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Q: How many years to qualify as a doctor in the US ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: How many years to qualify as a doctor in the US
Category: Reference, Education and News > Job and Careers
Asked by: dogbreath-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 18 Sep 2003 12:46 PDT
Expires: 18 Oct 2003 12:46 PDT
Question ID: 258090
In order to give some advice to someone, I am interested in knowing
how many years it takes on average for a mature student in the US in
their late 20's to change career and qualify as a doctor, undergo all
the hospital training and reach a level where they are back to earning
a reasonable salary again in their new career (say $50,000/year).

Some other assumptions to help:
1.  The person concerned has a 4 year scientific degree already, so I
assume the medical degree itself would only be another 3-4 years
2.  The person concerned would be going into general practice medicine
3.  If there is any regional variation, use California
4.  Assume the person is hard working and talented, so minimum periods
probably apply.

This question is probably best answered by someone from some personal
knowledge more than just Internet research.

Request for Question Clarification by boquinha-ga on 18 Sep 2003 17:26 PDT
Hello dogbreath-ga! 

I am in the middle of a very thorough answer for you, based on
personal experience. I hope that my fellow researchers will understand
me posting this clarification showing that I'm at work on this
question. I don't usually do this. However, I am on the east coast and
our lights are flickering, so I'm not sure if Hurricane Isabel will
let me do this in an extremely timely manner (but I'm hoping!). So
long as the cable doesn't go out, too, I am able to continue work
using my laptop battery. Thank you for your patience. Oh, and by the
way, I'm enjoying writing up the answer to an interesting question
like this!

Subject: Re: How many years to qualify as a doctor in the US
Answered By: boquinha-ga on 18 Sep 2003 22:34 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello dogbreath-ga!

Thank you for an interesting question! I grabbed it as soon as I saw
it, as I know, from personal experience, some of the ins and outs of
this topic—and I will share with you the kind of stuff you find in
books and websites as well as some of what they don’t tell you. You
see, my husband is a physician. He graduated medical school this past
spring and we are now learning firsthand about the adventures of
residency. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Also, I used to work in
the admissions office of a medical school, so I know some helpful
pointers from that experience as well.

Here we go! (Hang on; it can be a wild ride!) 

The simple answer to your question is “about 5-7 years” (I’ll
elaborate on the range). The usual route takes 7 years. The simple ins
and outs can be found at the websites listed below. I did a little
Google Answers Search on you, dogbreath-ga, and I see that you’re a
regular customer here and that you are, I believe, based in London.
You said in your question that you are looking for information on US
training for a friend, so based on that information I’ve listed
websites that deal with US specifics, but I’ve also added a website
from the British Medical Association just in case that’s
helpful/interesting to you as well!

I’ll break down the process (and elaborate on the nuances) into steps:

1.	Applying to Medical School

Your friend has a degree already. That’s good. And it’s in a
scientific field. That’s also good. Technically, you don’t have to
have a bachelor’s degree to get into medical school (although most
applicants do and many have, so to not have a degree puts you at a
disadvantage comparatively), so long as you complete your prerequisite
courses. Most likely, your friend (depending on the specific degree)
has met most, if not all, of the premedical requirements necessary,
since his or her degree is in science. However, your friend should
most definitely verify that he or she has completed the coursework
necessary to apply and get into medical school. Your friend can do
this by checking with the schools to which he or she would like to

Your friend also needs to complete the MCAT. This is equivalent to the
LSAT for law school. A good score on this aptitude test helps your
friend be an even more competitive applicant.

It is also useful to have hands on experience to “beef up the résumé.”
Many applicants have worked or volunteered in medical fields and know
firsthand what it is like to be involved in medicine or
medicine-related experiences.

Writing a good personal essay is important. These essays generally
have to do with why one wants to be a doctor and things of that
nature. Also, having impressive letters of recommendation is also
important in the application process.

Having worked in admissions, I can give you some tips. The caliber of
applicants to medical school is quite impressive. At the university
where I worked, it seemed that each year the applicants got better and
better. Many people do not get into medical school the first time they
apply. In my opinion, the “weeding out” process with regards to
becoming a doctor happens more in the application process than in the
schooling itself. Once you’re in, you’re likely to stay in. The
applicants that are trying to get in for a second and third time show
true determination, as they gain more experience and try again. Also,
it sounds as though your friend is switching careers entirely. Take
comfort in the fact that many people do this. I saw students in their
50’s at the University where I worked. I saw lawyers who were studying
to become doctors. I saw businessmen who were studying to become
doctors. I saw RNs who were studying to become doctors. Your friend is
not alone!

Depending on the kind of school to which he applies (allopathic—MD or
osteopathic—DO), emphasizing different aspects of your application is
beneficial. Being well-rounded is good no matter what you do, but
osteopathic school, due to their philosophy, tend to have a more
holistic approach even in screening medical school applicants. For a
look at the difference between MDs and DOs, please refer to: Also, my colleague,
aceresearcher-ga, has addressed the topic and you can see that here:

After applying to medical school, applicants anxiously await an
invitation to submit secondary applications. The universities that
invite applicants to submit secondary applications generally want more
specific information about the applicant and they also usually charge
more fees (yes, fees are a part of the whole process!). The applicant
submits “secondaries” and eagerly hopes for an invitation to
interview. Interview day can be stressful or relaxed, depending on the
approach of the interviewing school, although most applicants are
nervous either way. Interviews are usually done in either a series of
individual interviews or by a panel. My husband has sat in as a member
of the interviewing panel on a number of these such interviews and
sees quite a range of questions, from testing an applicant’s medical
scientific knowledge to asking what the applicant’s favorite book or
hobby is.

