Allopathic Physician (M.D.)
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:
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.
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.
About a Career as an Allopathic Physician
About Health Care Careers
The Association of American Medical Colleges reviewed this career profile.
Dr. Marilyn Coruzzi talks about what inspired her to become a doctor and her experiences working as a family physician in rural Alaska.
Emergency Medicine Physician, County Hospital, Oakland, California
“I was told I would not get into medical school when I was an undergraduate. I was ‘encouraged to seek another career’ by my advisor.” Today, Dr. Garrick is an emergency department physician, an assistant professor and an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) base director.
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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 med 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 med school.
As you prepare to apply to med school, it’s a good idea to do some research into the med schools you think are a good fit and to find out as much about med 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). 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 med 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 med 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 med 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 med schools employ a combination of approaches.
After four years of med 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 med 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.
The following timeline gives the basics for a traditional medical student. Remember, different medical schools may have different deadlines; the following is intended to serve as a general guide only.
NOTE: A new Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®) was introduced in the spring of 2015.
Take the following courses:
Also, don't forget extracurricular activities. For example, you can:
Start researching medical schools, get to know your professors and participate in medically related clinical or research activities.
Investigate financial aid options.
Search for funding opportunities related to this career
Search for enrichment programs related to this career
Search for academic degree and certificate programs related to this career
Last updated: June 9, 2016
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