The first step on the path to becoming an diagnostic doctor (M.D.) is to earn a bachelor's degree in an undergraduate pre-med program.
While each medical school has different requirements for admission, they all focus on certain common areas of study, including:
A minimum of 3 years of undergraduate completion is required before applying to medical school while maintaining a high GPA (3.6+).
Due to the competitive nature of these programs, the candidates with the most success are well-rounded with work, volunteer, extracurricular, and shadowing experience as well. If you have three years of college but no bachelor’s degree, you can still be accepted to medical school.
There are post-baccalaureate programs designed to help students catch up by providing the courses needed to apply to medical school. For applying, you must submit a copy of transcripts from any college and/or graduate school you’ve attended.
You’ll also need 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 can help with submitting one application to multiple medical schools.
All college students planning to enter medical school should take certain courses, regardless of their undergraduate major. Different medical schools may have varying requirements, so the following is intended as a basic guide.
The preparation timeline below outlines the suggested courses:
|Grade Level||Example Courses|
Extracurricular activities are strongly encouraged, as well. Some suggested activities might include participating in a pre-health advisory program or joining other clubs and organizations.
You may also consider establishing a relationship with a local doctor who would allow you to shadow him or her for a few days.
To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.
The MCAT is divided into four sections:
|Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems||
|Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems||
|Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior||
|Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills||
You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the MCAT website. If you are unsatisfied with your score on any of the aforementioned exams, you are free to retake them. Depending on the school, some will average your scores and others will simply take your most recent.
A list of accredited medical education programs is available through the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). For more information and advice on successfully getting into medical school, you can check with the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Medical school consists of four years of studying the basics in science and participating in clinical “rotations.” These are hands-on clinical experiences in real health care settings. In most med schools, the first two years are taken up with classroom studies before students are assigned to do rotations.
The current trend, however, finds a number of medical schools exposing students to early clinical experiences that continue throughout the four-year program. Most medical schools base their curriculum on a system-based approach that focuses on one physiological system at a time, such as the respiratory system or the nervous system.
Still others may use a case-based curriculum that teaches about the human body’s normal functioning and disease processes by assigning students to following individual patient cases from start to finish. Still other med schools use a combination of these approaches to educate their students.
The most common lines of coursework among medical schools consist of the following subjects:
During the last two years of school, students are required to obtain hands-on experience at hospitals and clinics, learning to diagnose and treat patients while working under the supervision of licensed physicians.
Here you will focus more on diagnostics and all the duties you will face as a diagnostician. Upon completion of four years of med school, a student is awarded a medical degree (M.D.).
Another popular trend is for schools to offer combination degree programs, such as MD/MPH, MD/PHD or MD/JD. The AAMC’s website on Medical School Admission Requirements offers more information on this option.
In order to practice medicine, aspiring geriatricians must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This exam is sponsored by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME).
The exam consists of three steps:
|Step & Purpose||Format & Other Info|
Assesses the ability to apply scientific concepts, basic to practicing medicine, emphasizing mechanisms underlying health, disease, and therapy.
Divided into 2 sub-steps: clinical knowledge (CK) & clinical skills (CS).
The clinical knowledge section assesses the ability to apply medical knowledge, skills, and clinical science to patient care.
The clinical skills section assesses the ability to gather information from patients, perform physical exams, and communicate findings with colleagues.
Divided into 2 sub-steps: Foundations of Independent Practice (FIP) & Advanced Clinical Medicine (ACM)
Foundations of Independent Practice assesses the knowledge and principles essential for effective health care.
Advanced Clinical Medicine assesses the ability to apply knowledge of health and disease to the context of patient management and an evolving disease.
After completing medical school, you aren’t finished yet. Now it’s time to choose your specialty and complete your residency.
These residency programs are offered in conjunction with intensive clinical training experiences. Depending on the specialty, residency can last from three to eight years.
The American Medical Association’s online FREIDA service is an interactive database of over 9,400 graduate medical education programs.
These programs are all accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. There is also information on over 200 combined specialty programs.