How long does it take to become a Doctor

How long does it take to become a doctor? This is a question that comes to the mind of many aspiring individuals who dream of entering this well-paying and highly respected profession. As someone interested in becoming a doctor, you must be ready to face the challenges that accompany this vital career.

The number of years it takes to become a doctor varies depending on the specialty you choose, particularly during the residency period. This specialty will determine the length of time you will spend in training after completing your undergraduate degree and medical school.


Who is a Doctor?

According to Wikipedia, a doctor, or physician, is a professional who practices medicine, which involves promoting, maintaining, or restoring health through the study, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of disease, injury, and other physical and mental impairments. Physicians may specialize in certain disease categories, types of patients, and treatment methods—known as specialties—or they may provide comprehensive medical care to individuals, families, and communities, known as general practice.

A doctor’s responsibilities include diagnosing and treating patients, discussing symptoms, administering exams, ordering tests, writing prescriptions, and making referrals to specialists if necessary. Doctors also train assistant doctors to ensure compliance with administrative standards and regulations.

Steps to Becoming a Doctor

To understand how long it takes to become a doctor, it’s important to know the educational and training requirements. Here are the steps:

  1. High School Education
  2. Undergraduate Degree Program (4 years)
  3. Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
  4. Medical School (4 years)
  5. Residency Program (3 to 7 years)
  6. Fellowship Training (Optional)
  7. Medical License

Let’s delve into each of these steps in detail.

1. High School Education

The journey to becoming a doctor starts as early as high school. Aspiring doctors should focus on excelling in science courses such as biology, chemistry, and physics. Advanced Placement (AP) courses and honors classes can provide a strong foundation. Participating in extracurricular activities, such as science clubs or volunteering at hospitals, can also be beneficial. Achieving high grades and a strong GPA is crucial for gaining admission to a reputable undergraduate program.

2. Undergraduate Degree Program (4 years)

The next step is a four-year undergraduate degree program aimed at preparing students for medical school. While there is no specific major required, it is advisable to major in a science-related field. Common majors include biology, chemistry, psychology, nursing, medical technology, or exercise science. These courses typically cover subjects such as anatomy, physics, biological studies, and human genetics.

During your undergraduate years, it’s beneficial to network with doctors in your desired specialty by scheduling job shadowing opportunities. This provides exposure to the daily responsibilities of a doctor and allows you to ask key questions about their career path and education. Additionally, participating in research projects and gaining clinical experience through internships can strengthen your medical school application.

3. Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is taken during your final year of undergraduate studies. This five-hour, multiple-choice exam assesses your knowledge in biology, critical thinking, and physical science. A high score on the MCAT is crucial for gaining admission to a top medical school. The average score is around 500, but higher scores improve your chances of acceptance.

3. Medical School (4 years)

Upon passing the MCAT, you will enter medical school for another four years of rigorous training. The first two years focus on classroom learning and laboratory work, covering advanced concepts in biology and chemistry. You will spend long hours studying and mastering vast amounts of information.

The final two years involve gaining clinical experience through rotations in hospitals and clinics. This hands-on training allows you to apply medical knowledge and interact with real patients under the supervision of experienced doctors. During this time, you will take the first two steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which assesses your competency in medical terminology and clinical skills.

4. Residency Program (3 to 7 years)

After medical school, you will enter a residency program in your chosen specialty. Residency programs last between three to seven years, depending on the specialty. This is where you gain hands-on experience and work closely with patients. As a resident, you will be fully paid for your work.

Residency is often seen as the most challenging stage in becoming a doctor due to the long hours and demanding nature of the job. However, it is also the most rewarding as you finally get to practice medicine and refine your skills. Specialties with longer residency periods, such as neurosurgery or cardiology, require additional years of training compared to general practice or pediatrics.

5. Fellowship Training (Optional)

For those who wish to further specialize within their field, fellowship training is an option after completing residency. Fellowships can last between one to three years and provide advanced training in a subspecialty, such as pediatric cardiology, oncology, or plastic surgery. While not mandatory, fellowship training can enhance your expertise and career prospects.

6. Medical License

To practice medicine independently, you must obtain a medical license. This involves passing the final step of the USMLE and meeting the licensing requirements of the state where you plan to practice. The licensing process varies by state but typically includes submitting proof of education and training, passing a background check, and paying a licensing fee.

7. Continuing Medical Education (CME)

Even after becoming a licensed physician, doctors must engage in Continuing Medical Education (CME) to stay updated with the latest medical advancements and maintain their licenses. CME involves attending conferences, workshops, and completing online courses. Each state has specific CME requirements that doctors must fulfill regularly.

8. Specialties and Their Impact on Training Duration

Different medical specialties require varying lengths of residency training. For example:

  • Family Medicine: 3 years
  • Pediatrics: 3 years
  • Internal Medicine: 3 years
  • General Surgery: 5 years
  • Neurosurgery: 7 years

The specialty you choose will significantly impact the total time required to become a fully licensed doctor.

The Rewards and Challenges of Becoming a Doctor

Despite the lengthy and challenging journey, the rewards of becoming a doctor are immense. The profession offers a high salary, job stability, and the opportunity to make a significant impact on people’s lives. Doctors are respected members of the community, and the knowledge and skills you acquire are invaluable.

However, the path to becoming a doctor is not easy. It requires dedication, hard work, and a passion for medicine. The long hours, intense studying, and emotional toll of dealing with patients can be overwhelming. But for those who are committed, the rewards far outweigh the challenges.

Alternative Medical Careers

For those interested in the medical field but daunted by the lengthy path to becoming a doctor, there are alternative careers in healthcare that require less time and training. Some of these include:



    (PA): PAs typically complete a master’s program lasting about two years and work under the supervision of a doctor.

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP): NPs usually earn a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, which can take two to four years, and have more autonomy than registered nurses.
  • Medical Technologist: This role requires a bachelor’s degree in medical technology or a related field and involves conducting lab tests and procedures.
  • Radiologic Technologist: This profession involves completing an associate or bachelor’s degree program and performing imaging procedures such as X-rays and MRIs.

These careers offer rewarding opportunities in healthcare without the extensive time commitment required to become a physician.


Becoming a doctor is a long and demanding process, taking between 10 to 14 years of education and training. It requires a strong commitment and a willingness to face numerous challenges. However, the rewards of this profession—both financial and personal—make it a highly sought-after career. If you have the passion and determination, the journey to becoming a doctor can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life.

In addition to the core requirements, aspiring doctors should engage in activities that enhance their medical school applications, such as research, volunteering, and leadership roles. The journey is long and challenging, but for those who are dedicated, the outcome is a rewarding and impactful career in medicine. Whether you choose to pursue a general practice or a specialized field, the commitment to improving patient health and advancing medical knowledge makes the journey worthwhile.