Doctors treat patients, diagnose illnesses and provide either treatment of injury and illness or methods to prevent them. There are two general kinds of doctors, the medical doctor and the doctor of osteopathic medicine. There are some general practice physicians, but many doctors enter specialized fields that might include things like orthopedics, pediatrics, internal medicine, psychiatry, obstetrics or surgery. The educational road to becoming a doctor is intense and long.
Before an aspiring doctor enters the medical school of his choice, the first step is a bachelor's degree in some field. The degree can be premed, but that is not mandatory. A student cannot apply and be accepted to medical school without first completing a four-year undergraduate degree program that includes the study of the sciences at least to some degree. There is also an assessment test to be passed before a student can begin medical school.
The most common medical school degree is the doctor of medicine degree, or a degree in allopathic medicine. Acceptance into medical school is competitive and requires proof of successful work in the classroom prior to admission. Once admitted, it takes four years at medical school to earn an M.D. This is the degree that is needed before a student can become a medical doctor. The four-year course of study includes a significant amount of classroom work and also some on-the-job training and hands-on practice in a controlled medical setting.
Once the medical degree is earned, there is still more work to do before a student can become a doctor. That work is a paid residency program in which the prospective doctor treats patients under the watchful eye of a fully trained and practicing physician. This is the level at which doctors specialize as they fulfill the requirement by working in the area that is their ultimate career choice. There is no additional degree at the end of the residency, but the M.D. degree is not complete without it. Residency programs last from two to six years. For certification in a subspecialty, physicians usually need another one or two years of residency.
Licensing and certification is also required as an extension of the educational process. Without a valid license to practice medicine, it is against the law for someone to work as a doctor. There is a test that follows completion of the residency that allows a doctor to be certified by a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialists or the American Osteopathic Association.
The M.D. is not the only degree that can be used to train a student who wants to be a doctor. The other option is the doctor or osteopathic medicine. The curriculum at D.O. medical schools is not much different than that taught at schools that train M.D. students. D.O. programs teach as their primary medical strategy the treatment of the musculoskeletal system. The D.O. also requires four years followed by a residency. The D.O. is a degree earned instead of and not in addition to the M.D. Either leads to a career as a doctor.
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