Who doesn’t want to save lives?
Traditionally, one of the safest, long-term careers in the world comes from studying medicine.
Doctors will always have a place in the world - and they tend to earn some good money while they’re at it.
But the journey to earning your medical stripes can be long and arduous - sometimes fraught with detours and pre-med courses.
However, this blog will show you the absolute quickest way to become a doctor, from high-school to post-graduate - and we’ll show you how to overcome any hiccups along the way.
Starting from high school
Study the right subjects
- Australia/New Zealand: Mathematics (not General Mathematics)
- United Kingdom: A-Level Chemistry
- United States: Pre-Med Undergraduate study
- Australia/New Zealand: Chemistry, Physics, Biology, English
- United Kingdom: At least one A-Level in Biology (or Human Biology), Mathematics or Physics
- United States: Major in Chemistry, Organic Chemistry or Biology. Or, completely differentiate yourself. For example, a major in a different language could dramatically improve your chances if in your application you make clear you'd like to practice medicine with Doctors Without Borders.
Get some work experience
This step isn’t required, but can improve your chances at getting into your preferred medical course or school.
- Volunteer at the local hospital. Research your preferred hospitals, determine the requirements, choose activities that match you interests, have 'fallback' interests, fill out an application and voila! You're on your way to volunteering at a hospital.
- Alternatively, you can work in a research laboratory or volunteer in other care-related fields, such as aged care.
Take the entry test
Australia = UMAT (undergrad) or GAMSAT (postgrad)
New Zealand = UMAT
- Tests your social science reasoning (emphasis on literature), scientific reasoning and your essay writing
- Cost: $AU400
- Prep time: 2-3 months
- Help? Take the Australian Council for Educational Research's (ACER) practice tests. Prepare your essay writing- write 2-5 essays a week and have them reviewed.
- Target score: Lowest 54 University of Wollongong Highest 68 University of Queensland
Tests your social science reasoning (emphasis on literature), scientific reasoning and your essay writing
- Tests your logical reasoning, social skills and non-verbal reasoning. Often weighted in conjunction with ATAR and interview.
- Cost: $AU150
- Length: 3 hours
- Prep time: 1 month, could potentially cram (not advised)
- Help? Take practice exams and identify key weak areas- contact a private tutor to improve
- Target score: Minimum 50 in each section
United Kingdom = BMAT or UKCAT
- Tests your problem-solving skills, reasoning and data analysis. Also tests scientific knowledge and writing.
- Cost: £46 (UK citizens)
- Length: 2 hours
- Prep time: 4 weeks
- Help? Download free BMAT test papers and practise under test conditions. Use sample answer sheets to check your work and identify your weaknesses
- Target score: 6.0+
- Tests your verbal reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning and situational judgement.
- Cost: £65-115 depending on date and region
- Length: 2 hours
- Prep time: 4 weeks/ 20-30 hours
- Help? Use website resources to prepare and ask previous test takers for advice / tutoring.
- Target score: Band 1 or 2
United States = MCAT
- Used in combination with your undergraduate academic record, this test assesses your biology and biochemistry foundations, psychological and social foundations, and critical analysis/reasoning skills.
- Cost: $US310
- Length: 7.5 hours
- Prep time: 3 months or 300 hours
- Help? Spend hours understanding test logistics, content and timing. Take full-length practice tests. Establish a weekly schedule for preparation.
- Target score: 508-516 on the four sections (each section is scaled between 118-132)
Go to medical school
A pre med course takes anywhere from four to seven years across the UK and Australia / NZ. This usually consists of part theoretical and part clinical studies.
In the US, you’ll spend four years in an undergraduate degree and then another four years in medical school. So, eight years total.
You’ll be exposed to the scientific foundations of medicine, laboratory work and clinical practice.
And expect to be absolutely smashed.
The University of Oxford, for example, has a reputation for making medical students write more essays in a year than other undergraduates do over their entire course.
Medical school is not for the faint of heart, nor the empty pocket.
The course costs across the globe are some of the highest, so you’ll need to consider financial aid, loans and how much your parents love you before you attend.
You’ll also need to consider specialisation during your clinicals and start schmoozing the right people for a quality residency that aligns with your goals.
Subject failure generally results in retaking the entire subject, which will delay your path to becoming a doctor.
Be proactive if you’re struggling and talk to your teacher, tutors and professors about extra help or consideration.
Internship / residency
In Australia, graduates usually start with a 12 month internship which exposes them to a wide range of clinical practices, such as emergency care, general practice, surgery and many others.
After this, you start your residency which can last from one to several years, depending on how you want to specialise.
From here you become a registrar. This typically lasts from two to three years for General Practice and Medical registrars, but vary wildly for surgical and other types of registrars.
You’re basically a doctor when you’re a registrar - just a junior.
