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HOW TO BECOME A MEDICAL DOCTOR

Let's not kid ourselves, becoming a medical doctor is an arduous and very competitive ambition. There are many more applicants trying to become doctors than there are training spots at medical schools by a factor of greater than 2 to 1. And because of this oversupply of eager students, medical colleges can be very picky about who they'll invest their resources to train.

 

Medicine involves a lot of science reading so one of the strongest determining factors of whether you will be accepted to become a medical student (the first step to becoming a doctor) is your grade performance at college in a science background - i.e. biology, chemistry and physics or mathematics aka GPA. Then to even the playing field, Medical Schools use their own benchmark exam called the MCAT exam to compare all candidates against one ruler. This means that working hard to become a doctor from early at college, and toward a science major, increases your chances of landing a place in medical school and becoming a doctor. But not all medical schools have the same criteria for admission. If you shop around you can find some which take into consideration work experience in related fields such as nursing or physiotherapy, and others which which will accept a liberal arts background. One option is to point your finger at a medical school you'd want to then visit or read up on their requirements. Most hold annual open houses where you can talk to staff and present students - a golden opportunity. 

If all else fails, and you can't get into a medical school in your area and you're determined to become a doctor, your next option is to look away from home to 'offshore' medical schools. There are many more doctor schools outside your country which might have surplus doctor positions open. And you can return home later to work at your own hospital after sitting your State board exams. An easy way to start is to take out a map and ask yourself, "where would be a cool place for me to study for the next five years?" Suppose you came up with an area like the Caribbean "warm and great beaches," use a search engine to find out what medical schools are available in the area of interest - but be sure they are accredited.

Contrary to what you might think, medical schools can't license anyone to be doctors. That privilege is given to a separate single body in each country: the American Medical Board in the USA, the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Canada, and the General Medical Council of the UK. What medical schools do is coach you for the final exams provided by these licensing bodies, and provide you with an agenda and sufficient patient contact to meet the requirements of these governing bodies. So you still have to get a spot in a medical school to become a doctor, but they don't have the last say. 

Becoming a doctor starts long before medical school. You need to be a good student, with good grades, throughout school and college to think about applying to medical school later. Many of us will look for summer jobs or volunteer positions at hospitals and allied healthcare centers to plump up our resumes. In visiting my father in hospital recently, I noticed each day a new tween coming by to ask if we needed anything. My parents wouldn't have realized it, but some of these volunteers will become future doctors. 

After grades and experience, the next step to becoming a doctor, is getting a vacant spot at a medical school. This is probably the most difficult and frustrating part about becoming a doctor. But if you don't make it in, you absolutely cannot become a doctor. Conversely, occupying a seat in medical school doesn't guarantee success either - some students flunk out as in any other academic program. 

Medical school is an arduous uphill climb lasting many years. Looming ahead are your final exams coming closer into focus with each passing year. The final step is to pass those final exams. Oh, did I say final? My bad. That 'last' step just gets you your MD title. You then have to specialize in an area of interest which requires further study, and further examination hell.  

Requirements to Become a Doctor

To become a doctor you need permission to practice from the medical council of your country. This body requires that you have spent a certain number of years in study and supervised practice at a recognized institution. If your grades and experience are satisfactory to the medical council your name is then placed on their medical register of persons licensed to practice and you become a doctor in their country.

Schooling to Become a Doctor


Medical schools are usually affiliated with colleges, their physical location, building structures, and student life tend therefore to be similar. However there are differences. Notably, a real hospital setting is used at some point for practical experience toward the end of your training and long hours are spent there to prepare you for the rigors of becoming a doctor. Also the volume of reading you'll be expected to cover to become a doctor will leave you with time

Studying to become a doctor is typically a four year program - sometimes longer or shorter by country. The first few years are spent acquiring basic medical 'book' knowledge while the latter are spent developing real-life practical doctor skills and interacting with patients.

How do Medical Schools pick who to train to become Doctors?


