Requirements to Become a Doctor in the US

The path to becoming a doctor in the US is long, and requires a hefty time and effort investment. If you are sure this is the journey you want to embark on, the following guide on the requirements to become a doctor would be of great use to you.
Before we get into a detailed discussion on the path to becoming a doctor in the US, it is important to understand that there are numerous specialties and subspecialties in this field that you can choose from.

Specialization Options for Doctors

Determining a specialization is important, as the process to become a specialized doctor is different than that for becoming a general physician. The following is a list of specializations and sub-specialties available for aspiring doctors in the US:

  • Anesthesiologists
  • Family and general practitioners
  • Obstetricians and gynecologists
  • Pediatricians, general
  • Physicians and surgeons, all other
  • Psychiatrists
  • Surgeons
  • Internists, general

Once you have determined the kind of doctor you want to become, you can then move on to understanding the requirements in complete detail:

Educational Requirements to Become a Doctor

The educational requirements to become a doctor start with a bachelor’s degree. This 4-year long undergraduate program does not have to be in a medicine-specific major. However, students are encouraged to take up courses in biology, sciences and chemistry in order to form a strong foundation for further studies. Some colleges even offer complete pre-med programs for aspiring doctors.
Once a bachelor’s degree has been cleared, students ought to give their Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which is a standardized, multiple-choice test meant to determine the aptitude of the candidates. Colleges across the US consider the scores on this test, along with several other factors, such as interviews and letters of recommendations.
Once you get admission into a medical school, you are looking at four years of intense studies. The first two years of medical school will focus on classroom studies, along with lab work. The last two years of medical school will allow students to practice in a real-world healthcare facility, under the direct supervision of qualified doctors. During the four years of medical school, students are also required to take the licensing exams, administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners.

Training Requirements to Become a Doctor


In order to become a doctor, candidates need to complete a residency program, which is the equivalent of an internship or a clerkship. Most doctors complete their residency in a 3 to 7 year long period, depending on the specialization chosen. The residency focuses entirely on complete practical training in a medical environment, as opposed to traditional classroom learning.

Licensing Requirements to Become a Doctor

Once you have cleared the basic educational, training and residency requirements, you can move on to getting your license in the state where you want to practice. While licensing requirements vary from state to state, all states require doctors to be licensed to practice. Most states would require at least 1 year of residency training, along with passing all the required licensing exams, on a state or regional level.
Once all the above requirements have been met, a doctor is fully licensed and prepared to practice in their respective field.

How Much Does a Doctor Make in the US?

The amount of salary earned by doctors is variable according to the specialty chosen, and the area of practice. For instance, in some cases, underserved areas might offer the best salaries, while in other cases you may be better off working in big city hospitals.
According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median salary of physicians and surgeons was more than $208,000 per year. This is the highest salary for any occupation group. The salary figures may vary according to the specialty chosen. The highest paid doctors in this category were anesthesiologists, earning an annual mean wage of $267,020 in May 2018.