Becoming an MD or DO
The typical physician completes a 4-year undergraduate degree usually in Biology or Chemistry; however any major is acceptable providing all prerequisites have been met. The undergraduate degree is followed by 4 years of either medical or osteopathic school, followed by a minimum of 3 years of residency training (for a list of common residency lengths click here). This is equal to a minimum of 11 years after high school.
The first two years (didactic) of medical school involve intense study in the basic sciences. This is mainly performed in the classroom. There is little patient contact, learning about disease, or time spent in the hospitals or clinics. Many medical schools are now looking into ways in which they can make these first two years more relevant. The third and fourth years of medical school are spent in hospitals and clinics where an “on-the-job” type of format is used. The medical student evaluates patients, and with the help of resident physicians and staff physicians, develops treatment plans and performs procedures. Different areas of medicine are explored through 1-2 month long rotations. The student is part of a team composed of other medical students and resident physicians directed by a staff physician. Students work weekends and spend some nights on call in the hospital. A written test typically follows each rotation.
During your third year of medical school, you must decide which medical specialty area you would like to purse. Once decided, you apply for a residency program for your chose specialty. The early you decide which specialty you would like to pursue the better.
Following the completion of medical school, you are an M.D. or a D.O. and now carry the title doctor. However you cannot practice medicine in the United States until you have completed one (realistically, three) years of residency. The first year of residency is the “intern” year. Residencies are intense and take place in large hospitals. Training involves days, nights, weekends, and holidays. As much as every 3rd night is also spent “on-call.” Typically 2 weeks of vacation are given per year. During the residency, specifics on specialties are learned.
Primary Care Residencies:
Primary care refers to the physician who controls your access to medical care. A primary care physician is often referred to as a “gate keeper.” In the United States, a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant can also be a primary care provider.
Family Practice: 3 years
General Internal Medicine Subspecialties:
These specialties do not involve any surgery and require the completion of a 3 year general internal medicine residency prior to starting the subspecialty training. The additional training for these subspecialties is referred to as a “fellowship” and training programs are applied for in the same manner as a residency.
Many medical schools offer joint programs where a student can simultaneously earn an M.D. and Ph.D. These training programs emphasize research and prepare students for research and teaching careers as opposed to clinical careers in medicine. Graduates of these programs are typically employed in medical schools, research facilities, and pharmaceutical companies. Depending on the situation, these physicians have little or no patient contact. They usually do not complete residencies.
D.O. vs M.D.
There are two ways in which one can acquire the education necessary to become a physician and practice medicine in the United States. The most common route is to obtain an M.D. (Doctorate of Medicine). The other, less common, alternative is to obtain a D.O. (Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine). In general, the educational requirements and the length of training are the same, as are the opportunities for specializations, job scope, job availability, and salaries. Hospitals and clinics typically employ both M.D. and D.O. physicians and use them interchangeably. The difference between the two doctorate degrees is that the D.O. degree includes exposure to spinal manipulation and tissue palpation as a means of diagnosis and treatment. The overall emphasis in osteopathic schools is slightly different, as well. Osteopathic education claims to emphasize how a disease affects the entire person/body. This is called an “holistic emphasis.” There are 17 osteopathic medical schools in the United States and 122 M.D. (sometimes called allopathic) medical schools.
The Application Process
For details about specific medical schools please view their respective webpage.
Information taken from: “Becoming an MD/DO.” Pre-Medicine Program. University of Wisconsin– La Crosse. Jan. 2010. Web. Dec. 2009. <http://www.uwlax.edu/sah/premed/html/becoming.htm>