Students who are interested in becoming doctors have to complete a four-year bachelor's degree, a four-year medical school degree, and two to seven years of internship and residency work depending on the kind of specialty they are interested in pursuing as physicians. While students cannot major in pre-med, and have to choose a concrete major such as biology or chemistry for their bachelor's degrees, they do have to fulfill certain pre-med requirements prior to enrolling in medical school.
Students interested in becoming doctors while they are still in high school often choose to take classes that will help them succeed in pre-med courses in college. Requirements vary, but most medical schools require prospective applicants to have one year of general biology with a laboratory, one year each of general and organic chemistry with laboratories, one year of general physics with laboratory, one year of calculus and a semester of microbiology. High school students can prepare for this coursework by taking high school-level equivalents of these courses. In particular, many high schools offer students introductory and advanced placement courses in biology, chemistry, physics and calculus.
General High School Math
Students who want to become doctors should take all available math courses in high school. In chronological order, most high schools and many colleges offer students courses in pre-algebra, algebra 1, algebra 2 and trigonometry or pre-calculus. Each of these courses require students to have a passing grade in the previous courses. In other words, the prerequisites for trigonometry or pre-calculus are pre-algebra and algebra 1 and 2. These courses introduce students to topics such as factoring, polynomials, functions and graphing, and give them a stronger foundation for the study of calculus.
Many high schools also offer students the opportunity to take calculus. Calculus is the study of the rate of change of functions and high school calculus courses are typically divided into advanced placement calculus AB and advanced placement calculus BC. Advanced placement courses are considered to be equivalent to college courses, and students can get college credit for their high school coursework if they pass the advanced placement exam in the class, typically offered at the end of the year. Taking one or both of these courses in high school gives students a thorough introduction to this difficult subject, even if they do not end up taking or passing the advanced placement exam.
Calculus 1 and 2
Most medical schools expect students to take one or two semesters of calculus. Most students who take advanced placement calculus in high school still take calculus in college to get a better understanding of the subject. However, advanced placement calculus is not a prerequisite for calculus 1, and students who take pre-calculus in high school can go straight into calculus 1 in college, if they pass the placement exam. Both calculus 1 and 2 cover topics such as derivatives and integrals in one dimension, also known as single variable calculus. Students interested in becoming doctors typically complete these courses in the first two years of their undergraduate careers.
Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.