How to get a medical education and become a doctor in the USA

One of the most prestigious and highly paid professions in the United States is a doctor. In 2019, the average salary for a doctor in America is $313,000, and the maximum is $482,000 (for orthopedists).


But such money and laurels do not come easily – it is difficult to become a doctor. For example, to become a therapist in America, you need to study for at least 11 years.

Let’s look in this article about how to become a doctor in America. 

Problems of medical education

Despite the attractiveness of the profession, according to statistics, there are not enough doctors. The first reason is costs. A medical student will have to pay several times more for tuition than at other faculties.

In other specialties, students get part-time jobs, but a medical student is not allowed to work. The study load is hundreds of hours a week, so students only have the strength to crawl home and collapse into bed. There are almost no scholarships anywhere either.


The second reason is the length of study, which reaches seven to eight years plus a couple of years in internship. Even if the cost of a single semester doesn’t seem that daunting, how many of those semesters will accumulate over the years of study? Moreover, a student needs to live on something, and, as I said above, it is not possible to work at the same time.

There is also this problem: they don’t like foreigners in honey. Some universities do not accept them at all, while others have meager quotas. There is a fight for places, which you will have to somehow win against the Indians and Chinese.

It’s also difficult for kids from Russia to get into medical school in America after school, because the programs are different. In Russia, students even study a year less and graduate earlier.

But the main thing is that the programs diverge greatly. Therefore, the majority of those admitted to medicine in the USA are guys who graduated from school there. As an option: you can first go to an American college for a year or two and then transfer to a medical university. Or enroll in Russia and try to transfer after 2-3 years. They will probably take you back to first place and will not count most of the subjects in the program you studied.


Foreign applicants are admitted on the same basis as US citizens. The admission process takes place online.

The admissions committee will look at school grades for the last three years, and they look not at annual scores, but by quarter.

Science and mathematics are especially important. It’s better to remember about the competing Chinese and graduate from school with a medal. You can increase your chances of admission by volunteering, for example, helping in a hospital.

At medical faculties, all deadlines have been shifted: documents are submitted earlier. The first round will be in the fall (October – November). It turns out that the student needs to submit an application before graduation.

Package of documents for admission to the Faculty of Medicine:

  • application for the Common Application or Universal College ;
  • essays submitted through the university website ( );
  • fee of $70 (non-refundable fee);
  • a certificate with an extract of grades (for foreign applicants – with an official translation);
  • two recommendations from former school teachers;
  • SAT Reasoning Test or ACT Writing Test results;
  • certificate of a foreign student on material well-being – International Certification of Finances Form, ISCF;
  • and TOEFL/IELTS results .

All foreign applicants, regardless of citizenship, must take the TOEFL language test. You don’t have to take it if you get a score of 670 or higher on the SAT Critical Reasoning section.

Prepare for TOEFL with Anastasia Ivbule in two weeks. Or read the article on how to prepare for TOEFL yourself .

You will also need characteristics and assessments from the educational institution confirming preparation corresponding to grades 9–11 in the American system, certified by a special agency that evaluates certificates (ECE), and any diplomas or certificates confirming the applicant’s professional, academic and personal success.

What to do after graduating from Russian school

They won’t take you to the first course of honey after Russian school. You can enroll in a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Biology or bioengineering, for example. Enroll in PreMed at the same time. You will have to master special courses and at the same time take basic classes. What kind of courses will be included in the program is up to you, it depends on what kind of doctor you want to work.

When you feel that PreMed has paid off and you are ready, sign up for the qualifying exams. DAT is for dentists, OAT is for optometrists, and so on, everyone has their own.

Many (~4,000) universities offer free PreMed to students. For example, in prestigious New Hampshire. If you are already paying for a bachelor’s degree, they will not charge you for additional downloads.

After four years, you should have a stack of necessary documents to apply for admission to medical school: a bachelor’s diploma with good grades, the result of a qualifying exam, the results of language tests. And ideally, some kind of work or volunteer experience.

Then you will have an interview with the admissions committee. For the next four years in the USA (at a medical university school), your education will be mainly applied: less lectures and more work on the basis of some clinic. Starting from the lowest positions and gradually moving towards more complex tasks. A hundred hours a week, just as I was afraid of.

Next will be several years of internship. Three years for general practitioners, five to six years for surgeons. All other specialties are located somewhere in the same range. You will work under the supervision of a licensed doctor. Then you’ll have to take a final exam, and if you do, you’ll get your own license.