Once a person is accepted to medical school, yet more fees are
collected in order to secure a spot. Because entrance to medical
school is quite competitive, this is often an investment as many
applicants apply to numerous medical schools and put money down to
secure spots at any universities that accept them (there are stringent
deadlines for fees) and then decide which university to attend.

Clearly, applying to medical school is an involved process, but it is
also a very exciting and (hopefully) rewarding one.

2.	Medical School 

Medical School is 4 years long. I’m tempted to say
“looooooooooonnnnnnnngggggg” but I won’t. Remember, it’s very fresh in
my mind! For the first two years, students are immersed in intense
academic study, including lectures and testing galore! The amount of
material covered and the credits gained from the classes is much like
completing 4 years of college in 2 years. It’s A LOT of information!
Many colleges adhere to a pass-fail system; others use letter grades.

The 3rd and 4th years of medical school are made up of some didactics,
but mostly clinical rotations. Students rotate through a number of
specialties for two years. The rotations are generally 4 weeks long,
though they can vary from about 2 weeks to 6 or more weeks. There are
usually some elective rotations that allow a student to emphasize in
different fields to see what they like or to gain more experience for
applying to residency.

Students take board exams in medical school as well. These are taken
after 2 years and again after 4 years (and again in and after
residency). These exams test medical knowledge and skills.

Oh yes, and let’s not forget a big aspect of medical school for
most—DEBT. Going to medical school is a full-time endeavor and it is
nearly impossible to go to medical school and work full-time
simultaneously. It can be a very, very expensive proposition.

3.	Applying to Residency

After graduation, new doctors train in residency programs. Applying to
residency is a very involved (and somewhat costly) process as well and
I encourage you to check out the specifics of matching and scrambling
and interviewing on some of the sites listed below (it’s pretty
interesting, I assure you). You have mentioned that your friend will
be going into general practice, commonly referred to as “family
practice” these days. That is a 3-year residency (training) program
(one of the shorter ones compared to most specialties—for example,
residency programs in specialties like orthopedic surgery are 5 years
and specialties like cardio thoracic surgery and neurosurgery are even
longer). The good news is that family practice is one of the less
competitive programs to get into (there are many speculative reasons
for this including lower pay, participation in OB, not specializing,
not considered very prestigious, etc.). In my opinion, a person should
do what he or she wants to do and pursue fulfillment. I’m trying not
to show a bias here, but yes, my husband is a family doctor and I
think it’s great!

4.	Residency 

The first year of residency is called the internship year. Interns
work many, many hospital (and some clinic) hours, take a lot of call,
and often do a lot of “scut work” (residency lingo for menial tasks
that others don’t always want to do and that often are given to the
interns to do). There are all kinds of new laws in place (started this
year!) to make sure that work hours are more humane than they’ve been
in the past. So, interns now can get a little more sleep than interns
in the past.

Technically, one could complete the internship year and then begin
working as a physician in settings such as urgent care clinics.
However, to become board-certified, completion of a full residency
program is necessary. Earlier, when I referred to a range of “5-7
years,” I was alluding to this.

Together with the internship year, the other years (again, for family
practice, that’s 3 years) make up the residency. After residency,
doctors can elect to do additional fellowships in specialized areas.
For family practice, there are specialties in areas such as
obstetrics, sports medicine, and geriatrics.

A nice thing about residency is that you get paid. But not much. We’ve
heard a positive spin on it, as friends of ours refer to it as an
$80,000 raise (rather than borrowing 40 thousand a year—at some
schools—you make about 30 or 40 thousand a year)! Now, that’s
perspective! One of our favorite lines from a popular sitcom called
“Scrubs” (a show about resident life) goes something to the effect of:
“The average resident is $125,000 in debt and makes about as much as a
waiter.” Though residencies are paying more than they have in the
past, for the hours you put in, it is like making a waiter’s salary
per hour.

5.	Working as a Doctor (post residency)

Doctors continually learn and keep up to date by completing yearly CME
(continuing medical education) units. And this is about where your
friend will be earning a reasonable salary again, but much more
generous than $50,000 a year. The average salary for family physicians
is about $136,636 according to the site That and more
information can be found at

Writing this answer for you has made me wonder if it would discourage
someone because of how involved a process it is. I hope not. It is
also a very worthwhile and rewarding process and most definitely worth
it when it means following your dreams. I applaud people who have the
courage to switch professions in order to follow what they truly want
to do, no matter how challenging. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
Your friend sounds like a talented and intelligent individual as well
as a competitive candidate for medical school. I wish you and your
friend the best.

Should you need further assistance, please do not hesitate to ask.
Thank you again for your question and again, good luck to you!

Thank you,

When your friend graduates medical school, if you’re interested in
different gift ideas, please see Yes, this is a
shameless plug for another question that I’ve answered, but I think it
may be a useful one to you. Best wishes.


Google Keyword Search: “Becoming A Doctor”

How Stuff Works—“How Becoming a Doctor Works”

AMA (American Medical Association)—Becoming an MD

AACOM (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine)

British Medical Association—Becoming a Doctor
dogbreath-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Thanks so much Boquinha, this is an excellent answer and much more
comprehensive than I was expecting!   Google Answers is amazing.

Subject: Re: How many years to qualify as a doctor in the US
From: boquinha-ga on 19 Sep 2003 05:15 PDT
Thank you so very much for the 5-star rating, kind words, and generous
tip. I truly do wish you and your friend the best. Thank you, again!

Subject: Re: How many years to qualify as a doctor in the US
From: boquinha-ga on 13 Dec 2003 19:17 PST
Hello dogbreath-ga!

Posting to say, "Happy Holidays!"


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