There are few careers in the United States as fulfilling, lucrative and socially respected as being a physician. The prestige of being a doctor does not happen overnight, however; the average doctor spends 11 to 16 years completing medical training and residency before embarking on a career as a physician according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC. Your choice of major as an undergraduate student, residency training and the decision to specialize are all factors that can prolong your medical training.

Undergraduate Training and Prerequisites

Although no two medical schools are alike, most medical programs require prospective students to complete courses in biological sciences, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, human anatomy and human physiology, according to the AAMC and the Princeton Review. Undergraduate degrees in biology, chemistry and kinesiology provide a solid foundation to complete these prerequisites in a four- to five-year time frame. While many students opt to pursue a science-based degree, you may complete medical school prerequisites while pursuing degrees in the humanities, social sciences or business fields, although this may prolong your undergraduate training by a year or two.

Medical School

Medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education are designed to last four years. Your first two years of medical school are primarily classroom- and laboratory-oriented, while your third and fourth years are typically structured around hospital and clinical rotations in a specialty area, such as surgery, pediatrics or internal medicine.

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Residency Years

After graduating from medical school, you must pass your state's medical board exam and complete a graduate residency program. During a residency, you will receive additional training under the guidance of senior physicians. The length of your residency can vary based on your specialty -- it may last from three to eight years. A family practice residency may require only a three-year residency, while a general surgical residency may require five years to complete.


While some doctors choose to begin their practice after completing a residency, others wish to become highly specialized in a specific area of medicine or surgery. Doctors who wish to pursue additional training in a sub-specialty must train for an additional one to three years to earn specialized training in their area of interest. For example, some may pursue training in oncology or pulmonary disease, both sub-specialties of internal medicine,

About the Author

Anthony Oster is a licensed professional counselor who earned his Master of Science in counseling psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has served as a writer and lead video editor for a small, South Louisiana-based video production company since 2007. Oster is the co-owner of a professional photography business and advises the owner on hardware and software acquisitions for the company.