If you've been following this blog for a while now you've learned a lot about different errors that doctors can make when treating patients. From leaving sponges in patients to patients catching fire during surgery to plastic surgery gone wrong, we have recounted many, many stories of medical malpractice. After reading all these kinds of blog posts you may wonder how some of these doctors ever became doctors to begin with.
This post provides a quick overview of the process people go through to obtain a medical license.
Undergraduate Courses and the MCAT
There are a number of courses that aspiring doctors usually need to take during their undergraduate career in order to go to medical school. In general, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) states that most students will complete courses in biology, physics, English, and chemistry. The exact coursework requirements vary depending on what school the student is planning on applying to.
In addition, nearly every medical school requires applicants to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). The exam has four sections which test students on Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior, and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. The test was redesigned in 2015 and is now graded on a scale of 472 to 528.
Students seeking to become doctors apply to various medical schools through the American Medical College Application Service. A second application may be requested from a particular medical school if that school wants more information on the applicant. In addition, most medical schools will conduct an interview with a prospective student.
There are many medical schools across the country that graduate some 19,000 new doctors every year.
The curriculum at every school is a little different, but according to the AAMC, in general, most schools have students in the classroom the first two years and out in clinical rotations the last two years. During the first two years, students take classes covering topics like biochemistry, and infectious diseases. During the last two years of medical school students "rotate through clerkships in both primary care and specialty medicine." Students get "firsthand experience working with patients in various specialties under direct supervision of a faculty member or resident." Students have clerkships in areas such as family and community medicine, surgery, and obstetrics and gynecology.
Starting in medical school and continuing into the first years of residency, students start taking the United States Medical Licensing Examination. There are three parts to the exam that cover various topics. The first part of the exam is usually taken at the end of the second year of medical school, the second part during the fourth year of school, and the third part during either the first or second year of residency.
Upon completion of all coursework students graduate from medical school and can officially call themselves, "Doctor." However, their medical training is far from over.
In their final year of school, students typically decide on a specialty they want to pursue, apply to different residency programs, and match with a program before graduation. According to the AAMC, "[d]uring residency the [students] master the comprehensive responsibilities of a physician and the special skills and knowledge required to practice in a specialty of medicine." Residencies can take many years to complete depending on the specialty chosen. For example, a residency in family medicine is three years, a residency in radiology is four years, and some surgical sub-specialty residencies can take as long as six or seven years to finish.
License To Practice
Once the residency program is complete, doctors "obtain certification in their chosen specialty." This is done through a specialty board and may require a written or oral exam as well as proof that the necessary training has been completed. In addition, doctors must apply for a license to practice medicine with the medical board of the state they wish to practice in.