Welcome to our new series, So You Want to Be. In this series, we’ll be highlighting a different specialty within medicine every post. For each specialty, we cover three main areas: 1) what does it mean to be that type of doctor, 2) what are common misconceptions about the specialty, and 3) what steps do you need to take to become that type of doctor.
What is a Doctor?
When I say doctor, I’m referring to physician. Unlike other healthcare professionals, physicians are notoriously bad at advocating for themselves — we’re just too busy.
In recent years, there have been increasing levels of exploitation of the doctor identity by those who aren’t doctors. White coats are no longer the uniform reserved for physicians and are now handed out to just about anyone working in the hospital. In fact, the new uniform doctors rock are the North Face or Patagonia jackets with their names and specialties embroidered. Even the term doctor is haphazardly thrown around.
No one is taking away the hard work you’ve done as a nurse to earn your DNP or as a nurse anesthetist to earn your CRNA. You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. But if you mislead patients and allow them to believe you’re a doctor, it is ultimately dishonest and detrimental to patient care. The only physicians and real doctors in the hospital are MD’s and DO’s. Sorry naturopaths and chiropractors, you aren’t real doctors either. And despite what the AANP may say, nurse practitioners may have the heart of a nurse, but they don’t have the training or knowledge of a doctor.
The prestige and trust for physicians is earned through hard work and extended years of training. But as the vegan natural bodybuilding cross-fitter Ronnie Coleman once said, “everybody wanna be a doctor, but don’t nobody wanna read no heavy ass books.” If you agree with Ronnie Coleman, drop a like on this post.
How to Become a Doctor
If you want to become a doctor in the United States, you have to first earn your bachelor’s degree in university over 4 years, then complete 4 years of medical school, and then complete residency – lasting anywhere from 3 to 7 years – , followed by fellowship for additional sub-specialization. By the time you’ve completed training, you’ll be at least between 29 and 34 years of age, if not older.
In many other countries, students begin medical school immediately after high school. Rather than 4 years of college and 4 years of medical school, these students simply pursue a 6 year medical school track.
1 | College
In college, you can technically major in anything you want, so long as you complete your medical school pre-requisite courses. This generally includes one year of biology, one year of chemistry, one year of physics, and math in the form of statistics or calculus, depending on the medical school. Many schools also require some amount of English, biochemistry, psychology, and sociology as well.
2 | Medical School
If you want to practice medicine in the United States, then going to medical school in the U.S. is the best option. You can either go to an allopathic medical school where you earn your M.D. or to an osteopathic medical school where you earn your D.O. I’ve compared the pros and cons of each path in a previous post.
Some students attend medical schools abroad, most commonly in the Caribbean but also in other English speaking countries. Usually, the reason for attending these schools is that getting accepted to a U.S. medical school is too competitive, but sometimes financial concerns also come into play.
3 | Residency
Regardless of where you attend medical school, if you want to practice as a physician in the United States, you’ll have to complete a U.S. residency.
Obtaining a residency position is not as straightforward as simply applying and getting a few acceptance offers. The residency application process is governed by the National Resident Matching Program, or NRMP, and they call it the Match. If you’d like me to write a dedicated blog post explaining how the Match works, including its complex algorithm, let me know with a comment down below.
In short, you apply to a certain specialty and interview at multiple residency programs. After interviews are complete, you submit a Rank List of the programs you’d like to attend in order of decreasing preference. Programs do the same, ranking students they have interviewed from their most to least favorite. The algorithm works its magic and you’re left with an envelope on Match Day. In that envelope is the program at which you’ll be completing your residency.
The challenges for a resident are very different from the challenges facing a pre-med or medical student. As a pre-med or medical student, competition is steep, and to even get accepted to medical school you first need to perform well on your MCAT, in your courses, and have a compelling narrative in your overall application. As a medical student, crushing Step 1 and your clerkships is paramount, particularly if you want to match into something highly competitive. These high stakes are a source of tremendous stress and pressure for future doctors.
But in residency, competition with your peers is much less important. As I’ve explained in a previous post, the hardest part of medical training is now behind you. Residency is difficult because it’s an endurance race. The stress is no longer due to performing well on standardized tests, but rather the added responsibility of patient lives that are now in your hands. The hours are long and often irregular, and therefore maintaining healthy lifestyle habits is more challenging. That being said, if you got through medical school and are following the study and efficiency strategies from this blog, then residency likely won’t be a problem for you.
If you are keen on becoming a doctor, it’s important you understand what you’re getting yourself into. I’ve discussed the personality tendencies that make for good doctors, and have even covered reasons for which you should not go to medical school.
In short, if you’re going into medicine for the money, the prestige, or because of parental pressure, one of two outcomes is most likely: you either won’t make it to the other side, or you’ll make it to the other side but be miserable. It’s critical that you go into medicine for the right reasons.
When pre-meds are asked why they want to become doctors, they often state that they want to help people, but so do nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, and many other healthcare professionals. Being a doctor is different because you’ll be the leader of the healthcare team. As a hospitalist, you’ll face stimulating intellectual challenges. As a surgeon, you’ll combine medical management with the art and science of surgery, using your hands to improve health. I cannot tell you why you should want to become a doctor, but being a physician is unlike any other profession — not only in what you do, but also in the challenging training path to get there. And at Med School Insiders, we’re all about empowering students to most effectively navigate that path — to create a generation of happier, healthier, and more effective future doctors.
I hope you enjoyed this first article in our new series, “So You Want to Be”. I’m deciding on which specialties to cover first, so leave a comment down below with your request. Based on your comments, I’ll narrow down the options to a poll on our YouTube channel . If you want to vote in that upcoming poll, make sure you are subscribed.