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A degree in medicine, also known as an allopathic medicine degree, is a postgraduate degree conferred on those who complete the education and training necessary to become a doctor. In the past those wishing to pursue a degree in medicine would initially take a 4 year course in pre-med, but recently obtaining a bachelor's in a related field, such as biology, chemistry or engineering has become common place. Though any bachelor's degree along with a high Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) score can be used to obtain admission to medical school, pursuing a related major helps prepare students for the kind of work and knowledge necessary to be successful. Most schools require that students complete the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) prior to graduation. Those who successfully complete a medical degree program are given the title of M.D (Doctor of Medicine) and are qualified to become physicians.
The medical field offers a wide array of career options in the United States. With upwards of 150 medical schools in the U.S. that award a Medical Doctor designation to graduates plus approximately 30 accredited medical schools that award a Doctor of Medicine to those that successfully complete a set of rigorous coursework. A doctor can be a graduate of a college of medicine, osteopathy, chiropractic, optometry, podiatry, dentistry, or veterinarian medicine and pursue a career as a surgeon, pediatrician, obstetrician, anesthesiologist, family practitioner, chiropractor, dentist, optometrist, podiatrist, or veterinarian.
Courses in medicine may include:
- Infectious Disease
Med School Requirements
Each university has its own criteria for admissions, however we have put together some general requirements to help you navigate this discovery process about medical school. Prior to applying to a medical school for an MD or DO program, you must have already obtained a 4-year college degree. The 4-year degree must include a number of prerequisite programs including biology, physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and English. There are distinct differences between the requirements for a Medical Doctor programs and Doctor of Medicine degree detailed out below:
- Medical Doctor (MD) College Admission Requirements
Students applying to a med school with the MD designation, you must use an AMCAS or American Medical College Application Service application. The AMCAS application contains 9 different sections including personal information, transcripts, work experience, extracurricular activities, memberships, awards, letters of evaluation, desired medical schools, written essays, and standardized test scores such as MCAT, GMAT, LSAT, MAT, and/or GRE.
Several medical schools offering MD designations also offer dual degree programs like the MD/PhD or MD/MPH. A dual degree will serve specific purposes for the student and university with varying areas of specialty and emphasis. Case in point, a MD/PhD track will frequently lead students into faculty positions at medical schools, research institutes, and universities while the MD/PhD dual degree will invest in research and patient-facing activities.
After successful completion of the MD program, students connect with the NRMP (National Residency Match Program) and gain entrance into a qualifying residency program in their area of specialty. The final step in the process is to sit for the required 3-part United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) needed to earn licensure as a medical doctor.
- Doctor of Medicine (DO) College Admission Requirements
Doctor of Medicine students will utilize the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS) application which includes basic information about the applicant, along with standardized test scores (MCAT), letters of recommendation, and a personal statement for wanting to become a Doctor of Medicine. Upon completion of the DO program, students get matched to one of five-hundred osteopathic residency programs. After students complete their residency, they must then sit for the COMLEX-USA examination to be eligible for medical licensure in their state.
Job growth in the medical field is expected to expand over the next decade due to various factors, such as an increasing trend toward obesity, an aging population and increased life expectancy. Demand for physicians in particular is expected grow faster than average. Those willing to work in lower income and rural areas will also have an easier time finding work. Physicians can choose to specialize in a particular field or practice general medicine.
How Long is Medical School?
Medical school will typically take four years to complete. For a physician and other specialty doctor’s, however, another 3-7 years will be spent in a residency program which must be added to the list below. For the first two years of med school, we have detailed out a few requirements for the first two years and the second two-year span of time.
Medical School, Years 1-2: The first 2 years of med school will be a mix of lab and classroom time. The classes required by colleges and universities require students to take general education courses like psychology and sociology to help understand human behavior coupled with science-rich classes such as pathology, biochemistry, microbiology, anatomy, pharmacology, and physiology. Course clustering four to five similar subjects is common for med schools as a way to aggregate knowledge in common areas. For example, some schools invest an entire class on a particular organ of the body followed by another such class and tie each class together by understanding the interdisciplinary nature of body organs within the human body system. Students will need to sit for the USMLE Step 1 at the completion of their second year of med school.
