By Calvin Bruce
Have you thought about becoming a medical doctor? There are over 650,000 licensed physicians in the United States, specializing in every discipline from Allergy to Urology. For the most part, they enjoy lucrative incomes, comfortable lifestyles, and prominent reputations in their communities.
The Educational Process
Becoming a physician is not an easy task, though. The educational process begins with a rigorous pre-med baccalaureate program. Standard curricula include heavy coursework in chemistry, biology, biochemistry, physics, physiology, mathematics, and so on. Pre-med students need to excel in their academic training in order to be considered for admission at a leading medical school. Affiliated with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) are 125 accredited U.S. medical schools and 16 accredited Canadian medical schools.
Medical school enrollment requires exceptional academic performance, high scores on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), strong recommendations from college faculty and administrators, and completion of a lengthy written application, as well as on-site interviews whenever possible.
Medical education involves four years of intensive classroom and clinical study. Core courses cover topics such as: Gross Anatomy, Human Embryology, Behavioral Medicine, Medical Ethics, Pathology, and Pharmacology. Students in their third and fourth years of study undergo various clinical rotations: e.g., Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, Neurology, Ob/Gyn, Psychiatry, Radiology, Primary Care, and Oncology.
Medical school graduates receive either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. Some students graduate from a dual-study program with a combined M.D./PhD degree.
Upon completion of medical school, graduates take a one-year internship that provides them with more extensive hands-on clinical experience as a medical practitioner. Once they have finished their internship and receive state medical licensure, they can practice medicine. However, the vast majority continue their training by doing a Residency in some medical specialty-such as Anesthesiology, Family Medicine, Radiology, General Surgery, etc. Residency programs usually last three years; but some combined residency programs-such as Internal Medicine and Psychiatry-last four or five years.
Physicians who complete their residency training are regarded as specialists in their field and are considered Board Eligible. This means that they are eligible to take the written and oral exams that enable them to become Board Certified in their specialized field of medicine. More and more, board certification is becoming a hiring requirement for most healthcare employers. If new physicians are not board certified at time of hire, usually there is a contract clause that stipulates that they must be certified in a certain timeframe in order to stay employed.
More ambitious physicians continue their training by doing a one- or two-year Fellowship. For instance, an Internal Medicine physician might do a Fellowship in Gastroenterology and practice medicine as a Gastroeneterologist. Technically speaking, she is an Internist by specialty and a Gastroenterology sub-specialist.
Physicians are among the highest-paid professionals in the nation. Depending on their specialty and market demand, new doctors can earn in the range of $115,000 – $200,000 (or more). Along with generous compensation, physicians receive attractive benefits packages, such as profit sharing in a group practice. Physicians working in academic medicine often enjoy perks such as tuition waiver for family members who attend the university.
Despite the lucrative earnings that doctors enjoy, there is another side to the equation. Many new physicians accumulate a mountain of debt during their 12 years of schooling and medical training. It’s not uncommon for doctors to begin their practice with over $100,000 in student loans and other indebtedness. Fortunately, some employers offer as a recruitment incentive financial assistance toward student loan “forgiveness.” But this is not something that every new doctor can count on, unfortunately.
The practice of medicine is, for many physicians, a challenging and rewarding career. However, anyone contemplating a career as a doctor is advised to consider all that is involved in preparing to enter the profession and to succeed as a practitioner in a highly competitive field.
Helpful Web Sites
Numerous web sites offer more information on what is involved in training as a student doctor and entering the medical profession.
One of the most helpful sites is that of the Association of American Medical Colleges. If you click on “Community and Minority Programs,” you will find valuable information related to: Minority Medical Education Program (MMEP), Medical Minority Applicant Registry (Med-MAR), Applying to Medical School, and Financing Your Medical Education.
Also of Interest
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