If you have made up your mind to pursue medicine as a career, the next question that crosses your mind may be, “How long will it take for me to become a doctor?” Becoming a doctor calls for a lot of time investment although it is very rewarding if you persevere. 

You could choose the conventional route or the unconventional one to pursue your dream of becoming a doctor.

The conventional route: How long does it take to become a doctor?

The conventional route is to get into medical school right after your graduation, which means that your decision to become a doctor must have been made much earlier. If this is the case, let us look at how many years it takes to become a doctor:

  1. High school (undergrad): If you have already made up your mind about a career in medicine, it is necessary that you choose pre-requisite subjects such as physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics. Good knowledge of these subjects will not only help you in your Bachelor’s degree but also for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).  
  2. Bachelor’s degree (graduation): After high school, you need to complete a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Most medical schools have prerequisite subjects that you must opt for in your degree program. A good foundation of subjects, lab experience, and some healthcare experience can be an add-on. Subsequently, you will have to take the MCAT, and submit an application and letters of recommendation to enroll in medical school. 
  3. Medical school: To enter a good medical school, try to be in the 80th percentile or higher of the MCAT. The medical degree itself is four years long. The first 2 years are your preclinical years, where you will be bombarded with a lot of theoretical information. In the next 2 years called the clinical years, you will get more hands-on experience through lab work and exposure to different specialties through clinical rotations. To become a doctor in the United States, you would need to take the 3-part United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). You would have to clear Steps 1 & 2 while you are in medical school.
  4. Residency: The next phase is the residency program, which is an internship for new doctors. You will be called an intern in the 1st year and a resident from the 2nd year onwards. During residency, you will have the opportunity to live a life of a doctor, but under supervision. The time to complete residency for general medicine is at least three years. The residency period for specialised fields like neurosurgery or oncology may extend up to 6 years. A big relief during residency is that you will earn a partial salary. The Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) helps you apply for residencies in the United States. You could complete the last step of your USMLE at this stage.
  5. Fellowship (optional): You can opt for a fellowship after your residency to gain expertise in a sub-specialty through research. This can take 1- 3 years depending on your field of interest.  

The unconventional route is when you have decided on a career change to pursue medicine. In this case, you may choose to take a gap between your graduation and MCAT and USMLE.

So, how long does it take to become a doctor if you follow the unconventional route? 

You will have to put in more time and effort if you follow this route. The timeline completely depends on how much time you can dedicate to preparing and attempting exams. 

How many years does it take to become a doctor?

When you look at the chronology to become a doctor, you will need to start right. It may take you anywhere between 10 – 14 years, depending on your plans, preparation, and your area of specialisation.

In conclusion

If you want to become a doctor, you will need to be patient at every stage. Though the process is arduous, once you set out on this path, the years will just go by.