If you have questions, leave a request for a consultation . We will help with selection and admission.

Entrance exams

Check whether your education meets the requirements set by the university. If yes, get ready to take the entrance exam – SAT Reasoning. The university recommends submitting results in three subjects. Or ACT with Writing option and two general essays. Questions for them will be in the application form.

The choice of test subjects depends on the specialty: for example, for admission to technical and natural science specialties, it is necessary to include natural sciences in testing; engineers are recommended to take the more difficult Mathematics Level 2 SAT. The university takes into account the best result, and the application can be updated as tests are taken.

Regardless of your major, your essay should demonstrate excellent communication skills and a clear understanding of your personal and professional goals. Examples of successful essays , according to Johns Hopkins University.

Scholarships and funding

Organization of the educational process in this specialty requires specialized equipment and expensive consumables (especially in the “Dentistry” specialization). Therefore, medical school tuition is always very high and a future student may not be able to do without a loan.

But students can receive financial support. For example, one of the most prestigious medical universities in the United States, Johns Hopkins University, has several scholarship programs. Some are awarded on the basis of financial need , and some are awarded on the basis of academic merit .

The amount of the scholarship depends on the program, abilities and needs of the applicant. For example, the Bloomberg Trust Scholarship for those in need covers almost all expenses, but most scholarships are designed to partially cover the cost of tuition or living expenses.

Approximately 10% of foreign freshmen receive such assistance annually. The average amount of financial assistance is $25,000. In some cases, the stipend may be much larger. Due to the fact that funds for financial support are limited, before admitting a new student, the university evaluates its own capabilities to pay the student the necessary financial assistance .

Top Medical Schools in 2016

Caribbean schools are becoming increasingly popular among Americans themselves. For example, St. George University in the Caribbean. Among the students at such schools, 69% are US citizens. Caribbean medical schools and colleges are slightly cheaper and have a more streamlined application process. However, only four of them are recognized by all states, for example, the American University of Antigua is just one of them. You also need to keep in mind that finding a place for residency (analogous to an internship) after graduating from a university in the Caribbean is still more difficult than after graduating from an American college. When reviewing applications, priority is usually given to graduates of American medical colleges, then students who graduated from a medical school in the Caribbean are considered, and then everyone else.

Firstly, it is much easier to get into such medical schools (4 out of 5 applicants are accepted). Secondly, low tuition costs compared to North American medical schools, cheap insurance and accommodation. Thirdly, a diploma issued in the Caribbean is recognized in the United States. Fourth, all rotations take place in US hospitals. A semester, for example, at Winsdor University will cost $4,990, for all tuition – $49,990, and most importantly, accommodation is included. So medical school costs almost $50,000 with room and board but no meals.

Best Medical Schools: Ranked in 2016

According to the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates , 44% of graduates from non-US schools who passed the USMLE exams entered an American residency (analogous to an internship). Students who have graduated from a university in Russia need to register on the ECFMG website , send the required documents: translated diploma, completed application forms and photos, and also register for the first USMLE Step 1 exam .

In total you need to pass three exams:

USMLE Step 1 – cost $740 (Basic Science: physiology, pathology, anatomy, pathological anatomy, microbiology, pharmacology, embryology, behavioral science, biochemistry, etc.), then USMLE Step 2 – cost $840 (Clinical Knowledge: all clinical subjects) and the last USMLE Step 2 – cost $1,200 (Clinical Skills – passing practical skills on actors).

In total, the second method costs about $2,000. True, this is without a flight to the USA (practical skills are taken only in America).

Length of the first and second step: 8 hours each, taken on a computer in the form of a test. Practical skills take two days of eight hours on actors in a special center. After passing, you submit an application for a match (MATCH), in which you choose a clinic, and it chooses you. This is a system for distributing graduates of American medical schools and foreign doctors who have passed the USMLE to new jobs. The process takes on average 10 months.

In July, pre-graduation students and foreign doctors send applications to those clinics where they would like to go for residency (usually about 30 places). About 1,000 hospitals in the United States accept residents. From November to January, each applicant undergoes interviews, usually 15-20 interviews in different states. In February, the future resident makes his list of hospitals where he would like to do an internship. Hospitals themselves make similar lists. Both lists are sent to Washington, and there the data is processed by a special organization, entered into a computer, which produces a MATCH (match, combination). Already in mid-March, the applicant receives information about the assigned residency location.