The process that medical schools use to select candidates is as rigorous as the recruitment program at any blue chip company. In fact it's tougher, and it's more competitive. One vacant spot at a medical school often will have several hundred eager students in an academic fist-fight for it. That's why medical schools can be picky and prickly: student supply always exceeds demand. 

It is both time, and labor intensive for medical schools to birth a doctor, so to guard from wasting their resources they have one golden ingredient they look for in all their applicants: can this person make it to the finish line? The answer to this question can sometimes lead to surprising results. To finish you must be able: to handle the academic load provided; afford the cost of training; to work in teams; and to not flake out under pressure. So you can have a 4.0 grade point average, but if you give the impression that you're not a people person you probably will not make the cut - a fact that often seems to surprize nerds who get passed over in the matching process. This is one reason that summer jobs in healthcare glow on a students resume - it shows that they've been exposed to the life, and know what they're signing up for. But all things being equal, grades are king, everything else is icing on the cake. 

Is it ever too late to Become a Doctor


No. You can become a doctor at any age, but your chances are far better the earlier you apply. Over 90% of successful applicants to medical school are between 21 and 28 years old. Some doctors have started as late as their early 40's successfully but this represents a very slim 0.01% chance.

Can you Become a Doctor if you have a Disability?

Medicine is a tough path to choose even when you have two eyes, two arms and two legs. But what about for hopefuls with birth defects or people who have lost limbs in accidents? Medical schools try their best to select candidates on merit and without discrimination to age, gender, race, or disability. About the only limiting factor is whether you can safely look after another person, and perform the functions of a physician with assistance or assistive devices. But it is tough, both for the candidate at a natural disadvantage, and for the medical school to be able to accommodate their special needs. Yet, there are determined dyslexic, autistic, mute, deaf, and blind physicians who have vaulted all the barriers set before them. 

Consider the case of Dr. Jessica Dunkley of Vancouver, Canada. Born deaf, and to deaf parents, she began dreaming of becoming a doctor at around age ten prompted by an anatomy toy that she was given which she could break apart and reassemble. In 2010 she earned her medical degree at the University of Ottawa making her one of Canada's first deaf physicians. "It was more of a dream, a fantasy, but not real... because the reality of working in health care as a person with hearing loss or being deaf - it's hard" she says. Her school had to arrange sign language interpreter access and negotiate other unfamiliar logistics to make her dream a reality.  

One of the reasons that you rarely see doctors with disabilities, except on television dramas, is that there are many other avenues to the contribute to medicine other than traditional direct patient contact. Research and development, public health administration, epidemiology, quality control, are all doors of less resistance open to these physicians where they can function in a 'weightless' environment without their disability acting as an impediment in their way. 

What is the application to become a Doctor like? 


Tedious. You have to collect all of your grades almost going back to your toddler years, give all dates of study, compile your transcripts, and write a personal essay of why you want to become a doctor - essentially all applicants give the impression that when you look up 'doctor' in an encyclopedia, you will see their photo grinning from the page. Tales you tell your friends of getting lost after a night of drinking, and what you did after the last concert, tend not to appear on these shameless plugs. I wish I had a copy of my own self-promotion that got me in the door; I'd be curious to see, twenty years later, how I measured up to the ideal version of myself that I wrote about. 

The deadline to get the application in for processing always seems to come at the frightening speed of light. I had to have mine sent by express courier to make the deadline or I might be writing a book on my memories at Lehman Brothers instead of this one. 

After what feels like eternity, the medical schools you apply to make up their minds on who they'd like to short-list for their available seats. Sometimes they'll give you the spot no strings attached, other times they'll request an interview with you first to sort out any misgivings.  

How does it feel to be accepted to medical school to become a doctor?


