How Long Do You Study To Become A Doctor

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How long does it take to become a doctor? - My Health Career

how many years of study to become a doctor

Degree LevelsBachelor’s degree followed by M.D. or D.O.
Field(s) of StudyPre-med or biological sciences then medicine
PrerequisitesHigh school diploma or equivalent; satisfactory MCAT scores
Program Length4 years for bachelor’s degree; 4 years for medical school; 3-7 years in residency and fellowships depending on specialty
Licensure/CertificationState licensure required
Job Outlook (2018-2028)7% growth
Median Annual Salary (2019)$208,000 or greater (for physicians and surgeons)

So now that you’ve chosen to pursue your dreams by becoming a physician, it’s useful to know when you can reap the benefits. While you’re thinking about getting into the best medical school possible and taking stock of your medical school requirements, you’ve probably already begun asking yourself, how long does it take to become a doctor?

One of the greatest concerns for students considering a career in medicine is how much additional education is needed—along with the associated time, effort, and medical school debt.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Doctor? - Kaplan Test Prep

The timeline can seem daunting. Four years for medical school, a minimum of three years for residency, and a few more if you want to specialize with a fellowship. Combine that with an average starting age of 24 (or 26 for DO—doctor of osteopathic—applicants), and this means the vast majority of medical students don’t become independent physicians until their early 30s.

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Requirements to Become a Doctor in the U.S.

The requirements for becoming a doctor in the U.S. may vary by specialty. In general, doctors complete a 4-year undergraduate degree program, spend 4 years in medical school, and then complete 3-7 years of residency training before they are eligible for medical licensing. Both degree programs typically include general medical coursework, while prospective doctors can choose a specialty later, during their residencies.

Completing a bachelor’s degree program is necessary to prepare prospective doctors to enter medical school. Though medical schools do not require specific degrees for admission, many students opt for programs heavy in biology and chemistry. Some schools offer specific pre-med programs that include the required classes for medical school, as well as prepare them to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Common courses in a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biology program include:

  • Chemistry
  • Biological studies
  • Physics
  • Human genetics
MCAT – Medical College Admission Test

The MCAT is a multiple-choice examination that students must pass before they are admitted to medical school. Physical science, biology, critical thinking, and verbal skills are all tested in a 5-hour computerized test. Most medical schools use this score when considering applicants for admission, so it’s important to score well to be considered for top programs.

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Medical school consists of four years of medical training and education. The first two years of a prospective doctor’s medical school experience are devoted to book study and laboratory work to prepare students for diagnosing and treating illnesses. During the second year of med school, students take the first portion of the United States Medical Licensing Examination, which is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners.

During the last two years of medical school, students begin their clinical experience, going through rotations at clinics and hospitals. Students work under attending physicians to begin their practical training in medicine. The fourth year of medical school is when the second licensing test is issued, as well as when students begin their residency training. As an alternative to undergraduate degrees and medical school, some institutions allow students to take a 6-year combination training and education program, which gives students a compressed medical and academic education.

The structure of an allopathic or osteopathic program, while very similar among medical schools, are quite different from their undergraduate counterparts. Generally, medical school is divided into two major components: pre-clinical and clinical (rotation) sections. Each of these are two years long, though there can be minor differences from school to school.

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The pre-clinical block focuses heavily on science and clinical skills, and while most are done through didactic lectures, some schools employ problem-based learning (PBL) or organize courses based on organ systems rather than subject. This part of the medical school requirement is similar to taking upper-level courses in undergrad, albeit at an accelerated pace.

At the end of the second (M2) year, med students take the USMLE 1, which may arguably be the most important examination of your medical education (yes, even more than the MCAT!). Residency committees commonly use it to evaluate candidates, meaning it has a large impact on what type of medical specialty you can later compete in.

In your third (M3) and fourth (M4) year, you will be on clinical rotations, meaning you will spend several weeks at a time in a hospital or other clinic setting, observing and learning from the physicians there. M3 often consists of core rotations near and at your school, giving you a solid foundation in the most common fields that people pursuing a career in medicine go into. M4 is very similar, though you will have more freedom in choosing the field in which you would like to do rotations. You will also have the option of going to other institutions to “audition” for their residency programs.

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A doctor’s internship or clerkship period is known as a residency. Most doctors complete their residency in a 3- to 7-year period, depending on specialization. The first year of residency is when the final medical licensing exam is given, while the residency itself focuses almost completely on practical training in a medical environment, rather than classroom learning. Post-residency fellowships might also be beneficial, as doctors can choose to sub-specialize in areas such as internal, geriatric, or vascular medicine.

