El Camino Real Charter High School
Healthcare Careers
Healthcare Careers

So, you want to go into medicine? What does it take to become a medical doctor?

Hint: Years of schooling and a drive to succeed.

Included on this page is an overview of what high school students have to look forward to if they are interested in a career in healthcare.

In addition to becoming a physician, there are many different career paths in the medical field. Here is a sample list of those careers:

  • Nurse, Nurse Practitioner, Respiratory Therapist
  • Physician Assistant, Surgical Technologist, Medical Assistant, Phlebotomist
  • Dentist, Orthodontist, Dental Hygienist, Dental Assistant
  • Public Health Professional, Epidemiologist, Infection Preventionist, Biostatistician
  • Pharmacist, Pharmacy Technician
  • Physical Therapist (PT), Occupational Therapist (OT), Massage Therapist, PT Assistant, OT Assistant
  • Veterinarian, Veterinary Technologist and Technician
  • Clinical Laboratory Technician
  • Dietician and Nutritionist
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
  • Esthetician
  • Substance Abuse Counselor, Mental Health Counselor
  • Medical Equipment Repairer
  • Clinical Social Worker, Marriage and Family Therapist
  • Radiologic Technologist
  • Optician, Optometrist
  • Home Health Aide, Personal Care Aide, Nursing Aide
  • Paramedic

Becoming a Medical Doctor

If you’re dead set on becoming a physician — and we could use more medical doctors, that’s for sure — there are a few important details that you’ll want to know.

First off, there are two main types degrees held by medical doctors: M.D. (doctor of medicine) degree or a D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degree. Both are practicing medical doctors. Those who are unfamiliar with osteopathic physicians can learn more about these doctors from the American Osteopathic Association.

The education of physicians in the United States is lengthy and involves undergraduate education, medical school (undergraduate medical education), and graduate medical education. The term “graduate medical education” includes residency and fellowship training.

Undergraduate education

Four years at a college or university to earn a BS or BA degree, usually with a strong emphasis on basic sciences, such as biology, chemistry, and physics (some students may enter medical school with other areas of emphasis).

Medical school

Undergraduate medical education: Four years of education at one of the U.S. medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). After completing medical school, students earn their doctor of medicine degrees (MDs), although they must complete additional training before practicing on their own as a physician. (Note: Some physicians receive a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from a college of osteopathic medicine.)

Residency program

Graduate medical education: Through a national matching program, newly graduated MDs enter into a residency program that is three to seven years or more of professional training under the supervision of senior physician educators. The length of residency training varies depending on the medical specialty chosen: family practice, internal medicine, and pediatrics, for example, require 3 years of training; general surgery requires 5 years.

Fellowship: One to three years of additional training in a subspecialty is an option for some doctors who want to become highly specialized in a particular field, such as gastroenterology, a subspecialty of internal medicine and of pediatrics, or child and adolescent psychiatry, a subspecialty of psychiatry.


While any undergraduate major is acceptable, you must fulfill the following requirements to prepare for medical school:

  1. Two years of chemistry (general and organic) with lab
  2. One year of physics with lab
  3. At least one year of general biology with lab

Some medical and other health professional schools also require some or all of the following courses:

  1. Calculus or other college-level mathematics
  2. English
  3. Advanced biological science and/or biochemistry

What do medical schools look for in applicants?

From: Cal Berkeley Office of Undergrad Admissions

Medical schools look at a number of factors when selecting their students:

  1. College GPA. This is an important factor. Science and non-science grades are considered separately. Year-by-year improvement trends and recent grades are also very important.
  2. The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Before taking the MCAT, you should have completed a year of college courses in each of the following subjects:
    • General biology
    • General chemistry
    • Organic chemistry
    • Physics
  3. The personal statement and/or personal interview. This is an opportunity to inform the school of factors not reflected in your GPA or your application. Consequently, it is important to have a clear sense of your motivation and your goals and to articulate them effectively.
  4. Letters of recommendation. These should be from individuals who know you well and can write knowledgeably about you. Get to know several professors early in your college career so they can provide a compelling recommendation on your behalf.
  5. Motivation. Since medical school admissions officers often look for evidence of genuine concern for others, as well as personal interest and knowledge about the health field, prior experience—either paid or voluntary—can be crucial in the selection process. Research is not necessary for the successful applicant, although exposure to the medical work environment is required.
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