So, you’re thinking about a career as a physician or a surgeon.

Well, that’s awesome!

You are in good company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the physician and surgeon workforce is currently made up of 713,800 people in the United States.

And don’t worry, there is plenty of room for you to find a steady job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 91,400 new physicians and surgeons are expected in the next few years.

Let us cover the initial steps on this exciting career path together so you can get a better understanding of what you’re getting into.

We are talking here about your career for possibly the next 10 years, at the very least, and even the rest of your life. That is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.

Let’s get to it then.

How do you become a physician or a surgeon?

Physicians and surgeons have demanding education and training requirements. Physicians typically need a bachelor’s degree, a degree from a medical school, which takes 4 years to complete, and, depending on their specialty, 3 to 7 years in internship and residency programs.

For more information, read How to Become a Physician or a Surgeon.

What type of schooling does a physician or a surgeon need?

Most applicants to medical school have at least a bachelor’s degree, and many have advanced degrees. Although no specific major is required, students usually complete undergraduate work in biology, chemistry, physics, math, and English. Students also may take courses in the humanities and social sciences. In addition, some students volunteer at local hospitals or clinics to gain experience in a healthcare setting.

Medical schools are highly competitive. Most applicants must submit transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and letters of recommendation. Schools also consider an applicant’s personality, leadership qualities, and participation in extracurricular activities. Most schools require applicants to interview with members of the admissions committee.

A few medical schools offer combined undergraduate and medical school programs that last 6 to 8 years.

Students spend most of the first 2 years of medical school in laboratories and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, psychology, medical ethics, and in the laws governing medicine. They also gain practical skills; learning to take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses.

During their last 2 years, medical students work with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians in hospitals and clinics. Through rotations in internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery, they gain experience in diagnosing and treating illnesses in a variety of areas.

After medical school, almost all graduates enter a residency program in their specialty of interest. A residency usually takes place in a hospital and varies in duration, generally lasting from 3 to 7 years, depending on the specialty.

What are the types of certifications and requirements needed to become a physician or a surgeon?

All states require physicians and surgeons to be licensed; requirements vary by state. To qualify for a license, candidates must graduate from an accredited medical school and complete residency training in their specialty.

All physicians and surgeons also must pass a standardized national licensure exam. M.D.s take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). D.O.s take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). For specific state information about licensing, contact your state’s medical board.

Certification is not required for physicians and surgeons; however, it may increase their employment opportunities. M.D.s and D.O.s seeking board certification in a specialty may spend up to 7 years in residency training; the length of time varies with the specialty. To become board certified, candidates must complete a residency program and pass a specialty certification exam from a certifying board including the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), or the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS).

How long does it take to become a physician or a surgeon?

According to, beyond high school the time taken to become a physician or a surgeon includes four typical periods:

  • Undergraduate studies – This period lasts for 3 to 4 years. Although a potential doctor can have an undergraduate degree in any field, it is wise to study topics such as anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, and physics in your undergraduate courses.
  • Medical school – Most medical schools in the U.S. are four-year programs, although a few offer combined undergraduate and medical school curricula that last six or seven years.
  • Paid residency – A residency program can last from three to eight years, depending on the specialty.
  • Specialty fellowships – In addition to the basic requirements of college, medical school, and residency, some physicians choose to go on to programs called fellowships. A fellowship offers one to three years of additional training for specialty and sub-specialty fields.

How much does it cost to become a physician or a surgeon?

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the median annual cost for tuition, fees, and health insurance for American four-year resident medical school programs in 2017-18 was as follows:

  • Private institutions – $61,533
  • Public institutions – $38,119

The registration fee for the MCAT is $310. If you register about 1 to 2 weeks prior to test date, you will have to pay a fee of $360.

What is the MCAT?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a computer-based standardized examination for prospective medical students in the United States, Australia, Canada, and the Caribbean Islands. It is designed to assess problem-solving, critical thinking, written analysis, and knowledge of scientific concepts and principles. Since 2007, it has been a computer-based test. It is administered by the AAMC. Almost all U.S. medical schools require you to submit MCAT exam scores.

How many questions are on the MCAT?

The MCAT has 230 multiple-choice questions spread across 4 sections.

What are the Categories on the MCAT?

The four sections in the MCAT are:

  • Chemical and physical foundations of biological systems – 59 questions
  • Biological and biochemical foundations of living systems – 59 questions
  • Psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior – 59 questions
  • Critical analysis and reasoning skills – 53 questions

How long does the MCAT typically last?

The total “seated” time for the MCAT is approximately 7 hours and 27 minutes. The total content time is 6 hours and 15 minutes.

What is the passing grade needed for MCAT?

The total MCAT score is a sum of the scores from each of the four sections, ranging from 472 to 528 with a median score of 500. There is no set passing score, and each medical score has its own admissions criterion.

How many times can you take the MCAT?

The MCAT can be taken a maximum of 3 times in a one year period, a maximum of 4 times in a two year period, and a maximum of 7 times overall.