Licensing Requirements

Licensing requirements for doctors vary by state, but most states require at least a 1-year residency program and the passage of a board certification exam in the medical specialty the student has chosen. Once these requirements have been met, a doctor is normally considered a fully licensed medical professional and is legally able to practice in their respective field.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Doctor

Although exact tuition costs vary by year and by school, the cost of medical school has consistently increased over the last decade. According to the AAMC, in the 2018-19 year, the cost of public medical school averaged $36,755 per year ($147,020 per degree) for in-state students and $60,802 per year ($243,208 per degree) for out-of-state students. Students attending private medical schools (in-state and out-of-state) had average costs of $59,775 per year ($239,100 per degree).

Average Medical School Costs (2018-2019)
Type of Medical SchoolAverage Cost
Public (In State)$36,755
Public (Out of State)$60,802
Private (In State and Out of State)$59,775

AAMC Tuition and Fees Report, 2012-2013 through 2018-2019

Most notably, attending a public medical school an in-state student is roughly 40% cheaper than attending either a private medical school or an out-of-state public school. The average cost at private schools and out-of-state public schools is roughly the same. (Please note that although the AAMC distinguishes between in-state and out-of-state private schools, the difference is arbitrary, since private medical schools have one tuition rate for all students.)

Keep in mind that the average costs included in the AAMC data are limited to tuition, fees, and health insurance. Other important costs to consider include housing, meals, transportation, and other living expenses.

Due to the demands of medical school, students are often unable to work part-time to subsidize their education, and most find themselves graduating with significant debt. According to AAMC, 76% of medical school graduates finish school with some debt. In 2018, the median debt at graduation was $200,000 per student. While fewer private school students accumulate debt during medical school, those who do (21%) have an average debt of $300,000 or more. 

With residency programs immediately following most medical school programs, recent graduates don’t begin earning at their full potential for three to five years after graduation. If you are applying to medical school, you should first seriously consider your dedication to the field, the time it will take to earn your degree, and how prepared you are to manage the debt of medical school in the early days of your residency and professional medical career.

Making Medical School More Affordable

From merit scholarships and student loans to government service, there are a variety of ways for medical school students to finance their education. It’s important to begin your scholarship and loan search early in the medical school application process so that you can take part in as many funding opportunities as possible.

Merit Scholarships

A number of medical schools offer full or partial merit scholarships. In 2018, NYU became the first top 10 medical schools to offer free tuition to all students, regardless of need. Washington University at St. Louis announced a commitment of $100 million toward medical school scholarships during the next 10 years. Beginning with the 2019-20 class, WUSTL intends to offer full-tuition scholarships to approximately half the class and partial tuition to additional students. University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine offers 25 full-tuition scholarships each year through its Twenty-First Century Scholars program. All students accepted to the Perelman School of Medicine are considered for the scholarship.

For students approaching their final year of medical school, Physicians of Tomorrow offers 10 different scholarship opportunities from a variety of sponsors. Students must be nominated by their medical school dean, and each school may submit up to two nominees. Each student may be nominated for only one $10,000 scholarship award.

The Joan F. Giambalvo Fund for the Advancement of Women offers scholarships of up to $10,000 to female medical students and female medical professionals studying issues of concern to women in medicine. Applications are due each year in July, and two awards are presented annually.

Government Service

Supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program provides medical school funding including tuition, fees, additional education costs, and a monthly stipend for a maximum of four years. Students accepted to a degree program in the fields of primary care, dentistry, nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife, or physician assistant are eligible to be considered for the NHSC Scholarship Program. Accepted participants must complete one year of service in a specified underserved area for each year (or partial year) the scholarship is received.

Similar to the NHSC Scholarship Program, the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program provides partial repayment of loans for medical students who work in underserved areas after graduation. Depending on the level of need in the area, students can earn loan repayment amounts ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 per year for working full time for two years.

The Health Professional Scholarship Program, provided by the U.S. Armed Forces, provides medical school scholarships for up to four years. The scholarships, which are offered by the U.S Amy,Navy, and Air Force, provide funding for tuition, fees, books, and health insurance, as well as a monthly stipend and a $20,000 signing bonus. Upon completion of medical school, recipients must serve one year of active duty for each year the scholarship was received, with a minimum three-year requirement.


The U.S. Department of Education offers loans to eligible medical school students. Applicants must complete the FAFSA to determine the amount of assistance available. Two types of government loans are available for graduate studies: Direct unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS loans. Direct Unsubsidized Loans are limited to a maximum of $20,500 per year, with an interest rate of 6.08% in 2019. Direct PLUS Loans are limited to the full cost of attendance minus any other loans, grants, aid, or scholarships received. In 2019, Direct PLUS Loans had an interest rate of 7.08%.