Primary care doctors are essential in providing the initial diagnosis and direct treatment of illnesses and injuries. They commonly work in hospitals and private practices, determining the extent of health problems and referring patients to specialists when necessary. To become a primary care doctor, a person must successfully complete medical school, pass a licensing examination and undergo an extensive postgraduate training regimen.
The first step a person must take to become a primary care doctor is to enroll in an accredited premedical program at a four year college or university. Premedical students are usually required to take several anatomy, physiology, biology, and mathematics courses. Many courses feature both classroom instruction and laboratory research, providing students with essential knowledge and practical skills they will need in medical school and in their future doctor careers.
Upon completion of a premedical program, the next step to become a primary care doctor is applying to a four year medical school. In order to gain admission into a competitive medical school, a student must have strong academic records and pass the Medical College Admission Test. Most schools require students to submit personal essays and strong reference letters to prove their dedication to the medical field.
Once admitted, a medical student typically enrolls in advanced biology, medicine, physiology, and ethics courses. He or she learns how to diagnose illnesses, administer medicine, and counsel patients. The medical student also receives practical, hands-on training in hospitals and doctors' offices, learning about patient care from experienced physicians. Upon graduation, the student receives a Doctor of Medicine degree (MD) and takes a nationally recognized licensing exam to become a primary care doctor.
An MD holder is generally required to enter a postgraduate residency program before practicing independently. Residencies usually take place in hospitals and health clinics, and may last from two to six years. New doctors receive paid training and provide primary care services under the supervision of established physicians. After successfully completing a residency program, a doctor typically seeks permanent employment at a hospital, private practice, critical care facility, or another medical establishment.
The steps a person must take to become a primary care doctor can be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. Those who are willing to dedicate themselves to the process, however, are rewarded with meaningful careers in medicine. After several years of experience and developing a good reputation with patients, a primary care doctor may decide to move into a specialty or open his or her own practice.