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Doctors: Specialties and Training

Facts on Doctors' Specialties and Training

  • Becoming a fully trained physician is a long and arduous task because the education needed to become a doctor is substantial.
  • The education requirements have been standardized in the U.S. and begins with the completion of four years of college followed by four years of medical school.
  • This is followed by an internship and residency in a particular specialty, and sometimes fellowship training in a subspecialty that may last as long as 10 years.
  • Once the initial training is completed, a doctor continues lifelong learning to maintain the skills necessary to optimally practice medicine.

Medical School Training

Most medical schools require college graduation, although a few programs combine college or graduate school and medical school. In the United States, medical school lasts four years and includes two years of basic science courses such as the following:

  • Anatomy
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Histology
  • Embryology
  • Behavioral sciences
  • Genetics
  • Physiology (neurophysiology)
  • Biochemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathology

This is followed by two years of clinical sciences during which the medical student sees and treats patients under the close supervision of fully trained physicians. During these two years, the medical students spend one year in two-month-long rotations in specialties such as the following:

  • Pediatrics
  • Internal medicine
  • General surgery
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Psychiatry
  • Family practice
  • Emergency medicine

A year of elective choices follows in any of about 50 specialties and subspecialties such as the following:

  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Plastic surgery
  • Ophthalmology
  • Neurosurgery
  • Oncology
  • Radiation oncology
  • Cardiology
  • Nephrology
  • Neonatology
  • Rheumatology
  • Pulmonology
  • Infectious diseases
  • Endocrinology

In the United States, medical students are required to pass national board exams that assure they have a firm grasp of basic and clinical sciences. When students have graduated from medical school with a medical degree, and passed the national board exams, they are qualified to advance to residency training. After graduation from medical school, these individuals have earned the right to be called a doctor, but they are a long way from completing the skills necessary to safely practice medicine. Depending on the state they want to practice in, they need at least one to three more years of training. The first postgraduate year of residency is often referred to as internship.

There are two types of medical schools in the United States: allopathic and osteopathic. Students from both medical training programs must pass the same national board exam and may choose to pursue careers in any medical specialty or subspecialty. In the U.S., both types of graduates are equally qualified to practice medicine.

  • Allopathic students receive a medical doctorate (MD).
  • Osteopathic students receive the equivalent medical degree, a doctorate in osteopathic medicine (DO). Medical schools that train doctors of osteopathic medicine tend to place a greater emphasis on training physicians to be family physicians, although any specialty residency (such as those listed below) can be entered after graduation. Their education is the same as allopathic (MD) school, but in addition, it includes courses in musculoskeletal manipulation and nutrition.
  • Medical school curriculums are constantly being reviewed and revised to further the training of future physicians. Many schools will have their students learn basic clinical skills (for example, physical examination) during the first two years of basic science training.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/19/2016

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