What types of degrees do you need to become a cardiologist?
The common path to practicing as a physician requires 8 years of
education beyond high school and 3 to 8 additional years of
internship and residency. All States, the District of Columbia, and
U.S. territories license physicians.
Education and training. Formal education and training requirements
for physicians are among the most demanding of any occupation-4
years of undergraduate school, 4 years of medical school, and 3 to
8 years of internship and residency, depending on the specialty
selected. A few medical schools offer combined undergraduate and
medical school programs that last 6 years rather than the customary
Premedical students must complete undergraduate work in physics,
biology, mathematics, English, and inorganic and organic chemistry.
Students also take courses in the humanities and the social
sciences. Some students volunteer at local hospitals or clinics to
gain practical experience in the health professions.
The minimum educational requirement for entry into medical school
is 3 years of college; most applicants, however, have at least a
bachelor's degree, and many have advanced degrees. There are 146
medical schools in the United States-126 teach allopathic medicine
and award a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree; 20 teach osteopathic
medicine and award the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Acceptance to medical school is highly competitive. Applicants must
submit transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test,
and letters of recommendation. Schools also consider an applicant's
character, personality, leadership qualities, and participation in
extracurricular activities. Most schools require an interview with
members of the admissions committee.
Students spend most of the first 2 years of medical school in
laboratories and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy,
biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology,
pathology, medical ethics, and laws governing medicine. They also
learn to take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose
illnesses. During their last 2 years, students work with patients
under the supervision of experienced physicians in hospitals and
clinics, learning acute, chronic, preventive, and rehabilitative
care. Through rotations in internal medicine, family practice,
obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery,
they gain experience in the diagnosis and treatment of
Following medical school, almost all M.D.s enter a
residency-graduate medical education in a specialty that takes the
form of paid on-the-job training, usually in a hospital. Most D.O.s
serve a 12-month rotating internship after graduation and before
entering a residency, which may last 2 to 6 years.
A physician's training is costly. According to the Association of
American Medical Colleges, in 2004 more than 80 percent of medical
school graduates were in debt for educational expenses.
Licensure and certification. All States, the District of Columbia,
and U.S. territories license physicians. To be licensed, physicians
must graduate from an accredited medical school, pass a licensing
examination, and complete 1 to 7 years of graduate medical
education. Although physicians licensed in one State usually can
get a license to practice in another without further examination,
some States limit reciprocity. Graduates of foreign medical schools
generally can qualify for licensure after passing an examination
and completing a U.S. residency.
M.D.s and D.O.s seeking board certification in a specialty may
spend up to 7 years in residency training, depending on the
specialty. A final examination immediately after residency or after
1 or 2 years of practice also is necessary for certification by a
member board of the American Board of Medical Specialists (ABMS) or
the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). The ABMS represents 24
boards related to medical specialties ranging from allergy and
immunology to urology. The AOA has approved 18 specialty boards,
ranging from anesthesiology to surgery. For certification in a
subspecialty, physicians usually need another 1 to 2 years of
Other qualifications. People who wish to become physicians must
have a desire to serve patients, be self-motivated, and be able to
survive the pressures and long hours of medical education and
practice. Physicians also must have a good bedside manner,
emotional stability, and the ability to make decisions in
emergencies. Prospective physicians must be willing to study
throughout their career to keep up with medical advances.
Advancement. Some physicians and surgeons advance by gaining
expertise in specialties and subspecialties and by developing a
reputation for excellence among their peers and patients. Many
physicians and surgeons start their own practice or join a group
practice. Others teach residents and other new doctors, and some
advance to supervisory and managerial roles in hospitals, clinics,
and other settings.
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