Becoming a doctor is no easy feat. Trust me, even after I finished 4 years of medical school, I have a long way to go until I’m an independent doctor.
The journey usually involves long hours of studying, a great deal of effort, a lot of medical school debt and most notably, a lengthy training.
So, how long does it take to be a doctor?
To cut to the chase, it can take anywhere between 11-15 years!
But there’s really more to it, so in this post, I’ve put together this guideline to give you a clearer picture of the process on how long it takes to be a doctor.
Education Requirements To Get Into Med School
The preparation to become a practicing physician essentially begins long before medical school starts.
But if you’re reading this as a high school student and wondering how to become a doctor – don’t worry you got some time. Check out this post to help if you’re a high school student!
But college does matter! In fact, your undergraduate years and preparation for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) are two important periods to become a doctor.
After high school, aspiring doctors must complete a bachelor’s degree which is typically heavy with science and math.
Some of the common courses you can take are biology, chemistry, physics, physiology, human genetics, and anatomy.
Most medical schools do not require you to complete a specific degree, but taking up a science-related course should help you prepare for MCAT as well as the rigorous life ahead in med school.
Note: Not sure what major to choose? Watch this video to help decide and see if it even matters!
And while there’s no particular time frame to finish your undergrad studies to become a doctor, most will get their bachelors degree plus the required pre-med courses within 4 years.
Note: Want to know the entire pre-med curriculum? Check out this post here!
Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
If becoming a doctor is your goal from the beginning, it is of utmost importance to score well in MCAT.
What is the MCAT you say?
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a multiple-choice, computer-based admissions test that every aspiring physician needs to take and pass before you can be eligible for most medical schools in the US.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) identifies the following MCAT sections:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
If you take a close look at the test’s content, it would be wise to work on your science, critical thinking, and English skills early on.
Pro Tip: Spend a good deal of time practicing your verbal skills through CAT practice exams and just getting in the habit of reading difficult pieces – some people recommend reading articles from the Economist.
But while an MCAT score is essential, it is only one of the factors considered.
Schools also look into your academic strengths, personal attributes, experiences and interests as well as any medical or health care research exposure.
Wondering which schools you can aim for? Check out my article on the hardest medical schools to get into.
And if you’re about to undergo med school interview, check out these common medical school interview questions.
Medical School Training
Med school is where a more in-depth education and training happens. Also, it’s what I talk about most on this blog and YouTube channel!
Other than the subjects you need to take, you should also be compliant with the tests and licensing requirements that come along.
What Subjects Do You Need To Become A Doctor?
In general, the subjects you need to take heavily depend on your school and country of residence, but the programs don’t differ too much.
Most med schools in the US offer a four-year program.
The first two years are typically spent on book study and lab work while the last two are actual practice in hospitals or clinics.
During the first and second years, students study the basic sciences which may include biochemistry, anatomy, microbiology, psychology, pharmacology, pathology, genetics, cell biology and immunology.
In years three to four, you’ll be given hands-on training on internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, gynecology, psychiatry, surgery and other medical fields.
As students, you’ll be examining patients, taking medical histories and making diagnoses with the supervision of an attending physician.
Some institutions even offer a combined undergraduate and medical school training! They do this by extending the length to six years and compressing the academic and medical education.
(Can save you a few years in the grand scheme of things. But I’d recommend taking your time. Don’t rush to a finish line!)
In the US, a three-step examination is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) as part of the requirements for medical licensing.
The tests are known as the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, Step 2 (CK and CS) and Step 3.
Trust me – if you’ haven’t heard of these “lovely” exams before – you’ll wish you hadn’t. They are dreadful.
But that’s why I’m here right? So check out the following posts to make the test more manageable!
You’ll encounter Step 1 on your second year in med school, Step 2 on your fourth year and Step 3 after completing at least one year of post-graduate training.
Average Age Of A Medical School Graduate
You’ll be at about 26 years old when you graduate from med school if you study in the US.
After graduating from high school at 18, you’ll spend 4 years in college and yet another 4 years in med school.
