The journey to becoming a doctor or physician is no small feat; it’s a call to contribute to healthcare and positively impact lives and communities. Being clued in on the educational and training steps involved in becoming a physician is like having a secret map that guides you through all the twists and turns and makes your journey way easier. It helps you make informed choices and stride confidently through each stage.

If you’re eager to learn more about the physician education requirements and the essential steps to kickstart your medical career, continue reading. We’re here to ensure you’re well-informed and equipped with the insights that will prepare you for a successful career in the field of medicine.

What Is a Physician?

A physician is a medical professional with the expertise to study, diagnose, and treat various illnesses, injuries, and ailments. With a foundation in medical ethics, human anatomy, pharmacology, and other specialized areas relevant to their field, the physician’s role goes beyond treating existing conditions. They actively engage in preventive care, detect potential health issues, and offer advice to foster healthy habits among their patients.

While the term “physician” serves as a generic designation for individuals with a medical degree, it’s crucial to note that physicians often pursue specialized paths within the medical field. Whether specializing in pediatrics, surgery, or other fields, these professionals undergo additional training, taking on titles that reflect their expertise, such as oncologists or pediatricians.

What Does a Physician Do?

The exact responsibilities of a physician vary significantly depending on their specialization and focus within the medical field. Whether they are pediatricians, cardiologists, surgeons, or sport-medicine physicians, the type of patients and conditions they commonly deal with shape the specific tasks and interventions they undertake in their medical practice.

However, common day-to-day responsibilities that physicians must fulfill include:

  • Interpreting diagnostic tests for accurate diagnoses;
  • Directing patients for comprehensive specialized care;
  • Tailoring personalized plans based on diagnostic assessments;
  • Communicating treatment information to ensure informed decision-making;
  • Executing fundamental procedures for patient well-being;
  • Maintaining detailed records for continuity of care;
  • Analyzing symptoms for accurate diagnosis;
  • Offering guidance for proactive health and well-being.

To fulfill daily duties, physicians must combine extensive medical knowledge with strong interpersonal skills. A crucial skill that physicians must possess is effective communication. Not only do they need it for individual patient interactions, when they are elucidating diagnoses, determining optimal treatment courses, and following up on patients’ recovery, but also for ensuring effective collaboration with nurses, fellow doctors, and other healthcare team members. 

How to Become a Physician: Education Requirements

The prerequisites to becoming a physician encompass an undergraduate degree, a medical degree, rigorous testing and training, as well as obtaining the necessary certifications and licenses. To help you better understand the standard physician education requirements, let’s review the information we have provided for each step individually.

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The initial step to a medical career involves earning a bachelor’s degree. Notably, there isn’t a specific major requirement for admission to medical school, offering prospective physicians the flexibility to major in a field that aligns with their interests and strengths. However, a common trend among aspiring physicians is to select majors such as biology, chemistry, or biochemistry. This strategic choice is driven by the fact that these disciplines often encompass coursework that aligns with the prerequisites for medical programs, covering essential topics like anatomy, physiology, and organic chemistry.

Therefore, choosing an appropriate bachelor’s degree is more than just fulfilling prerequisites; it presents an opportunity to lay a strong foundation for subsequent steps in the journey to becoming a physician. Beyond the specific subject matter, the academic rigors of a science-based major cultivate critical thinking and research skills — cornerstones of success in the medical field. The complexity of medical problem-solving and the demand for evidence-based decision-making make these skills indispensable. 

2. Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

The MCAT holds immense value in the medical school admissions process because it is a standardized evaluation tool to assess the candidates’ aptitude in critical thinking, problem-solving, and scientific knowledge — fundamental skills necessary for success in medical education and practice. 

Since medical schools rely on such scores as a metric to gauge applicants’ preparedness for their programs’ academic and clinical demands, achieving a high MCAT score is highly advantageous, especially considering the highly competitive nature of medical admissions. So, aspiring physicians are advised to approach MCAT preparation with diligence and commitment. This involves dedicating ample time to studying and utilizing various resources such as practice exams that simulate the testing environment, helping candidates become familiar with the format and timing of the MCAT, and study guides that provide a structured approach to reviewing key concepts.

3. Attend Medical School

Next, entering medical school marks the shift from foundational education to the specialized training required for a medical career. Generally, the medical school curriculum is designed to provide a thorough and in-depth understanding of various medical disciplines, preparing students for the challenges they will encounter in their future roles as healthcare professionals. It is a blend of subjects that cover multiple aspects of medical knowledge. This includes fundamental sciences like anatomy, where students explore the intricacies of the human body’s structure, and pharmacology, which explores the interactions between drugs and the human body. 

