Careers

Learn About Being a Doctor

What does a doctor do?

Doctors, also known as physicians, provide treatments, diagnoses and counseling to patients with illnesses, injuries or diseases. Some doctors work in specialties, such as cardiology, neurology and surgery. Doctors can also work as general practitioners, meaning they may assess patients with a variety of symptoms.

Some responsibilities doctors may perform include:

  • Meeting with patients and their families to discuss symptoms
  • Performing general examinations and ordering tests or treatments
  • Discussing test results
  • Prescribing medication as needed
  • Working with other medical professionals to provide the best patient care

Average salary

Doctors are typically full-time employees who work in a variety of medical facilities. Their salary may depend on their specialization and experience. Other factors that could affect salary include the size, type and geographic location of their place of employment. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $243,017 per year
  • Some salaries range from $48,000 to $453,000 per year.

Doctor requirements

Doctors need to complete a certain educational and training path to practice. They also need to earn licensure and should develop a specialized skill set to succeed. They should meet requirements in the following:

Education

Doctors need to complete either an allopathic or osteopathic medical program. An allopathic program offers a Doctor of Medicine degree, while an osteopathic program offers a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree. D.O.s and M.D.s undergo similar training and can practice as doctors in any setting. 

Before entering medical school, students need to earn a bachelor’s degree. Disciplines such as biology, psychology or pre-medicine can prepare a student for medical school. During an undergraduate program, students complete the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Most medical schools require high MCAT scores and proof of completing or being close to graduating from an undergraduate program. Medical schools often interview students as part of the admissions process. 

Medical schools take four years to complete. During the first two years, students take laboratory and classroom coursework. They learn about the basic principles of different areas of medicine. In the final two years of medical school, students complete rotations in which they shadow and practice medicine under the guidance of licensed medical professionals. They rotate to different teaching hospitals and clinics to learn about different medical specializations, such as rheumatology, family medicine and dermatology.

Training

After graduating from medical school, individuals complete residencies, which may take three to seven years to complete. During residency, a resident first shadows experienced doctors, then begins taking their own patient workload.

Once they complete a residency, doctors can begin practicing medicine. Many doctors choose to specialize in a particular field and must undergo a fellowship. Fellowships teach physicians everything they’ll need to practice in that specific field and could last one to five years.

Certifications

Doctors also need a license to practice. To earn licensure, applicants must pass an extensive exam during their schooling and residency. Those who received an M.D. complete the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). D.O.s need to pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination. D.O.s can also sit for the USMLE if they plan to specialize.

The American Board of Medical Specialties issues certifications for different specialties. Though not required, almost all medical facilities require doctors who specialize to have a certification. Doctors can become board certified in as many specialties as they need.

Most licenses and certifications need continuing education credits, which varies by states and licenses. Continuing education could be in the form of classes, seminars and conferences.

Skills

Doctors need a variety of skills to be successful in patient care, including:

Communication

Doctors work with a variety of patients and fellow medical professionals. They should be able to communicate with nurses, medical assistants and other physicians to deliver the best patient care possible. When speaking with patients, they should be able to explain medical terms and procedures in nontechnical ways. Doctors also complete patient notes and order tests and medications, so they should have good written communication skills as well. 

Emotional intelligence

When evaluating patients, doctors should be able to assess a patient’s symptoms and identify key nonverbal body language. They should also have the emotional intelligence to make patients feel at ease when undergoing treatments, tests or procedures. 

Time management

Many doctors have a large workload, including both patient appointments and administrative tasks. Time-management skills help doctors stay on track and allow them to evaluate patients in whatever time is allotted. 

Computer skills

These professionals use computers for a variety of duties, so being adept at operating them can be incredibly useful. They should be able to understand different software and programs and have the ability to learn new applications quickly. 

Doctor work environment

Most doctors work full time in medical facilities, though some may have part-time or consulting positions. Doctors who work in a hospital or clinic often work long shifts, including nights, weekends and holidays. Hours usually extend past the normal workweek—some doctors may work up to 80 hours per week, with shifts sometimes lasting 24 hours. 

Doctors can expect the following from their work environment:

  • Standing or walking for extended periods
  • Sitting at a desk while working on a computer
  • Wearing protective clothing, such as closed-toe shoes, masks, gloves and surgical caps
  • Working with hazardous materials
  • Administering medications intravenously
  • Using a computer, tablet, phone and pager

Doctors find employment in these areas:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Private practices
  • Nonprofits
  • Government agencies

How to become a doctor

You can follow a specific path to become a doctor:

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree. 

Medical schools require applicants to have an undergraduate degree. You can earn a degree in biology, psychology, pre-medicine or a related field to prepare yourself for medical school. During undergraduate school, you’ll also need to complete the MCAT.

2. Complete medical school. 

You can undergo an allopathic or osteopathic medical program, depending on your preferences. Each school lasts four years and teaches the same basic principles. During medical school, you’ll sit for the first two parts of either the USMLE or COMLEX-USA.

3. Undergo residency. 

Once you graduate from medical school, you’ll complete a residency. Your residency could last up to seven years and prepares you to practice as a doctor. In the first year of your residency, you’ll likely complete the final steps of the USMLE or COMLEX-USA and apply for your licensure. The application process for licensure will depend on the state in which you intend to practice.

4. Complete a fellowship. 

If you want to specialize in a certain type of medicine, you’ll need to complete a fellowship. Depending on the fellowship, you can expect the training to last up to five years. After finishing a fellowship, you will be qualified to practice in that specialization.

5. Earn certifications.

Earning a certification can make you a more attractive candidate for many physician positions. Additionally, most medical facilities require doctors who work in a specialty to have a certification. You can earn as many certifications as you think you’ll need for your career path. If you plan to complete a fellowship, you’ll likely apply for certifications toward the end of the program or immediately following it. Most certifications require you to pass an exam.

Doctor job description example

Our busy and growing medical facility is dedicated to providing quality care to our patients. We have an opening for a compassionate and talented doctor to join our growing cardiology health care practice. Our ideal candidate will have a minimum of five years of experience in clinical medicine, preferably in a primary care facility or private practice facility.

You will need to work closely with qualified nurses and attend to chronic, acute, preventative and sometimes palliative care needs of our patients. You will be responsible for physical examinations, analyzing appropriate blood work, ordering consultations and giving referrals when needed.

If you are committed to providing compassionate patient care, we urge you to apply for this position. 

Responsibilities and duties:

  • Evaluate patients and provide medical treatments for various injuries and illnesses as appropriate 
  • Document all patient treatments, medications, transactions, and evaluations according to company procedures and policies 
  • Supervise medical assistants to ensure compliance with regulations 
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of current procedures and care methods, and suggest improvements 
  • Prescribe, dispense and administer medication under local, state and federal statutes 
  • Promote healthy habits and suggest healthy lifestyle changes as necessary 
  • Diagnose and counsel patients for treatment plans

The doctor chosen will need to be open to working on-call, weekends, nights, and some holidays. Some telehealth may be necessary as the practice expands. 

Qualifications and skills:

  • M.D. or D.O.
  • Current and clear state medical license 
  • Board certification in emergency medicine 
  • Board certification in family medicine 
  • Compassionate and friendly disposition 
  • Strong leadership skills 
  • Superior attention to detail
  • Experience writing prescriptions for telehealth
  • Must be Medicaid and Medicare license enrolled

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