Becoming a doctor requires a longer educational commitment than most careers. You will need to earn a bachelor degree and a four-year medical degree. You can choose any major you wish during your undergraduate studies, though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS, recommends taking courses in physical science, English and humanities to prepare you for medical school. In medical school, your first two years will be spent on classroom and laboratory instruction, while the final two years will be spent on clinical rotations to help you figure out which medical specialty most interests you.
After you finish medical school you can choose the specialty you feel you are best suited for. From pediatrics to geriatrics, oncology to endocrinology, there are dozens of specialties within medicine. Once you have chosen, you will undergo three to eight years of residency and fellowship training in your specialty. This training puts you in real-world settings working directly with patients as you hone your current skills and develop new ones. For example, residency and fellowship training in surgery will put you in real operating rooms, learning how to perform surgical procedures from licensed surgeons.
As a doctor, your specific duties will vary depending on what medical specialty you choose. For example, if you decide to become a family practitioner your daily life will be different than if you choose to become an oncology surgeon. However, all doctors treat injuries or illnesses, order and conduct medical tests, examine patients and answer patient questions. You might prescribe medications and teach patients about proper diet and exercise to help them improve or maintain their health. If you choose to become a surgeon of any specialty, you will do all of these things as well as perform surgical operations on your patients.
Skills and Traits
All doctors need specific skills and personality traits in order to properly perform their jobs — after all, lives are at stake every day in this line of work. If you are interested in becoming a doctor, you must have strong communication skills, leadership skills, organizational skills and problem-solving skills. You should be attentive to detail, as well as empathetic, compassionate and patient. Additionally, your work will have you on your feet for long periods of time, so you need to have physical stamina and dexterity to work with your hands each day.
Licensure and Certification
Doctors are required to obtain licensure in all 50 states. Becoming a licensed doctor requires passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination. While not required, earning voluntary certification after you become licensed can help propel your career and stand out as a professional. Board certification is available for most medical specialties through the American Board of Physician Specialties.
2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons
Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.