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Home/ Careers/ Medicine/ Allopathic Physician (M.D.)

Allopathic Physician (M.D.)

Overview

Along with nurses, physicians are on the front line of medicine. As practitioners, they work in solo or group practices examining patients and obtaining medical histories; ordering, performing and interpreting diagnostic tests; and prescribing and administering treatment for patients suffering from injury or disease. They also counsel patients about illness, injuries, health conditions and preventive healthcare (diet/fitness, smoking cessation, etc.).

In hospitals, they provide emergency care, perform surgery and care for patients with injuries or life-threatening illnesses like cancer or serious conditions like asthma. In laboratories across the country, physician researchers look for the cause of illnesses and for new and better ways to treat all kinds of diseases and injuries. They run medical centers and teach future generations of physicians and other health care practitioners.

It’s an exciting and rewarding career and it’s also a broad one, which is why physicians choose a specialty during their training. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education accredits training programs in 133 specialties and subspecialties, and the American Board of Medical Specialties represents 24 board-certified specialties (with many sub-specialties within each of these major specialties). These are a few examples of the types of specialties:

  • Anesthesiology
  • Cardiovascular medicine
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency medicine
  • Family medicine
  • Internal medicine
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry
  • Radiation oncology
  • Sports medicine
  • Surgery

If you are interested in becoming a physician, you can choose from two paths—getting your doctor of medicine (M.D.) degree or getting a doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) degree. While the end result is the same—a career as a physician—the training and education are different.

Working Conditions

Physicians work in a variety of health care settings. Many work in private practice, either alone or as part of a medical practice. Others work in hospitals, medical centers, universities or government agencies.

Physicians may work long hours, including in the evening, overnight and on weekends. 

The duties, training, salaries and workforce information vary according to the specialty field you decide to pursue.

Learn More

About a Career as an Allopathic Physician

  • Watch NOVA Online's special feature, "Doctors' Diaries," for a fascinating glimpse into the real-life experiences of seven doctors. 
  • Get more information about a career in allopathic medicine on the AspiringDocs website.
  • Visit the AAMC Pre-med Facebook page for more information on preparing for a career in medicine. 

About Health Care Careers

The Association of American Medical Colleges reviewed this career profile.

AA doc in glasses w stethoscope, smiling  (Photo: Getty Images)
Salary
$197,000 - $747,000
Years to complete
post-high school education
8 -
Job outlook
Excellent

Profiles

Academic Requirements

While the minimum educational requirement to apply for medical school is three years of college, most applicants have at least a bachelor's degree and many have advanced degrees. The preparation timeline below lists the courses you should take in college if you are thinking about medical school.

Students who have a bachelor’s degree but did not study science in college should not give up on medical school. Post-baccalaureate programs can help students catch up and give them the courses they need in order to apply to medical school.

As you prepare to apply to medical school, it’s a good idea to do some research into the medical schools you think are a good fit and to find out as much about medical school as you can.

To apply to medical school, you will have to submit a copy of college and/or graduate school transcript(s), letters of recommendation and scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The new MCAT (introduced in 2015) is organized around testing students on their ability to problem solve, based on 10 foundational competencies and core content from the natural, behavioral and social sciences, and apply critical analysis and reasoning skills. In order to solve those problems, you need to learn and understand content from biology, chemistry and physics courses as well as courses in biochemistry, psychology and sociology. If you aren't satisfied with your MCAT scores, you can retake the exam. The American Medical College Application Service lets you submit one application to multiple medical schools.

As a medical school student, you will spend four years studying basic science and doing clinical "rotations" -- hands-on learning in real health care settings. Traditionally, the first two years of medical school are spent in the classroom before students are allowed to do rotations. However, an increasing number of medical schools are giving students clinical experience early on and throughout the four-year program.

In terms of the curriculum itself, some medical schools take a "systems-based" approach, focusing on one physiological system at a time (the respiratory system, reproductive system, etc.), while others use a "case-based" approach -- teaching about the human body and disease by having students follow individual patient cases from start to finish. A number of medical schools employ a combination of approaches.

After four years of medical school, you will receive your medical degree, or M.D. More and more schools are offering combined degree programs that offer an M.D. degree along with degrees in public health, law or business, for example, or the option to continue your education to obtain a Ph.D.

After medical school, it's time to choose a specialty and do your residency. Residency programs, which are offered in conjunction with intensive clinical training programs, may last anywhere from three to eight years, depending upon the specialty.

For more information on going to medical school, see:

Earning a degree in medicine is expensive, but funding is available. Check ExploreHealthCareers.org's Funding Opportunities tool and the Association of American Medical Colleges' FIRST program.

Preparation Timeline

The Association of American Medical Colleges prepared this timeline for students to use as a planning tool. While your exact path to medical school may not follow this exactly, the timeline provides information on what you will need to do and think about as you plan. 

