How to Become a Doctor: Career Path Guide
To become a doctor, you first need to determine if this career path is right for you. Ask yourself the following questions:
• Are you intrigued by the ways medicine can be used to improve our lives?
• Do you excel in science and enjoy learning?
• Do you have the strength and stamina to work long and irregular hours?
• Do you have a strong memory and a genuine interest in people’s health?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to these questions, then a career as a doctor may be well suited for you! Below we've outlined what you'll need to succeed in a career as a doctor. We've also included helpful information for a career as a doctor, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!
Education Needed to Become a Doctor
Although educational requirements may vary by region, to become a doctor you typically need to fulfill the following educational requirements:
• Complete pre-medicine study at the bachelor’s level
• Complete a three or four year Medical Doctor (MD) degree program at an accredited university
• Complete post-graduate training in family medicine or another specialty
Please Note: Medical schools are highly competitive; applicants must submit transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and letters of recommendation
Doctor Job Description
Doctors, also known as physicians, are responsible for diagnosing and treating patients’ diseases, illnesses, injuries and other health problems. Physicians may specialize in a wide variety of areas, such as cardiology, psychiatry, neurology, internal medicine, sports medicine, surgery and many others.
Doctor Job Duties
• Examine patients
• Order and perform medical tests
• Confer with medical technologists regarding the results of testing
• Analyze and interpret the results of testing
• Determine appropriate treatments, which may include lifestyle changes, medication, surgery, rehabilitation programs or other treatments
• Refer patient to specialist if deemed appropriate
• Participate in health care teams and coordinate work with other physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other health care providers
• Obtain the medical history of the patient, either by referring to their records or by speaking with them
• Maintain current knowledge of developments in the field of medicine or within specialized field
Preparing for a Career in Medicine While in School
If you’re a high school or university student and you want to become a doctor, it is best to start planning as soon as you can. Below are some things you can do to work towards your future career as a doctor while you are still a student.
First and second year of undergraduate studies (freshman and sophomore years):
• Pursue chemistry, biology, physics and organic chemistry coursework
• Speak to your school’s career advisors about your career ambitions
• Join a medicine-related student organization
• Speak with your doctor about your career ambitions
• Consider job shadowing and /or volunteer experience
• Attend career fairs at your school
Third year (junior year):
• Research possible medical schools
• Complete medical prerequisite requirements by end of 2nd semester
• Make preparations for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test)
• Apply for admission at least a year in advance
• Gather letters of evaluation and recommendation from faculty and others
Final year (senior year):
• Participate in “mock” interview practice with Career Services staff before medical school admissions interviews
• Research sources of financial aid, and complete necessary forms
• Send thank you notes to evaluators, advisors and mentors
Personal Characteristics Needed to Become a Doctor
In order to become successful in a career as a doctor, you need to have the following personality traits.
• A strong intellect, necessary to successfully complete the rigorous requirements of medical school and continued lifelong learning
• Should be confident, as a doctor’s confidence can instill confidence in their patients
• The physical, intellectual and emotional stamina needed to work long hours
• Emotional strength and maturity
• Must be able to work effectively with other healthcare practitioners, such as nurses
• Should enjoy finding solutions to problems
• Should be empathetic to a patient’s emotional and physical pain
• Must be caring, compassionate and kind
• Should be conscientious and persistent
• Must be able to communicate in clear and plain language to patients
Is Becoming a Doctor a Good Fit for You?
Being a doctor can be very rewarding, as doctors provide their patients with essential health services. However, a career as a doctor can be quite demanding and stressful as well. Below are some positive and negative aspects of a career as a doctor. Before you apply for medical school, ensure this career path is right for you!
• On average, medical graduates earn more than any other graduates in the United States
• Doctors that work for their own practice have the freedom to set their own hours
• Successfully treating patients can be an extremely rewarding experience
• Some patients can be extremely difficult to treat, as they may not be very cooperative
• Earn the respect of your peers: doctors are typically very highly respected members of the community
• Depending on where a doctor works, they may have to work very long and irregular hours
• Becoming a doctor takes an average of 11 years of post-secondary study, do you have the intellectual and emotion stamina for such academic rigors?
Success Tip: Talk to your doctor; explain your interest in becoming a doctor to them and ask them what they like and dislike about the career
Doctor Salary: How Much Do Doctors Earn?
The salary level of doctors can vary greatly depending on many factors, such as their level of experience, their level of education, the facility or organization they work for, whether or not they work within a private or public healthcare system, their area of specialty and many others.
Doctor Salary Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the General Practitioners and Family Physicians occupational group earned an average wage of $84.67 per hour.
Doctor Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, workers in the General Practitioners and Family Physicians occupational group earn an average annual salary of $139,681 per year.
Doctor Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, salaries of workers in the Physicians and Surgeons occupational group are among the highest amounts of all occupations. The median salary of doctors who practice primary care is $202,392, and doctors that practice in medical specialties have a median annual salary of $356,885 (2010 figures).
Who Hires Doctors? Where Do They Work?
Doctors are typically employed by the following types of organizations:
• Private medical practice
• Public medical practice
• Regional health authorities
• Medical research organizations
• Public health agencies
• Occupational medicine organizations
• Municipal, regional and federal health administration
• International aid agencies
• Military service
Doctor Job Opportunities
Working Conditions of Doctors
Work Environment: The work environment for doctors can vary widely, depending on factors such as where they work, their area of specialization and others. For example, surgeons and anesthesiologists usually work in sterile environments and usually stand for long periods of time.
The type of setting a doctor works within can also influence other factors in their working environment, such as the condition of patients they may treat. For example, a doctor working in an emergency room setting may have to treat patients that are under the influence of narcotics, alcohol, or those that have just suffered serious trauma.
Work Schedule: The work schedules of doctors can vary widely depending on the type of setting they work in, as their working hours tend to reflect the operational hours of the facility that employs them. Family physicians tend to work normal, weekday working hours. Doctors that work in healthcare facilities that operate around the clock may have to work long, irregular and overnight hours. Healthcare facilities that are short staffed may also require their doctors to work more hours during the week and weekends, in order to ensure patients receive care.
Careers Similar to Doctor
Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Doctor, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.
How to Become a Doctor: References
Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a doctor in Canada as well as in the United States.
Alberta Learning and Information Service website (Canada): alis.alberta.ca
American Medical Association website (United States): www.ama-assn.org
Athabasca University website (Canada): lss.athabascau.ca
Service Canada website (Canada): www.servicecanada.gc.ca
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website (United States): www.bls.gov
Scholarships for Becoming a Doctor
Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!
Becoming a Doctor: Applicable Majors
Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a doctor. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!