How to Become a Doctor in the USA: Ultimate Guide for International Students


Aarushi Jain
Updated on Feb 16, 2023 05:27 PM IST

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, there will be a nationwide shortage of 46,000-90,000 physicians and doctors by 2025, creating a massive opportunity in the area of medicine in the United States. Here is a detailed step-by-step guide on how to become a doctor in the US for all international students and aspirants.

How to Become a Doctor in the USA: Ultimate Guide for International Students

How to Become a Doctor in the US: Studying medicine in the US is tremendously difficult, but if you have the enthusiasm and are prepared to put in the effort, it is well worth the effort. After graduation, you will be able to assist those in need and make a genuine difference in people's lives. Medical school normally lasts four years, followed by a three to seven-year residency in which students receive supervised training in their chosen field of expertise.

International students who believe they still need more training or who want to specialise in a profession can apply for a fellowship, which provides one to four years of further training. Clinical rotations will be part of your education as you study medicine in the United States. This will teach you how to communicate with patients and will give you a taste of what your future work as a doctor might be like. Here is a step-by-step detailed guide on how to become a doctor in the US for international students.

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How to Become a Doctor in the USA: Step-by-Step Guide

There are few occupations with more significant stakes than medicine. The ramifications of a doctor's decisions might be huge, resulting in either spectacular or terrible outcomes. Becoming a licenced doctor in the United States is a time-consuming process. Anyone planning to follow a medical profession in this country should expect medical training to continue for at least 7 years after college.

Here is a detailed and step-by-step guide on how to become a doctor in the US for international students and aspirants:

Step 1: Explore Your Options and Finish your MBBS in India

A young individual who wishes to become a doctor in the US should do as much research as possible before commencing on this difficult professional path. Aspiring doctors should undertake informational interviews with doctors and get clinical experience to determine whether they will flourish and enjoy practising medicine.

Most importantly, aspirants must complete their undergraduate studies with a solid Bachelor's degree (like MBBS), ideally in a Medical background with one of the majors being Biology, Chemistry, or Physical Science. This is due to the fact that an MD in the US is a postgraduate degree that requires a bachelor's degree as an eligibility criterion. An MD degree is required for those wishing to practice medicine in the US.

Step 2: Prepare and Pass the MCAT Examination

The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is one of the most essential tools used by US medical schools to screen applicants, therefore premeds must perform well on this exam.

Since the MCAT is so difficult, perfect scores are exceptional. Experts advise premeds to examine the median MCAT scores at the med schools they are most interested in and to take the MCAT only when they are consistently capable of obtaining their desired score on practice exams. To become a doctor in the US, hopefuls should aim for an MCAT score of 509 or higher. However, more competitive medical schools will require an MCAT score of 518 or above.

Furthermore, Indian students must meet the following prerequisites in order to take the MCAT exam and apply to US universities:

Also, sometimes when individuals who discover a desire to become a doctor in the US after receiving their college diploma may choose to enrol in a post-baccalaureate premed programme to finish all of the needed premed studies.

Step 3: Prepare Your Applications for Multiple Medical Schools

After passing the MCAT, candidates can begin applying to medical schools and colleges in the United States that admit international students.

Since medical schools in the US generally have high standards, prospective med students should exercise extraordinary caution while writing their personal statements and secondary, school-specific application essays, according to med school admissions authorities.

Furthermore, aspirants should never rush through the completion of their secondary application forms, as the information requested by medical schools is frequently critical throughout the selection process. Furthermore, because admissions authorities will evaluate the activities list, premeds should think strategically about the extracurricular activities they include in their application and how they define those activities.

Last but not least, given the low acceptance rates at most medical schools, aspirants who want to become doctors in the US should plan on applying to multiple institutions to boost their chances of admission, remembering that it is best to err on the side of excess rather than constraint.

Step 4: Ace the Med School Interviews and Get at Least 1 Acceptance Letter

Candidates who look good on paper and have met all of the required criteria listed by the institution for the programme will be invited to medical school interviews so that admissions committees may determine if the individual is genuinely as exceptional as they appear on paper. In order to become a doctor in the US, applicants must thoroughly prepare for such interviews.