Speaking from my experience, I remember it as such a momentous event that I can still recall exactly where I was standing and what I was wearing the day that I received my acceptance letter. The first feeling that washed over me was panic as I opened the acceptance letter and realized what it was. I then quickly skipped through the body of the letter to see if I was in, or out. I then moved my emotional gear stick into disbelief when I read with eyes wide, wide open that I had made it. They wanted me! I read it again. And then again - just in case there might be some renege buried elsewhere in the communique. I remember a huge smile spreading across my face and pumping a 'yes' with my free hand. After that point my memory becomes a blur, as up until writing this paragraph, I have never thought of it again - and everything after that point has felt like a whirlwind passing me by. I imagine I told my family first, followed by my friends. 

I don't think there's a doctor today who didn't greet their acceptance letter with a big embrace. That one envelope trumps every other letter ever received, or to be received. After all, it's not every day that you find your destiny stuffed inside an envelope like a genie waiting to be released. 

How Many Years Does it Take to Become a Doctor


This is variable. But assuming continuous study with no breaks, and an undergraduate degree of 4 years pre-med, the entire process from entering college to becoming a doctor in North America is 8 years. Additional time is then needed to specialize ranging from 2 years for family medicine, to 7 years for cardiology and 5 years for most other specialties.

Can You Become a Doctor


There are a number of traits you need to become a doctor. Some of these are: logical, meticulous, disciplined, caring, and being a team player. The most important trait of a doctor is discipline. Many students start out with varying degrees of strengths but without the discipline to come to class/work everyday, to push yourself when it's uncomfortable, and to stick to your books, you won't become a doctor even if you're a genius! The other traits of successful doctors can be formed during Medical School itself. Doctors BECOME Doctors, they are not born doctors.

Do Nerds Become good Doctors?


Yes, if they stop being nerdy. Becoming a good doctor is a lot more than just making calculations or reciting Harrison's Principles of Medicine (our Bible - mine weighs 10 lbs, literally). You are looking after the health of people. It stands to reason then, that you should be a facts AND people person. 

Comparison studies of doctors who get sued versus those who don’t has shown that often it’s not the medical skills between them that makes the difference, but the difference in their social skills. In one study,  Doctors who get sued are more often irascible, unlikeable persons with “poor bedside manner” unlike their back-slapping peers - even with the same bad outcomes. Most people can give their doctor wiggle room even if they didn’t cure them, or made an error, but felt like they were trying their best. But when a doctor walks in with no eye contact, a handshake that feels like a wet fish and the impression that you’re bothering them, well if they slip up, patients tend to slide out the number for a lawyer from their wallet - hopefully one with better etiquette. 


What type of person becomes a good Doctor?


While not an exhaustive wish list of the traits in an ideal doctor, some of the biggest ones can fit into my neat mnemonic: 

Dedicated.

Outgoing.

Curious and caring.

Teacher.

Organized.

Responsible.

Smart.

PS. “Doctor” is a derivative of the Latin 'docere' which means “to teach”.

Cost to Become a Doctor


The educational debt cost to become a doctor is around $110,000 total. Federal loans are typically available with interest deferment to after graduation, and 6 months to 1 year grace periods after this graduation. Repayment is about $1500 per month after graduation and usually manageable for graduates earning a typical doctor's salary of between $100,000 and $250,000 per year.

After Becoming a Doctor What is the Average Doctor Salary


An average doctor salary after you become a doctor is widely variable depending on your personal speed, specialty chosen, full time or part time practice and on call hours worked or not. There are also different remuneration models such as fee for service (the more patients you see the more you're paid), salaried (you see however many come through the door), and insurance retainers (the less patients you see the more pay you retain). As a general rule of thumb, all medical doctors across specialties make no less than $100 000 per year. 

What Advantages are there to becoming a Doctor?


I have jotted down some of the major draws that grabbed at me when I was asking myself 'what should I do with my life?' the question that continues to contort the minds of young students into spastic knots as they try to decide on their future career:

Job security: unlike some fields where the older you get the higher the chance of your position being cannibalized by someone younger, doctors get more valuable as they get older because of their experience. There is also almost universal demand for more doctors so unlike many competing fields, once you graduate as a doctor, you’ve got a job waiting for you. 

