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Medical Degrees & Education Required for Physician Careers


woman physician review notes in hospital
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Physicians are required to obtain an undergraduate degree plus a medical degree from an accredited medical college or university. Although there are many requirements for these academic credentials, prospective physicians do have some options and choices to make as they navigate their educational career.

Undergraduate Degree (Bachelor's Degree):

A prospective physician must first obtain a four-year degree from a college or university. There is not one particular subject one must choose as a prerequisite to medicine. It was once common for someone to declare “pre-med” as their major, but currently, it is common for future physicians to major in one of the sciences.

Common undergraduate degrees for prospective physicians include a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Biology, Engineering, Physics, or something similar. Again, these are not required, but a Bachelor of Science degree will best prepare you for the coursework you’ll be tackling in medical school.

Ideally, you may want to major in a subject that interests you, so that you'll enjoy your studies. Also, you should major in something that could lead to an alternative career in case you change your mind about medical school or have difficulty getting accepted.

Medical Degree (M.D., or D.O.):

There are primarily two types of medical degrees from which to choose if you are working towards becoming a fully licensed and board-certified physician who is able to prescribe medication, and perform procedures, and practice medicine independently. These two degrees are M.D., and D.O.

M.D. (Doctor of Medicine):

An M.D. degree is only conferred from an accredited allopathic medical school. Allopathic medicine is the oldest, and therefore more traditional and widely accepted form of medicine, and M.D.’s make up the vast majority of all practicing physicians.

D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy):

Medical schools which offer DO degrees are called osteopathic medical schools. Osteopathy was not widely accepted until more recently, as in the past decade or so. Even now, there are many hospitals in certain areas of the country that prefer to recruit allopathic physicians over osteopathic ones, but there are plenty of practice opportunities for both M.D.s and D.O.s.
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