When one watches television shows like House or Grey’s Anatomy and thinks that it is similar to real life medical practice, they may convince themselves that becoming a doctor is filled with exciting or mysterious procedures. While there are plenty of moments that reveal the complexities of the human body, becoming a doctor is a very demanding process — though ultimately a very rewarding one. The average salary of a doctor who has graduated from medical school is six figures, making it one of the best-paying jobs for any degree, though the workload required to attain the title of doctor is significant.
An undergraduate degree is required prior to starting medical school. There are some universities that offer an all-purposes pre-med degree, while others do not. Graduates of life sciences will have the best chance of being accepted to medical school: biology and biochemistry are the two best majors to have for becoming a doctor. These require intense memorization (a useful tool for future doctors) and understanding of certain biological processes.
Upon graduation from a university, the first year of medical school is spent introducing students to the terminology of the body and the details about human functions that they will need to be aware of. This includes everything from memorizing all the bones in the body to knowing how each organ system within the chest cavity contributes to metabolism and homeostasis. First-year students have an intensive final exam and then move on to their practicals.
In the second year, students begin to put their lessons into place. Medical schools will have second-year students operate on cadavers, removing and identifying organs as well as performing sutures and stitches as they would for a living patient. Much of the second year is also spent studying specific diseases, conditions, causes, and cures: this knowledge must be encyclopedic, meaning that the exam at the end of the second year can cover any of the thousands of ailments of the human body.
In the third year of med school, a student goes on various rotations. These include psychology, family medicine, surgery, emergency medicine, radiology, and dermatology. Student work closely with preceptors in order to apply their lessons to real-life patients: they are expected to compose themselves and work with patients in the exact manner that a professional would. They have some exams, but are graded by their preceptor according to their proficiency and competency. The fourth year is spent in the rotation of the student’s specialty, honing their skills for their choice of medical career. At that point, medical students will graduate and take their certification exams. Should they pass, they are official doctors and can practice medicine in whatever area they are certified in.
The process is not over, however, as a three or more year residency in a hospital or clinic is necessary to find employment. The first year is called an internship. During this year an intern is relied upon for practically everything, operating as a go-between for doctors and patients and getting real-life experience without the aid of preceptors or supervisors. During these three years, you will be getting to know your specialty and getting hands on experience in it. The hands on experience is often supplemented with lectures and conferences. If you choose to go into a sub-specialty, you may continue onto a fellowship after the residency. Residency is the first time a medical student is paid for his work.
After you have completed your residency, you are ready to become a licensed physician. Although you can technically become licensed in many states after only one year of residency, it is most common to wait until your residency period is over.
Should you choose to then become Board Certified (not required, but can be helpful), you will need to have completed a residency as well as complete an oral and written exam about the specialty.