At around 26 years old, you’ll start taking up residency that averages 4 years, and at least a year of fellowship training.
This can vary, however. I finished at 25 years old. For comparison, my oldest classmate was married, with two kids, and in his 40’s! (It was a second career after the military for him)
What Happens After Medical School?
You’ll have learned a lot after finishing med school. But much of the refinement of your skills happen in the residency and fellowship years.
This is where I am as of this writing! You can follow my journey here!
For 3 to 7 years, the practicing physician undergoes paid residency programs in hospitals or clinics.
During this time, you’ll be involved in practical training to polish your expertise in managing, diagnosing, and treating patients in your chosen specialty.
The first year of residency is also when your skills for unsupervised medical practice will be assessed on the examination known as the USMLE Step 3.
Want to know what it means to be a resident doctor? Check out this video below!
To further specialize, you can choose to go on at least a year (but often more) of fellowship training which is typically focused on a sub-specialty of your chosen field.
An Internal Medicine specialist, for instance, can take a fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care or Cardiology because that’s where he/she wants to focus his/her career on. These would be another 3 years after residency!
How Long Does It Take To Finish Residency and Fellowship?
Here’s a quick guide on how many years you’ll be spending on your residency. Each specialty requires a different amount of time and below I’ll list them out nicely for you!
I’ve also included how long it takes to do additional fellowship training to become a specialist in each field if you choose.
For the specialization, the years spent in undergraduate studies, medical school, residency, and fellowship are combined.
|Resident Doctor||Fellowship||Specialist Doctor||Specialty|
|3 years||1-3 years||11-14 years||Internal Medicine|
|3 years||1 year||11-12 years||Family Medicine|
|3 years||1-3 years||11-15 years||Pediatrics|
|3-4 years||1-2 years||12-13 years||Emergency Medicine|
|4 years||1-2 years||13-14 years||Psychiatry|
|4 years||1-3 years||13-15 years||Ob-Gyn|
|4 years||1-5 years||13-17 years||Neurology|
|5 years||1 year||13-14 years||Radiology (diagnostic)|
|5 years||1-2 years||14-15 years||General Surgery|
|5 years||1 year||14 years||Orthopedic Surgery|
|7 years||1 year||15-17 years||Neurosurgery|
|4 years||1 year||13 years||Anesthesiology|
|4 years||1 year||13 years||Dermatology|
|4 years||2 years||14 years||Ophthalmology|
|5 years||2 years||15 years||Otolaryngology|
|4 years||1-2 years||13-14 years||Pathology|
|6 years||1 year||14-16 years||Plastic Surgery|
|5 years||1-2 years||14-15 years||Radiation Oncology|
|5 years||1 year||14 years||Urology|
Note that there may be some differences in the calculation depending on your affiliated institutions and sub-specialty chosen.
Not sure about the difference between an intern, resident, and fellow? Check out my article here.
How Long Does It Take To Become A Doctor In Different Countries?
As you may know, the length of medical training can vary from country to country.
If you plan to become a physician in Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand or in the UK, you may have shorter or longer training.
As an example, a general practitioner spends 12-14 years in New Zealand, 10-13 years in Canada, 10-11 years in the UK, 9-11 years in Australia, and only around 9 years in Ireland. That’s compared to around 11 years in the US.
It’s quite similar in India where it takes 11-15 years to become a doctor.
The journey starts after the 12th Science grade where aspiring physicians try to earn a bachelor’s degree for 4 years and prepare for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).
This then follows 4 years of medical school training and around 3-7 years in residency.
I understand that not all of you have the luxury of time to read through this article on how long does it take to be a doctor. So then, just know that it takes at least 11-15 years to be one in the US!
I’ve completed my undergrad in 3 years, a gap year, 4 years of medical school, and I’m currently in my first of 3 years in residency. I may also choose to continue further training via a fellowship.
So I still have a long way to go although I’m already 9 years into the process! But hey – I’m only 26 so I’ve got that going for me!
And if you have any questions regarding Physeo, if you want some follow up articles or have any questions regarding med school resources, in general, leave your comments down below.