The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is required for most of the 120-plus medical schools in the United States. The computer-based five-and-a-half-hour test is scored on a scale of 3 points to 45 points, testing physical and biological knowledge along with verbal reasoning and writing skills. MCAT scores along with undergraduate college transcript, personal statement, extracurricular information and sometimes letters of recommendation are submitted as a part of the primary applications sent through the American Medical College Application Service process. Applications can be submitted beginning every June and the application service sends your single application on to your chosen schools.
Completing a premed program in college, volunteering at a local hospital or emergency medical treatment center or displaying other involvement in health care-related activities can boost your application. Schools that you apply to that are interested in you will ask you to submit a second application and cut out unqualified applicants with heavy emphasis on GPA and MCAT scores. If schools are still interested after the second application, they will invite you to campus for an interview or hold the application until after the first round of interviews and then decide.
Most schools in the US are allopathic (osteopathic schools focus on alternative medicine and offer a DO instead of an MD). Schools can either lean toward a focus on primary care or on academic medicine and/or biomedical research, so think about what interests you when you choose a school. Many schools are emphasizing general knowledge now as the demand for doctors working with managed care to treat many patients and issues as pediatricians, obstetricians, and family practitioners.
The first two years of medical school focus on classroom and lab study in the basic sciences including anatomy (cadavers) and physiology and clinical study at local hospitals or medical practices getting practice with interviewing and diagnosing patients. In the third and fourth year students do rotations at hospitals or clinics and get exposure to different specialties while assisting residents. During the fourth year students choose a specialty and apply for an internship, then sit the boards, the 3-step United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) which must be passed in order to practice medicine in the U.S. Once students pass the boards and obtain their medical degree, they commit to a minimum of three years of an internship and residency in a teaching hospital (some specialties require further training. Hours are long and interns and residents are under the supervision of other doctors.
Once your residency is over, you can stand on your own as a medical practitioner and work for a university-hospital, an HMO or open your own practice. You can buy into a private practice, which usually takes five years to gain a full partnership, and requires you to manage and run your own business. University-hospital physicians do clinical work, research in labs, and move up over the years as faculty members, which can be very lucrative. Doctors can also choose to work for an HMO, health maintenance organization, which deal with administrative and management issues while doctors see many patients. Hours are long and there is a great deal of debt to pay off from medical school, but all these options can earn you big money, especially as years pass and you gain more clout in your organization.