In New Zealand, you also complete an internship but it's during your last year of uni.
Then you become a housing officer for two years.
After which you become a registrar, which lasts between 3 to 7 years.
In the UK, you take on foundation training which takes two years.
Much like a residency, your time will build on what you learned at school, as well as giving you hands on experience in a range of work environments.
After this, you take your Core Medical Training or Acute Care Common Stem which adds a further two years to your training. At this stage, you choose your speciality - whether primary care as a GP or secondary care in a hospital.
After those four years, you head into speciality training, which can last from four to six years or three years if you want to become a GP.
In the US, residency can last from three to seven years and most residents complete their programs in hospitals - think of the TV show Scrubs.
During this program, you’ll be exposed to speciality areas and a wide range of clinical practices.
Eventually - after an endless slog - you can sit the US Medical Licensing Examination which allows you to practice medicine on your own. You’ll also need to renew this license periodically to continue practising, which means another 50 hours of continuing education.
Be a doctor
You’re a doctor. It took you the better part of a decade, but you’re a full-blown doctor saving lives now.
So, how long does it take?
- Australia: Min. 9 years Max. 17 years
- New Zealand: Min. 11 years Max. 15 years
- UK: Min. 11 years Max. 17 years
- US: Min. 11 years Max. 15 years
You are literally looking at a full decade of study and practice to become an independent, fully-fledged doctor.
Can a doctor become a millionaire?
Short answer, yes.
Long answer, haha. Good luck.
The very best doctors can earn a spectacular living, but will still work long hours.
Even if you go into family medicine or general practice, you can earn a very comfortable living.
However, it will be a long and tiring slog, so make sure you've thought about your career path in depth before choosing to study medicine.
For example, medical residents in the US make $55,400 per year on average.
They also work between 80-100 hours a week, which works out at $US 10-14 an hour - not much better than a waiter getting good tips at a restaurant.
Once you’ve battled through this early stage of your career, here’s what your average earnings will look like:
(including overtime / on-call)
- Registrar: $ AU 90,000- 130,000 per year
- GP: $AU 175,000- 400,000 per year
- Consultant/Specialist: $AU 200,000- 400,000 per year
(Average in the NHS - private doctors earn more)
- Junior £37,000 per year
- GP: £55,000 - 80,000 per year
- Consultant: £60,000 -100,000 per year
(By specialisation on average - MedScape)
- Low: Paediatrics $US 204,000
- High: Orthopaedics $US 443,000
So the upper echelons of medicine can be quite lucrative, but it’s an incredibly difficult slog to get there.
For example, orthopaedic surgeons are few and far between with only 11 per 100,000 in the US.
So, while you’ll never be without money - it’s unlikely you’ll become a millionaire.
Plus, you’ll need to pay back those frightening student loans at some point.
Doctors earnings can be rather deceiving. You’re playing the long game.
You put in hard work and long hours under incredible pressure for little pay and hefty student debt, but in the back end of your career, you get a healthy paycheck, prestige and comfort.
5 Questions to ask yourself before you study medicine
If you’re only it in for the money, you might want to consider another profession.
Life as a doctor can suck: it’s very time consuming, you shoulder incredible responsibility and, as such, your personal life can suffer.
You really need to want to do medicine.
Trust me, if it’s money you want, there are way better and easier ways to earn it. Like marketing, or human resources, or public sector work.
But if you’re really keen, here are five questions to ask yourself before you proceed:
1. Are you smart enough?
Medical school is demanding. You’ll need to understand all of the body’s functions, organs, bones, muscles and how all those things interact on a biochemical level. And that's basically just the introduction.
This stuff is no joke. Prepare for long nights studying.
2. Are you prepared for the time it takes?
You'll be giving a decade of your life to learn how to become a doctor. You aren’t concerned you’ll get cold feet half way through? Or decide it isn’t for you once you finish school?
3. Are you prepared to be stuck?
Once you specialise, it’s extremely difficult to re-specialise. You’re likely to be stuck a dermatologist, or in paediatrics, once you decide to take that path.
It’s not impossible to become something else, or transition from specialist to general practice, but medicine expects you to know what you want from the get-go.
4. Can you constantly work?
Those nightmare stories from hospitals about doctors working 24 hours straight in three eight-hour shifts? They’re true.
You’ll pretty much never sleep again while you’re a resident. And even if you decide to have a family, your patients will still need you. Being a doctor isn’t very good for work-life balance.
5. Are you okay with failure?
At some point, as a doctor, you’ll make the wrong call. That call might cost someone their life. It’s not negligence, that’s just the way it goes. You need to be okay with that responsibility.
Becoming a doctor takes a long time and requires a high-level of commitment. If it's still in your blood, why not reach our to one of our academic advisors who can help you take the next step to taking the Hippocratic oath.