The initial years of medical school often involve intense classroom learning, where they absorb foundational concepts and principles. However, later on, students transition to clinical rotations, where they actively engage with patients under the supervision of experienced clinicians and learn essential hands-on abilities such as patient examination, medical procedures, and effective communication with patients and healthcare teams.

4. Complete the Residency Program

Once medical school is completed, physicians have to enter a residency program to begin the next training step. This phase is a specialized and intensive training period where physicians engage themselves in their chosen medical field, gaining real-world experience that goes beyond the theoretical knowledge and limited applied training they acquired in medical school.

A hands-on approach to learning characterizes residency, as physicians get the chance to work closely with patients, refine their clinical skills, and make independent medical decisions under the supervision and guidance of experienced mentors. This mentorship is a crucial aspect of the residency experience, providing valuable insights and feedback that contribute to the professional growth of the aspiring healthcare professional.

Although the challenges of residency are undeniable, ranging from long working hours to the emotional weight of dealing with complex medical cases, this phase is fundamental in shaping competent and confident physicians. Exposure to diverse medical cases during residency fosters adaptability and expertise within a specific medical discipline. Physicians confront a broad spectrum of conditions, from routine cases to rare and complex scenarios, enhancing their ability to diagnose and manage various health issues.

5. Get Certification and License

Becoming a practicing physician involves obtaining certification and a medical license. Certification is usually granted by specialty boards and recognizes a physician’s expertise in a specific field of medicine. Being recognized as a board-certified physician confirms a doctor’s dedication to mastering the complexities of their chosen specialty and assures patients and colleagues of their ability to provide specialized care.

Concurrently, securing a state medical license is another foundational requirement for any physician aiming to practice medicine. This process involves adhering to the regulations and standards set by the medical licensing board in their respective state. Physicians need to stay on top of evolving standards and ongoing education requirements mandated by licensing boards. This commitment is not merely a regulatory obligation but a testament to physicians’ dedication to upholding the highest standards of patient care throughout their professional lives.

Essential Skills of a Physician


Becoming a successful physician requires a diverse skill set that begins with the theoretical knowledge developed throughout undergraduate studies and medical school. However, the qualities of a physician extend beyond such knowledge, encompassing a unique blend of interpersonal, professional, and cognitive skills. 

Firstly, having compassion, fostering empathetic communication (a patient-focused approach), and demonstrating a strong work ethic is vital. These qualities demand dedication and resilience in the face of daily challenges. Next, professionalism is paramount, requiring physicians to earn respect through considerate interactions, teamwork, approachability, and a commitment to lifelong learning. These qualities collectively shape a well-rounded healthcare professional capable of providing comprehensive and compassionate care throughout their career.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Physician?

Becoming a physician is a lengthy process, typically spanning over a decade. Firstly, the completion of a bachelor’s degree generally takes up to four years. Following this, aspiring physicians must dedicate another four years to medical school. Next, residency programs vary in duration, depending on the chosen medical specialty, but often last between three to seven years. That alone exceeds ten years. Additionally, following the completion of residency, physicians may pursue fellowships for further specialization, extending their training by one to three years.

However, keep in mind that the length of this process is heavily influenced by the choice of specialization, individual pacing through the stages, and any additional steps pursued. Ultimately, the duration highlights the dedication and perseverance required to achieve the pinnacle of a medical career.

The Bottom Line

A physician’s educational and training journey is marked by several crucial stages extending to over a decade, including earning a bachelor’s degree, succeeding in the MCAT, attending medical school, completing a residency program, and obtaining certification and licensure. The whole process requires dedication and perseverance, but the rewards will be immense. Aspiring physicians should focus not only on academic excellence but also on cultivating qualities that make them well-rounded healthcare professionals. Compassion, professionalism, dedication, and a commitment to lifelong learning are essential traits that will serve them well in the dynamic field of medicine.

If you are passionate about becoming a physician and shaping a fulfilling healthcare career, consider joining the American University of Antigua (AUA) Medical School. With a commitment to instilling compassion, professionalism, and medical knowledge, AUA provides a supportive environment for aspiring physicians. Join us and spend four years learning, preparing, and honing your skills, setting the foundation for a successful and impactful medical career.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many years does it take to be a physician?

The journey to becoming a physician typically spans over a decade, including four years for a bachelor’s degree, four years of medical school, three to seven years for residency, and additional one to three years for fellowships or specialization.

What is the highest level of education for a physician?

A physician’s highest level of education is typically a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree obtained after completing medical school.

Do you need a PHD to be a physician?

No, a PhD is not required to become a physician. Instead, the main requirement is the MD or DO degree obtained after medical school.

Can I have my own private practice?

To have your own practice as a physician, it is advisable to pursue an MD/MBA degree.