You go for an interview and sign a contract if offered. After residency, you take the final exam for a medical license – and you are a doctor with a minimum starting salary for a therapist in a hospital of $15,000 per month (minus tax from 22 to 33%, you will receive $12,000).

Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates ( ECFMG)

Registration for USMLE exams for foreigners is carried out through ECFMG – Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates. This is a kind of “dean’s office” for foreigners, which confirms your readiness to begin residency in the United States. All three levels of the USMLE must be passed within a period of no more than seven years, after which an ECFMG certificate is issued.

Registering with ECFMG and submitting the required documents is the first step toward the USMLE. You must register on the ECFMG website to obtain a USMLE/ECFMG Identification Number. The Applicant Portal has answers to many frequently asked questions about the registration process and costs.

  • To register for USMLE Step 1, you must complete all required forms online and have Form 183 or 186 certified by your university and pay the exam fee;
  • Form 186 – Certification of Identification Form is completed by those who have already graduated from the university;
  • Form 183 – Certification Statement is completed by those who are still studying. USMLE Step 1 can be taken after only three years of medical school;
  • Both forms will become available during the registration process;
  • Also during the registration process you will need two copies of the diploma, a translation of the diploma into English and one 3×4 color photograph;
  • Translation of the diploma, copies, photograph, certified Form 183/186 must be sent by mail to ECFMG. The sender’s address must be your university address.

Exams are taken in three steps. The first two are computer tests in medicine. They are paid, costing between $ 750–850 each. Moreover, the tests are taken at one of the specialized centers, and not all of them are located in the USA.

That is, you can find the nearest one and go there for testing. The questions will be on basic disciplines (anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, microbiology, etc.). The second step is called Clinical Knowledge and covers clinical subjects.

The third step is taken only in the USA: you will have to demonstrate not your education, but your practical medical skills. They can simulate several situations for you with the help of actors, and they can even involve real patients if they agree. And they will watch how you show yourself, how you carry out the diagnosis, what treatment you prescribe. This stage costs $ 1,200 .

If all three steps are completed successfully, you can apply for distribution. About 1,000 American hospitals participate in the program. Choose from the list where you want to go. And hospitals will choose from a list of residents whom they want to see.

You will have to go to interviews, just like when applying for a job, only in different cities. Usually this is 15-20 visits in all parts of the country over several months (from November to January, although again everything is individual).

So plan your expenses and keep in mind that all this also requires a visa.

Then everything is about the same as for ordinary American interns. You finish your residency under someone else, you take the final exam, you get your license.

Enrollment after school at home

In parallel with obtaining a bachelor’s degree, the student additionally undergoes a training program in preparatory medical courses (Pre-Med). For example, allopaths and osteopaths must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), dentists must take the Dental Admission Test (DAT), and ophthalmologists must take the Ophthalmology Admission Test (OAT). The type of exam is determined depending on the subjects you will study in Pre-Med. The duration of the program is unlimited in the sense that once the student has completed all the required courses, he can register to take the exams.

For example, let’s look at what the test for admission to a medical college is ( Medical College Admission Test ). As a rule, it is taken in the last year of university. The exam tests knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics and English. In addition to high results in entrance exams, you must have good grades during your studies at the university and pass an interview. Experience in the healthcare field is a plus. The competition is 4-5 people per place. In the most prestigious US schools, up to 10 applicants can apply for one place.

The exam can be retaken as many times as desired. However, you need to keep in mind that all medical schools to which you will apply will know about all your attempts. Therefore, knowledgeable people advise not to rush into taking the test and prepare better for it. If you fail the exam more than three times, you will receive a so-called “black mark.”

You can go study to become a nurse. Nursing training departments are open as part of multidisciplinary colleges, and there are also separate specialized nursing colleges ( College of Nursing ). Nursing studies include practice in hospitals, schools, public agencies, and homeless centers. Students learn the basics of health care, medical ethics, and other subjects. The best programs are accredited by the National League of Nursing . Upon completion of training, a Bachelor of Science degree can be awarded. Those who wish to become doctors can then apply to medical school only after completing university training.


According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average income for nurses in America ranges from $51,000 to $71,000 per year. The nursing profession is becoming more popular every year. To date, more than 2.7 million representatives of this specialty have been registered, writes the well-known portal .

You can prepare for admission to US universities in four weeks at my “Applying to the USA” marathon . You will learn how to choose a university, get full funding and apply for a US student visa.

There is also a topic about studying to become a doctor on our forum . We will help you assess your chances of obtaining a visa .

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