Anyone who obtains an interview invitation should consider it a favourable sign of their candidacy.

Step 5: Enroll in the Right Type of Medical School and Course

Aspiring doctors in the US can attend either a research-oriented academic institution or a primary care-focused school. Aspirants can also choose between two types of medical degrees: the Doctor of Medicine (MD) and the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).

Both programmes combine medical science coursework with clinical rotations. One significant distinction is that DO programme medical schools offer a variety of hands-on healing practices unique to the practice of osteopathic medicine.

Some of the top medical colleges for pursuing an MD degree for international students to become doctors in the USA are:

Top Medical Schools in the US

QS World Rankings by Subject 2022: Medicine

Average Estimated Tuition Fee for MD programme (in USD per annum)

Harvard University



Stanford University



John Hopkins University



University of Pennsylvania



New York University



Yale University



Columbia University



University of California



Kickstart Your Application Process to a Med-School in the US!

Step 6: Complete the 4 Years of Medical School

Medical schools in the US require four years of education and training. The first two years are spent in laboratories and reading to prepare students to detect and treat diseases and disorders. Students should take the first portion of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE Step 1) in their second year of medical school, which is conducted by the National Board of Medical Examiners and covers basic medical knowledge and principles.

DO students, on the other hand, must pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States, also known as COMLEX-USA. DO students also have the option of taking the USMLE in addition to the COMLEX-USA.

Students begin their clinical experience in their final two years by rotating across hospitals and clinics. Practical training in medicine begins when students work under the supervision of attending physicians.

The second section of the USMLE licencing exam is given in the fourth year of medical school, and it covers disease development and clinical diagnosis when candidates begin their residency training. Some universities also provide a combined 6-year education and training curriculum, which allows students to take a shortened academic and medical examination.

Step 7: Apply for a Residency Programme

Fourth-year medical students generally try to match with a residency programme in the medical speciality of their choice. The residency is the clerkship or internship of a doctor in the US under the supervision of an experienced and professional doctor. Many doctors complete their residency programmes in 3 to 7 years, depending on the speciality they choose.

Paediatricians, for example, complete their residency in three years, whereas urologists undertake five-year residencies. Students can apply for residency positions through the National Residency Matching Programme (NRMP).

Step 8: Graduate From Medical School

After earning a medical degree and graduating from medical school, the aspirant has officially become a doctor in the US. Even after receiving a medical degree, a person is often required to complete a medical residency programme within a certain medical speciality in order to practise independently in his or her community.

Some states in the US, like Missouri, Utah, and Arkansas, allow med school graduates who have not completed residencies to work as health care practitioners. The goal of providing accommodation for people with a medical degree but no residency is to address doctor shortages.

Step 9: Clear Part 3 of USMLE and Finish Residency

Medical residency programmes vary in length from three to seven years, depending on the speciality. Residencies provide medical school graduates with the opportunity to explore the art and science of a specific area of medicine.

After completing their residency, applicants must take the third and final part of the USMLE. This is the final step because International Medical Graduates must be certified by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) in order to take the USMLE Step 3. It assesses the doctor's ability to practise medicine safely and effectively by covering clinical and patient management themes.

Step 10: Opting for Fellowships or Continuing Education

After receiving the ECFMG certification, a candidate can choose to pursue a one-year fellowship to study the specialisation of their residency. Doctors who study increase their clinical skills and become specialists in their speciality.

Even after they are licenced, practising doctors in the US are expected to participate in continuing education to stay current on clinical knowledge and innovations in their profession.

Step 11: Earn a Board Certification Within a Medical Specialty or Subspecialty

After completing the required residency and fellowship training, a person must pass the related board test. Then they can apply to the American Board of Medical Specialties for board certification in their profession.

The candidates have a pool of choice to select a speciality from 24 disciplines of the American Board of Medical Specialties and then appear in front of a board about the field. Forensic medicine, anaesthesia, psychiatry, physiology, anatomy, general medicine, pharmacology, and many other specialities are among them.