Freshman Year

  • Talk with an academic advisor about selecting fall semester courses.
  • Make an appointment with a pre-health advisor to introduce yourself, discuss the best way to sequence your classes and get acquainted with campus resources for pre-health students.
  • Attend pre-health meetings on campus and make sure you are on email lists to get relevant updates and information.
  • Seek opportunities to volunteer, shadow a doctor and, if interested, identify research opportunities on your campus.
  • Develop relationships with faculty, advisors and mentors on your campus.
  • Explore the Choosing a Medical Career section on AAMC’s Aspiring Docs website.
  • Identify summer volunteer, paid, research and leadership opportunities related to medicine.
  • Apply to summer enrichment programs or research programs.
  • Complete first year premedical coursework and other school-specific degree requirements.
  • Follow @AAMCPreMed on Facebook and Twitter.

FRESHMAN YEAR--Summer

  • Work or volunteer in a medical field; consider internships, research and leadership opportunities on campus.
  • Keep a journal about your experiences to use later for essays and interviews.
  • Consider participating in summer enrichment or research programs.
  • Take summer courses through a university if desired or necessary.

Sophomore Year

  • Check in with your pre-health advising office; attend all pre-health meetings, and make sure you’re still on email lists to receive information and updates.
  • Pursue meaningful clinical experience, medically related activities, volunteer work, research and/or leadership roles.
  • Continue to develop relationships with faculty, advisors, and mentors on your campus.
  • Apply for summer research, internship, or enrichment programs such as the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program.
  • Consider returning to your previous summer position or apply for a new summer volunteer, paid or research position related to medicine.
  • Complete second year premedical coursework and other school-specific degree requirements.

SOPHOMORE YEAR--Summer

Junior Year

  • By this time, you should have a well-established relationship with a pre-health advisor and should be actively participating in pre-health activities.
  • Identify and pursue leadership opportunities within the pre-health organizations on your campus.
  • Consider which faculty, advisors and mentors on your campus, with whom you’ve developed relationships, you’ll approach to write letters of recommendation for your applications.
  • Continue your participation in meaningful clinical experiences, other medically related activities, volunteer work, research and/or leadership roles on campus; if possible, consider taking on a more substantial role.
  • Investigate:
  • Meet with your pre-health advisor to:
    • Strategize about your application timeline, whether it be for immediately following graduation or after one or more gap years.
    • Discuss your schedule for completing remaining premedical coursework and other school-specific degree requirements.
    • Identify the best time for you to take the MCAT exam.
    • Discuss letters of recommendation and committee premedical evaluation (if available).
    • Review your medical education options.
  • If you’re prepared and ready, register for and take the MCAT exam in spring.
  • If you are considering a gap year, investigate a meaningful paid or volunteer medically related experience to complete during that time.
  • Familiarize yourself with medical school application services:
  • Research medical school curricula and joint, dual, and combined-degree programs.
  • Complete third-year premedical coursework and other school-specific degree requirements.

JUNIOR YEAR--SUmmer

  • Continue your involvement with meaningful paid, volunteer, internship, medically related, research and leadership experiences.
  • If applying to begin medical school following your senior year:
  • When you’re prepared and ready, if you haven’t taken the MCAT exam yet, or if you want to take the exam again, sign up to take the MCAT exam.

Senior Year

  • You should be regularly consulting with your pre-health advisor to:
    • Discuss letters of recommendation and committee premedical evaluation (if available).
    • Review your medical education options, such as a post-baccalaureate premedical program.
    • Discuss the status of your applications and the admission process for schools to which you’ve applied.
  • Continue with your meaningful clinical experiences, other medically related activities, volunteer work, research and/or leadership experiences.
  • When you’re prepared and ready, if you have not previously taken the MCAT exam or want to retake the exam, sign up to take the MCAT exam in the spring.
  • Become familiar with Application and Acceptance Protocols – Admission Officers.
  • Become familiar with Application and Acceptance Protocols – Applicants.
  • If applying for enrollment immediately following senior year:
    • Complete supplementary application materials for schools to which you’ve applied.
    • Prepare for your interviews and campus visits at medical schools.
    • Receive acceptances!
    • Make interim and final decisions about your medical school choice.
    • Notify medical schools that you will not be attending on or before the deadline given.
    • Ensure that all IRS and financial aid forms are completed and submitted as early as possible.
  • Complete degree requirements and graduate.

SUMMER Following Graduation

  • If enrolling immediately following senior year:
    • Purchase books and equipment and make appropriate living arrangements.
    • Attend orientation programs and matriculate into medical school.
  • If applying for enrollment following a gap year(s):
    • Complete AMCAS application.
    • Work on secondary applications.
    • Ask instructors, mentors and advisors to write letters of recommendation for you.

GAp year(S)

  • Seek meaningful employment, education and/or experience.
  • Pay down credit card and/or undergraduate debt as much as possible.
  • Continue to consult regularly with your pre-health advisor throughout the process.
  • Complete supplementary application materials for schools to which you’ve applied.
  • Interview and take campus tours at medical schools.

Once accepted into medical school

  • Make interim and final decisions about medical school choice.
  • Notify medical schools that you will not be attending on or before the deadline given.
  • Ensure that all IRS and financial aid forms are completed and submitted as early as possible.
  • Purchase books and equipment and make appropriate living arrangements.
  • Attend orientation programs and matriculate into medical school.