn to understand your study methods. This is going to help you know if you are ready or not for taking the MCAT.

Do not hesitate to ask for help when needed. Ask your college faculty about your queries, especially if they have experience in the medical field. In your career as a Doctor, you will face many instances in which you’ll need the help of your mentors, and knowing when and how to ask for help, is of great importance.

3. Assist Medical School

Congratulations! You accomplished the first milestone in your medical career. In medical school, you are going to learn the basic principles of the medical sciences and apply them through the clinical and surgical assessment of patients.

What Do You Learn in Medical School?

The medical school curriculum usually consists of the basic medical sciences in the first two years, followed by the clinical sciences in the last two.

The basic medical sciences include anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, immunology, genetics, pharmacology, pathology, psychology, epidemiology, and biostatistics, to name a few. The purpose of these courses is to understand the functioning of the human body and how disease impacts both the bodily and mental capacities of a human being. They consist of laboratory and classroom courses.

In the later two years, clinical sciences are developed, with a focus on medical practice supervised by attending physicians.

This might be the most exciting phase of your medical career since it would be the first time you interact with actual patients and have your training in medical facilities. In these courses, you will learn the basics of many medical specialties, starting from the fundamental ones: Medicine (or Internal Medicine), Surgery (General Surgery), Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Psychiatry; and followed by derivative medical specialties: Neurology, Ophthalmology, Otolaryngology (ENT), Urology, Emergency Medicine, Neurosurgery, and Orthopedic Surgery, among others.

Prepare for, and Take Your USMLE Exams

While in medical school, you endeavored to take the United States Medical Licencing Examination (USMLE) exams. They are three-step examinations that test basic medical sciences, clinical sciences, and clinical medicine, respectively.

Step 1. It’s usually taken after your second year of medical school, and

Step 2. Clinical Knowledge is taken previously to your residency program.

Step 3. is usually taken in the first year of your residency program.

4. Apply to a Residency Program

Finally, medical school is over, and it is now time to make your big decision on the medical specialty you are probably going to follow for the rest of your life. This could be a hard call to make, considering that the different fields of medicine are vast and exciting.

How Do You Decide on Your Residency Program?

A clue on the right choice for you would be to have a look at the rotations you really loved, but especially what you loved doing or what you saw others doing and thought, “I’d love to do this.”

In life, and particularly in any work you perform, your focus should be on “the doing.” If you enjoy your work, you’d probably do so for the rest of your life.

There are many specialties out there, ranging from clinical specialties to surgical specialties, and several specialties with less patient involvement, such as Pathology and Radiology.

You should consider the degree of clinical and procedural activities, the time involved with patient interaction, research activities, teaching activities, on-call time, and the residency program longitude since you would have to arrange all your daily activities according to your activities in the program.

You should choose the residency program that fits with your expectations for your future career, including the academic activities involved, such as research and casuistic.

Competivity varies among residency programs, being Dermatology, Orthopedic Surgery, Radiology, Surgery, Plastic Surgery, and Neurosurgery, the most competitive ones.

What is Required to Apply to a Residency Program in the US?

For most students, the medical degree, the Dean’s letter, three letters of recommendation, the USMLE Step 1 and 2 CK scores, a personal statement, the resume, and ECGMG certification (if international medical graduate) are needed for residency application.

Application is made via ERAS, an electronic web-based system for residency applications.

Starting to choose among the different specialties early in the career is recommended, so you can choose your preferred one and focus on building a strong background in the field, such as participating in clinical rotations and research activities.

5. Achieve Board Certification

Once your residency program is over, the next step is to obtain board certification. This means that you will need to test your skills and knowledge on the medical specialty you have chosen, and passing your board exams grants you certification for practicing medicine in an unsupervised manner.

In most states, this is considered to be the point in your career when you finally are a certified clinician or surgeon with the chance to decide your career path for the future.

For most doctors, medicine is a lifestyle, and continuing education and training is of paramount importance.

In the next sections, we’ll review the common activities Doctors perform to continue their education and training in the fields they have chosen to pursue.

6. Apply to Fellowships and Subspecializations

As therapeutics and diagnostics advance, more and more specific niches are available in the medical field. In this context, a board-certified Doctor can work as a general specialist or pursue a subspecialty available to their specialty. For instance, an Internal Medicine Doctor might want to practice as a general Internal Medicine Doctor or might want to specialize, furthering their knowledge in one branch of Internal Medicine, such as Cardiology, Nephrology, or Hematology.

How is Subspecialization Important?

For some physicians, subspecialization is a must because they want to do a very specific job. For example, Intensive Care Unit Doctors have specialized in Internal Medicine and are further subspecialized in Intensive Care Medicine; by the same token, an Epilepsy Neurologist is a physician who specializes in Neurology and subspecialized Epilepsy.

Doctors that pursue subspecialties are able to solve complex cases, and patients requiring them are usually referred by general practitioners or general specialists.

Other examples of more specialized fields include Sports Medicine, Military Medicine, Space Medicine, Oncology, Pediatric Surgery, Cardiothoracic Surgery, and Radiological Interventionism, among others.

7. Participate in Continuing Medical Education (CME)

The medical profession requires a constant acquisition or update of knowledge. Every year around 454,305 research studies are made in the medical field, although not all of them represent an ultimate change in usual clinical or surgical practice. Research paves the way for physicians all around the globe and seeks to improve the constantly evolving medical field.

Continuing Medical Education consists of a great variety of programs for doctors to keep them updated on the latest developments in the medical field.

In this way, physicians are able to show their capabilities to their employers and board certifiers and competency for patient care.


Becoming a doctor is a lifelong journey that requires dedication, hard work, and a passion for medicine. This article has outlined the various steps involved in pursuing a medical career, from earning a bachelor’s degree to obtaining board certification. It highlights the importance of academic excellence, preparation for exams like the MCAT and USMLE, and choosing the right specialty and residency program.

It also emphasizes the significance of continuing education and the option to pursue subspecialization. By following this guide and maintaining a commitment to learning and growth, aspiring doctors can embark on a fulfilling and rewarding career in the field of medicine.

If you are interested in the different career paths of a Doctor, take a look at our article about the physician career path.

See Also

Non Clinical Physician Jobs

Medical Billing and Coding Salary

How to Become a Dentist?

What is the Best College to Become a Neurosurgeon?

Current Version
April 5, 2021
Written By
Franco Cuevas, MD

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