Obtaining a Medical License

All physicians that wish to practice medicine in the United States must obtain their medical license before they do so. Below, we have outlined the steps and requirements necessary to obtaining a medical license.

First, physicians must attend a four-year undergraduate college program that focuses on gaining prerequisite knowledge in the fields of science and mathematics. Following undergraduate school, students attend a four-year medical school that is accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). After students earn their Medical Degree (MD), they will then be required to complete a satisfactory residency at a hospital. This is a three to seven year program where doctors can gain professional training and knowledge in specific care fields. Following their residency, doctors can opt into a fellowship program. This is a one to three year program that allows physicians to become even more highly skilled and specialized in an area of expertise, such as gastroenterology, a subset of internal medicine and pediatrics.

The United States Medical Licensing Examination is a multipart examination sponsored by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of the Medical Examiners (NBME). Step 1 of the exam is taken at the end of the second year of medical school and assesses a students’ knowledge of science as it applies to the medical field. The eight hour exam has 322 multiple choice questions dealing with such subjects as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and behavioral science. Step 2 is divided into two sections and both are taken at the end of the fourth year of medical school. They are designed to assess a student’s mastery of management of ill patients and a student’s mastery of clinical skills. The first part of Step 2 is given via computer, while the second step is given by the test administers in person, and is only offered in five cities across the country: Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia. The last step of the exam, Step 3 is taken during the first year of the residency program and reviews a physician’s ability to independently care for patients. This step is a sixteen hour examination divided into two days.

Upon successful completion of all parts of this exam and submitting proof of the education requirements, physicians are eligible to apply for a medical license in their state. As all states are responsible for issuing their own medical licenses, some states may require more than the criteria listed above, like continued education. Review the license requirements in your state before applying for a license.

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