Medical School, Years 3-4: Students in year 3 and 4 of med school, will begin their clinical rotations with school-approved hospitals and medical institutions.
Clinical rotations are designed to help marry the academic elements of classroom-based learning with pragmatic hands-on experience in a real-world setting. While performing clinical rotations, med students will often align themselves with a specialty (pediatrics, internal medicine, surgery, oncology, etc.) and begin to communicate with patients about medical events and treatments. Before completing year four of the program, med school students will need to sit for the USMLE Step 2.
Areas of Specialization for Doctors
There are myriad vocational tracks for professionals holding a DO or MD that can be broken into 3 job clusters. The three primary areas of specialization for medical professionals include 1) surgical, 2) medical, and 3) diagnostic.
Surgical specialties focus on instrumental and manually operative techniques to help treat diseases. The American College of Surgeons formally recognize 14 surgical specialties: colon & rectal surgery, general surgery, gynecology & obstetrics, orthopedic surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, otorhinolaryngology, gynecologic oncology, pediatric surgery, neurological surgery, ophthalmic surgery, oral & maxillofacial surgery, plastic & urology, and vascular surgery.
The types of surgery can be:
- Time-bound (emergency, elective, semi-elective)
- Procedure-based (transplant, replantation, amputation, reconstructive)
- purpose-driven (cosmetic, exploratory, therapeutic)
- Invasiveness (minimal invasiveness to open surgical)
- Equipment utilized (scalpel, laser, microsurgery, robotic)
Medical specialists invest resources in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of a variety of known and unknown diseases. With patients in this arena being dependent upon medical care, doctor’s in this area of specialty are often found working in a hospital. The sixteen primary subspecialties of internal medicine include: sports medicine, pediatrics, pulmonology, rheumatology, oncology, hematology, hepatology, infectious disease, nephrology, neurology, geriatrics, vascular medicine, cardiology, critical care, endocrinology, and gastroenterology.
Diagnostic: The third and final clustering of areas of specialization for doctors is the diagnostic arena. Subspecialties in this space include: clinical laboratory sciences (cellular pathology, clinical chemistry, hematology, transfusion medicine, clinical microbiology, and clinical immunology), pathology as a medical specialty (morphologic, physiologic, polymerase chain reaction, cytogenics, flow cytometry, gene rearrangement, fluorescent in situ hybridization), clinical neurophysiology (electromyography, electroencephalography, polysomnography, evoked potential, and nerve conduction study), nuclear medicine (the study of organs with radiolabeled substances and imaged by a PET or gamma scanner), and diagnostic radiology (x-rays, ultrasonography, nuclear magnetic resonance tomography, and x-ray computed tomography).
Employment Outlook for Doctors
Doctors and physicians will experience a 14% increase in job growth through 2024 which is twice the average composite for all professions in the United States adding 99,300 jobs over the coming decade. The primary driver for this increase for highly trained, well qualified medical professionals can be explained via a growing and aging population.
Top States of Employment for Surgeons
- California 4,770
- Texas 3,320
- Massachusetts 2,480
- Ohio 2,300
- Pennsylvania 1,800
Top Paying Cities for Surgeons
- Minneapolis-St. Paul $285,850
- Greenville, SC $265,260
- Atlanta, GA $263,150
- New York-New Jersey $247,870
- Chicago, IL $242,080
Average salaries for physicians can range wildly based on location and specialization. Primary care physicians had a median annual salary of $186,000 per year; those practicing medical specialties had a median annual salary of $340,000 per year. Physicians with their own practice can earn significantly more than those who are salaried.
Those interested in a medical degree may also wish to consider a degree in osteopathic medicine. For additional information about a career as a doctor, read our Definitive Guide to Becoming a Doctor on our blog here.