 

Prestige: once MD has been attached to your name it cannot be undone. It follows you through life, in death on your gravestone inscription, and into the afterlife in any print mention of your name after you are six feet under. Silly as it sounds, people still try to size up strangers they meet at social gatherings and the rubric of choice is to ask somewhere in the first paragraph of talking, "what work do you do?" Replying that you're a doctor jumps you to the top of most people's mental food chain. The reason is simple. If you take a cadre of 1000 doctors, 999 of them are employed, pay their taxes, have no criminal record or intention, can help you with that physical annoyance you've had for the last six months, and have an enviable standard of living. (Try saying all that with a straight face about a thousand politicians or Wall Street sharks). 

 

Travel: because of global scarcity, doctors can use their paper degrees as passport equivalents to travel and live in exotic countries. Some doctors spend a few weeks or months a year at a favorite destination - usually warm - paying their costs of living out of income accrued on their "working-vacation". The change of pace in seeing new patients in a new environment with a new spectrum of illnesses is itself refreshing and mentally rejuvenating. 

 

Bragging rights: parents gush when they tell you their kid is in medical school (and so does the kid), because becoming a doctor is like having an insurance policy. This deed guarantees the holder lifelong employment, at a healthy rate of coin, doing something useful for society, in a field where only few are chosen. And what's not to be happy about that?

Good karma: doctors feel enriched helping others. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a kid smile when you remove their cast and their ouchy is gone, or catching a rare diagnosis and saving a life. Medicine is a career where what you do feels worthwhile and real. This moral compensation makes up for the dedication and sacrifices we have to make to wear a stethoscope to work.


What Disadvantages are there to becoming a Doctor?


These are the major drawbacks to becoming a doctor, some that we see before we enter, and some that blindside us once we are in the field. 

Guck and gore: I’ve seen bones sticking through skin and smelt abscesses so foul I had to crack open the window or die. And blood? You’d think we sign our medical degrees with it. You need a strong stomach to be a doctor. The assaults come at you through every sense whether it’s a baby crying its lungs out stabbing you in the ears, or maggots falling off a patient's leg and eating out your eyeballs, or a rotting wound wafting into your nostrils like fish hooks ripping their way up your nostrils and bringing you to tears. 

 

Pressure: Stress in practicing medicine can feel like death from a thousand razor blades, each new cut shrugged off but cumulatively deadly. The space we work in is fast paced, demanding, noisy, impatient, nerve racking,  and tense. If you worked 24 hours a day, someone from administration would still come ask if you could add just one more hour each day. Every doctor can recall times when they had to forego emptying their bladder to near rupture, skip food until their belly started talking out loud to patients, or missing sleep until you start to slur your words, all to keep the medical engine running without a hitch. And let's not even mention the migraines and tension headaches...but at least we can get the best stuff for it. 

 

Complexity: A day in the life of a doctor can look as convoluted as a Rube Goldstein drawing. There are many interruptions, blind alleys and no straight lines. We juggle phone calls from patients, pharmacists, and nurses, our staff asking for clarifications, and negotiate through forests of paperwork in addition to the 

Delayed family: because medical school life is so demanding it is very, very, difficult to be a single parent, double, triple or any other parental permutation while caught up in the turbulence of medical life. Especially so for females. Those that do get pregnant during study typically delay their graduation by at least a year. So what most training doctors do is contraception until graduation, then conception. 

 

Occupational hazards: up to this past week I stabbed myself in the thumb with a needle I was using to draw up medication. Boy did it bleed - but lucky me, it wasn't a 'dirty needle'. It wasn't the first time, and won't be the last, it just comes with the territory. I've had gloves bust on me during procedures. I've had blood spatter across my face. And I've lost track of how many times I've caught a cold from someone I was helping. No matter how careful you are in medicine, like an animal trainer, you will get bitten.