Step 12: Get a State License

To work as a doctor in the US legally, one needs to receive medical licensure from the state after completing the coursework and board certification. The state licensure requirements for a physician vary based on the state in which they intend to practice. Passing all four tests of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) is the basic qualification for obtaining a licence.

Passing all four USMLE sequence examinations is needed for any doctor wishing to practise medicine in the United States.

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United States Medical Licensing Exam and Requirements

Now that we have covered the step-by-step procedure for how to become a doctor in the USA for international students, let us go deeper to learn more about the United States Medical Licensing Exam and the prerequisites to obtain a licence to practice medicine in the United States.

To practise clinical medicine in an unsupervised situation (i.e. outside of postgraduate training programmes), all physicians (both international and domestic graduates in the United States) must be licenced by the state medical licencing board where they intend to practice.

Students and physicians trained outside the US take the same exam and are graded using the same criteria as US medical school students. The USMLE is intended to assess problem-solving rather than simply memorization.

Licensing Exams

The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) consists of three steps designed to test a physician's basic patient-centred abilities by assessing his or her ability to apply a broad spectrum of information, concepts, and principles.

  • Step 1 (Multiple-Choice Exam): This exam is intended to assess the examinee's ability to apply basic, integral science ideas to clinical circumstances.

  • Step 2 (Two Separate Exams): The Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK) exam is a multiple-choice exam designed to determine if the examinee has the medical knowledge and clinical science understanding required to provide patient care under supervision. The Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS) exam is a separate "hands-on" exam that assesses the examinee's clinical and communication skills by having him or her collect information from standardised patients, do a physical examination, communicates the findings to the patient, and write a patient record.

  • Step 3 (Multiple-Choice Exam): The third and final exam evaluates the examinee's competence to use medical knowledge and comprehension of biological and clinical science required for the unsupervised practice of medicine, with a focus on patient treatment in ambulatory settings.

Pathways to Licensure for Becoming a Licensed Doctor in the US

The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates must certify medical graduates (ECFMG). ECFMG certification requires graduates to pass USMLE Step 1, Step 2 CK, and Step 2 CS, as detailed above. These exams can be taken in any order, however, it is strongly advised that doctors take them in the order specified. After receiving ECFMG certification, a doctor may apply for a medical residency.

Since there is a need for medical graduates to be ECFMG Certified in order to take Step 3, Step 3 is always taken last in the series of medical licensure tests. Some states allow doctors to do Step 3 prior to obtaining a residency. Many doctors believe that passing Step 3 increases their chances of getting a residency.

This may be true in some circumstances, however, the most significant variables in obtaining residency are excellent scores on Steps 1 and 2 and a strong application. Step 3 must be completed in order for a student to be eligible for a "Type H visa".

To secure a Post Graduate Medical Residency Training post in the US, medical graduates must follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Medical Degree

  2. Medical Transcripts

  3. Step 1 Passing Score

  4. Step 2 CK Passing Score

  5. Step 2 CS Passing Grade

Career Opportunities after Becoming a Doctor in the USA

Students can obtain a state licence to practise as licenced doctors in the United States after finishing their medical residency and passing the USMLE part 3 exam. The salaries of doctors and medical practitioners are among the highest paying jobs in the USA with an average annual pay of between USD 285,000 to USD 350,000.

Once students have their licenses, they can pursue a variety of careers, including

  • Becoming a surgeon or physician at a hospital

  • Going for further specialisation

  • Starting self-owned clinics

  • Becoming an entrepreneur

The following are some of the famous job profiles and salaries offered to doctors in the US:

Famous Job Profiles

Average Estimated Yearly Salary (in USD)



Ob/Gyn Physician


General Physician








Clinical Psychologist


Internal Medicine Physician


Urology Specialist


Cardiology Specialist


Plastic Surgery Specialist


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the position of a doctor is one of the highest-paying jobs in the US. A medical doctor in the US can have a starting salary of around USD 122,000 per year after obtaining a state licence.

One must also recognise that since becoming a board-certified doctor takes many years, pursuing a career in medicine only for the sake of prestige or money is unwise. Medicine is a tough profession, therefore being a doctor is only the beginning of the struggle.

Learn How to Study and Work as a Doctor in the US!

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